Alessandro Petacchi won stage four of the Tour de France by a bike’s length as Fabian Cancellara kept the race-leading yellow jersey.
Petacchi of the Lampre team beat Garmin’s New Zealand rider Julian Dean in a sprint after a flat 95-mile ride from Cambrai to Reims. Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong and other race contenders didn’t compete for leading places.
Cancellara of Team Saxo Bank remains in the lead by 23 seconds from Britain’s Geraint Thomas of Team Sky. Australia’s two-time runner-up Cadel Evans of BMC Racing is third, 16 seconds further back.
Frenchmen Nicolas Vogondy and Dimitri Champion, among a five-man breakaway after a mile, were caught by the main bunch with two miles left. Petacchi came out on top after a sprint to the line with about 200 meters remaining. The Italian also won stage one.
Armstrong, who says he’s riding his last Tour, dropped to 18th from fifth overall yesterday after a puncture and is 2 minutes, 30 seconds off the lead.
Defending champion Alberto Contador is ninth overall, 1 minute, 40 seconds off the lead. He joked with teammates today as they rode in the most relaxed stage so far.
Two days ago, dozens of riders crashed on rain-slicked tarmac in Belgium and yesterday some were held up by punctures on cobblestones in northern France.