Britain's Chris Froome lost the yellow jersey but admitted his relief after emerging from the Tour de France’s longest and perhaps most treacherous stage unscathed yesterday.
German time trial specialist Tony Martin took the maillot jaune for the first time in his career by crossing the line first, three seconds ahead of a chasing pack that included Froome.
But the Team Sky rider, whose Tour defence last year was ended by several crashes, was pleased just to avoid an accident on stage four, which included seven notoriously awkward sections over cobbles.
A bonus for Froome was that none of his main rivals for the title, such as Spaniard Alberto Contador, Italian Vincenzo Nibali and Colombian Nairo Quintana, stole a march.
“Losing the yellow jersey at this stage is no big deal,” he said. “There is still a long way to go and, as a time trial specialist, Tony is not going to be there in the mountains. I was definitely happier to see it go to him than any of my rivals.”
Froome maintained his lead of 36 seconds over Tinkoff-Saxo’s two-time winner Contador, and has gaps of one minute 38 seconds and one minute 56 seconds on Nibali of Astana and Movistar’s Quintana.
He had Geraint Thomas to thank for repelling several attacks from Nibali and the Welshman delivered him out of the last cobbled section and into the final 10km at the front.
Leader: Tony Martin, Etixx-QuickStep
+12 seconds: Chris Froome, Team Sky
+48 secs: Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-Saxo
+1 min 50secs: Vincenzo Nibali, Astana
+2 min 8 secs: Nairo Quintana, Movistar