LILLE, France – Back on the race’s home turf after three days in England, the Tour de France pack faces a first possible shakeout today over nine patches of bone-rattling cobblestones in northern France.
Many riders were expressing dread that the forecast is for rain, meaning the cobbles will be slick.
For defending champion Chris Froome, a crash that scuffed up his left knee and elbow and injured his wrist Tuesday in a nervous, crosswind-swept Stage 4 couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Astana team leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, who kept the yellow jersey, decried a “crazy race” in Tuesday’s 101-mile ride along the Belgian border. Froome and two-time champ Alberto Contador are among 20 riders trailing Nibali by two seconds.
Three for Kittel
Marcel Kittel got his third stage victory in this Tour and the seventh of his Tour career on Tuesday. Unlike his wins in Stages 1 and 3, when he made victory look easy, Kittel eked out victory by a half-wheel length at the end of the ride from Le Touquet-Paris Plage to Lille Metropole.
Minutes into the stage, Team Sky leader Froome went tumbling after one rider bumped another who crossed the Briton’s front wheel. He skinned up his left knee, left elbow and hurt his left wrist, but got back on his bike. Clinging to the race doctor’s car, he got bandaged up and rejoined the peloton. Then a teammate dropped back to get a splint at Sky’s car, and pedaled it up to the ailing Froome.
Race doctor Florence Pommerie told French TV his injuries amounted to “essentially a few scratches.”
Nibali, said his team informed him through his earpiece about Froome’s mishap, and he went back to see whether he was OK. The Sky leader responded, “more or less,” according to the Italian.