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Tour de France 2014: Marcel Kittel takes his third win in four stages as Chris Froome suffers wrist injury following crash on difficult day four for the champion

Froome clashed wheels with another rider and suffered a grazed left hip as a result, but was able to continue

Having dodged his way along the winding lanes of Yorkshire and Essex and around the road furniture of London, Chris Froome came a cropper on a seemingly straightforward stage in the Tour de France. Stage four had barely got under way before the British defending champion suffered a painful crash that forced him to go for an emergency X-ray after the day’s racing.

Froome’s injuries finally appeared to be superficial, but the heightened stress levels during the day for Team Sky contrasted notably with the ongoing celebrations for rivals Giant-Shimano as their German sprinter Marcel Kittel swept up his third Tour stage victory in four days.

Last year’s winner found himself in trouble at a point when the peloton was seemingly ambling along, just five kilometres after the stage start in the Channel beach resort of Le Touquet. On the left side of the pack another rider’s wheel skewed just ahead of him and the Sky leader went down. Although Froome, the only rider to crash, was able to get up very quickly, the skin on his left hip had been rubbed raw – visible through his shredded Lycra cycling shorts– and he suffered other slight injuries, including jarring his left wrist.

At the end of the stage Froome went for an X-ray in the Tour’s medical truck as a precaution and when he emerged made a thumbs-up gesture to the press. “We’re not worried about him, we’ve talked to him and he’s OK,” Nicolas Portal, Sky’s sports director, said, while the Tour’s main director, Florence Pommerie, told French TV during the stage: “He’s a little bit hurt on his right arm, cuts and abrasions. His wrist’s a bit affected, his elbow, too. We will have to find out more in detail what’s up with him after the stage but we’ll keep an eye on him during it.”

“He fell, but his wounds are very slight. It was all fine in the end,” the Sky principal, Sir Dave Brailsford, confirmed after the racing was over. “We spoke to him over the radio, checked he was all right, and he’s fine.” His team-mate Bernhard Eisel said: “He has a cast on his hand, but he feels OK and, hopefully, we just lost some skin.”

The injuries appear to be minor and Froome’s gesture would seem to confirm as much, but the crashes – particularly on the eve of the much-feared stage over the Paris-Roubaix race cobbles – are an unwelcome reminder both of Froome’s  fall in the pre-race section of stage one in last year’s Tour, and the much more serious crash he suffered in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné.

While such superficial injuries are unlikely to affect his performance in Wednesday’s crucial stage, the irony, too, that Froome came through some fairly precarious racing in Britain unscathed, only to crash five kilometres into the first stage on French soil, will have been lost on nobody.

Another former Tour winner, Andy Schleck, who was retroactively awarded the 2010 race when the title was stripped from Alberto Contador, was far less fortunate, opting to abandon as a result of injuries sustained on Monday. Schleck’s career has been a descending spiral ever since his greatest triumph when he soloed to a win on the Alpine Col du Galibier in 2011 and today was the latest step downhill.

For Kittel, on the other hand, the stage could hardly have gone better, even if he was close to throwing in the towel in the final metres. A long lunge by Norwegian rival Alexander Kristoff as the finish loomed in Lille seemed confirmation that another sprinter had – finally – got the measure of the German. However, the Giant-Shimano rider’s final acceleration came in the nick of time for him to go past the Olympic 2012 bronze medallist on the line.

“It’s never easy to win, but today was really hard,” Kittel said. “The pace was very high and my team didn’t stay together so we had to improvise. Then Kristoff got a gap, and I was doubting when I should go after him. I only just made it. If the stage had been 20 metres shorter, it would have been a different result.”

While Kittel concluded his round of interviews by wishing Germany luck in last night’s World Cup semi-final, his own Tour has already been a success. “My goal was one stage win and I said it had been unique in last year’s race to wear  the yellow jersey and get four stages. So getting three wins this year so quickly, and leading the race again – that’s very special, too.”