Britain’s Mark Cavendish felt painful scrapes from the hard Tour de France asphalt on Wednesday, but bore no hard feelings toward stage winner and sprint rival Andre Greipel.
The German speedster, leading a thinned-out group of sprinters at the finish, collected his 14th victory in all competitions this year as Cavendish nursed wounds from a late crash as the race entered Normandy.
Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara got briefly held up by the trouble, but did not go down, and he retained the overall lead for a fifth day after the 213km trek alongside the English Channel from Abbeville to Rouen.
The top standings did not change — Bradley Wiggins, the leader of Cavendish’s Team Sky, who hopes to be Britain’s first Tour winner, is second, seven seconds behind the Swiss leader. Defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia is 17 seconds off the pace in seventh.
With less than 3km left in Wednesday’s fourth stage, a group spill brought down Cavendish, tearing his rainbow-colored jersey earned as world champion. He looked dazed as team staff checked on him, before he rode gingerly to finish the stage.
Sky said he appeared to have no serious injuries and was likely to continue the race.
With Cavendish out of the picture, Greipel burst out of the depleted group of sprinters and sped to the line, a split-second ahead of Italy’s Alessandro Petacchi and Dutch rider Tom Veelers.
“I heard something behind me ... but at 60 kilometers per hour, you don’t worry about what happened behind,” the Lotto-Belisol rider said in an interview with France-2 TV.
While professional cyclists all run the risk of crashing, Cavendish’s spill sent a scare — though faint and ultimately assuaged — to his high hopes of winning gold for Britain in the Olympic road race later this month.
Cavendish has played second fiddle in the team’s quest for a Wiggins victory and, unlike in years past, he has only one devoted lead-out man to guide and shield him in the frenzied last sprint — Bernard Eisel, an Austrian who also got hurt in the spill.
Cavendish, seen by many as the world’s best sprinter and the winner of 21 Tour stages, including the second stage on Monday, conveyed no hard feelings over his mishap.
“Ouch..,” Cavendish wrote on Twitter. “Crash at 2.5km to finish today. Taken some scuffs to my left side, but I’ve bounced pretty well again. Congrats to @AndreGreipel.”
Tyler Farrar, a sprint specialist from the US who won the Tour de France stage on July 4 last year, also got tangled up and missed out on a chance for a repeat sprint victory on US Independence Day.
In the pileup, the Garmin-Sharp rider flew off his bike, “somersaulted over his bars, tucked and rolled, and ended up on his feet running away from the crash,” team chiropractor Matt Rabin wrote on Twitter.
Despite the crash, Greipel said the absence of key rivals in the sprint to the line did not diminish the achievement.
“There were still really fast guys there for the sprint and we just deserve this victory,” he said.
Dave Brailsford, manager of Team Sky, suggested that Cavendish — who bares his emotions at times — finished in an angrier mood than the one conveyed in his charitable Twitter comment.
“I can’t repeat what he said when they came into the bus,” Brailsford told French television.
At 27 years old, Cavendish has 21 stage wins at the Tour — one short of the number that seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong had in his career.
An official race medical report said Cavendish sustained several scratches and a cut on a finger, Eisel sustained a gash that required stitches on his forehead, while Garmin’s Robbie Hunter of South Africa scraped his left side. Daniel Oss of Liquigas had a hip injury.
According to the Tour rulebook, riders who get delayed by a crash in the final 3km of the stage are awarded the same time as the stage winner.
The peloton clocked the same time as Greipel — 5 hours, 18 minutes, 32 seconds — though some stragglers nursing wounds from crashes earlier this week, like world time-trial champion Tony Martin of Germany and Tom Danielson of the US, straggled in 2 minutes, 21 seconds behind.
Cancellara, who briefly got stalled by the crash, sighed with relief.
“I’m really happy to get past that, a fall early hurts ... today it was calm, and then hectic at the finish,” he said.
David Moncoutie and Anthony Delaplace of France, and Japan’s Yukiya Arashiro broke away early and chiseled out a maximum lead of 8:40, before being reeled in.
Riders set off from Abbeville — a town where 6,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged in a German bombing raid in World War II in May 1940 — and rode along the English Channel’s picturesque, chalky cliffs, with views of giant wind-turbine installations.
The fifth stage promises another bunch sprint, after a mostly flat 196km course from Rouen to Saint-Quentin, north of Paris.
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