Defending champion Chris Froome is steeling himself to start the Tour de France in earnest – just as a less heralded British rider makes his mark on the world’s most prestigious race.
Froome once again finished safely among the peloton as German Marcel Kittel snatched Tuesday’s fourth stage by a whisker, leaving the Team Sky rider 18 seconds behind yellow-jersey holder Peter Sagan.
The battle among the major contenders for the general classification is expected to intensify when the Tour sees its first mountainous stage today, a 213.5km route from Limoges to Le Lioran.
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Froome has the same time as Colombian Nairo Quintana, but fellow rival Alberto Contador is already 48 seconds further back and the Briton anticipates further significant movement in the Massif Central.
“It’s a bit too early to see a real general classification battle but it is definitely somewhere where there will be time gaps,” he said. “There will probably be a few tired legs out there. Even though these days have been relatively easy, they’ve still been 250km stages.”
Ettix-Quick-Step rider Kittel just pipped Frenchman Bryan Coquard of Direct Energie, the pair bumping elbows in a photo finish at the finale to the race’s longest stage.
Mark Cavendish could not add to his two stage wins already this year – and go outright second in the all-time list of stage winners with 29 – on his native Isle of Man’s national day as he finished eighth.
Unheralded fellow Briton Daniel McLay, 24, continued his impressive debut at the Tour, however, by finishing a fraction ahead of Cavendish in seventh place.
McLay, a former British junior road race champion, lost several minutes on the second stage but also finished ninth on the first and third stages.