Tour de France - Kittel wins again as Froome hits trouble

Germany's Marcel Kittel powered past Alexander Kristoff of Norway to take his third victory in Lille after Chris Froome crashed heavily on the Tour de France.

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Tour de France - Kittel wins again as Froome hits trouble
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Marcel Kittel celebrates his third stage win in four days at the start of the 2014 Tour de France

Giant Shimano sprinter Kittel had to dig deep to deny Milan-San Remo champion Kristoff of Team Katusha, who thumped his handlebars after a thrilling conclusion to the 163.5km stage from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage in Pas-de-Calais.

French national champion Arnaud Demare (FDJ) settled for third place ahead of the green jersey Peter Sagan (Cannondale), French youngster Bryan Coquard (Europcar) and Germany's Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol).

But the main drama of the day came just kilometres into the stage when British defending champion Froome touched wheels in the peloton and crashed heavily on his left flank, injuring his thigh, hip and wrist.

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Team Sky's Froome completed the stage with a splint on his right wrist and will now find himself under serious pressure when the race hits the cobbles of northern France during Wednesday's fifth stage from Ypres to Arenberg-Porte de Hainault.

Sky manager Sir David Brailsford confirmed after the stage that Froome would go to hospital for a precautionary X-ray on his wrist but said he was otherwise fine.

Froome's crash was not an isolated incident as light drizzle fell on the narrow and technical roads of the Pas-de-Calais. Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) crashed when fighting back on following a split in the pack, while Greg Henderson was one of three Lotto Belisol riders to fall on a wet roundabout 30km from the finish, the New Zealander forced to retire from the race because of a knee injury.

Even Slovakian sensation Sagan - renowned for his adept bike-handling skills - tasted the tarmac with just over 15km remaining of the Tour's opening stage on French soil.

The most fiercely contested of Kittel's three wins to date saw the 26-year-old German isolated in the final kilometre as he had to come from behind to nullify Kristoff's early dash to the line.

"The last thirty kilometres were really fast and difficult," Kittel said before praising both his Giant Shimano team-mates and his rival Kristoff.

"The boys delivered me to the front and then I sat on the wheel of [Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Mark] Renshaw. I was tempted to go with five-hundred metres but I waited. It was really difficult.

"We had Kristoff on our list of sprinters to watch and he's a really dangerous guy. It was close today. We showed that we are not unbeatable."

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TWO-MAN BREAK: Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Spain's Luis Mate (Cofidis) attacked soon after the start and just moments before Froome painfully hit the deck. Benefitting from the enforced slowing of the peloton as Froome was being nursed back into the fold by his Sky team-mates, the pair quickly built up a lead of just over three minutes.

The escapees crested the summit of the fourth category Cote de Campagnette and the subsequent intermediate sprint at Cassel in the lead before Mate sat up after a second mechanical issue as the peloton closed in. Voeckler rode on with typical panache, crossing the category four Mont Noir with a lead of 1:15 as he endeavoured to take the stage off script. After all, the route covered roads that often feature in the Four Days of Dunkirk - a race the 35-year-old Voeckler won back in 2011.

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But despite Voeckler's game defiance of the pack, the veteran best known for his attacking flair and protruding tongue was finally swept up by the peloton with 16km remaining as the teams of the race favourites and main sprinters jostled for position on the front of the streamlined peloton.

RIDE OF THE DAY: Kittel showed that he can win without the perfect lead-out, although special mention must go to Kristoff for bravely launching his sprint early and for Voeckler for defying the peloton for so long in the face of certain doom.

DAY TO FORGET: With cobbles and rain on the horizon, Froome's heavy crash could not have come at a worse moment - but at least the British rider is still in the race. So spare a thought for 2010 Tour winner Andy Schleck, who did not take to the start after picking up a knee injury after colliding with a spectator on the outskirts of London on Sunday. The Trek Factory Racing rider - who hoped to support brother Frank in the mountains - said it was the "biggest disappointment" of his career.

COMING UP: Wednesday's 155.5km stage five from Ypres to Arenberg-Porte du Hainaut pays homage to the soldiers who fought in the trenches during World War I. But the real battle for the riders will take place over nine gruelling cobbled sections in the final third of the race.

If stage two was billed as a mini Liege-Bastogne-Liege then this is a Roubaix redux - so expect the likes of specialists Niki Terpstra, Fabian Cancellara, Sep Vanmarcke and John Degenkolb to come out and play.

Froome, with that injured wrist, will just hope he can get through unscathed. To make matters worse for the defending champion, rain is forecast, so expect his rivals to attack him mercilessly. It's at moments like these when you could really do with a certain Bradley Wiggins...

PLAT DU JOUR: Sink your teeth into a portion of Ypes Tapjesvlees - a slow-cooked chunk of veal or pork braised in lard and served with vegetables. Follow this up with a slice of local Cockerulle Cake with almonds and candied fruit - best served with a cup of Yorkshire Tea.

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