Greipel wins fourth stage as Cav misses the train

Justin Davis
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Germany's Andre Greipel celebrates on the finish line

Stage winner, Germany's Andre Greipel celebrates on the finish line at the end of the 214.5 km and fourth stage of the 2012 Tour de France cycling race starting in Abbeville and finishing in Rouen, northwestern France

Germany's Andre Greipel roared with raw emotion after landing his first Tour de France victory this year in a finale devoid of British sprint king Mark Cavendish.

RadioShack's Fabian Cancellera held on to the leader's yellow jersey at the end of the 214 km ride from Abbeville to Rouen, where Greipel, known as the 'Gorilla' for his imposing physique, prevailed in a small bunch finish.

The closing stages were marked by a multi-bike pile-up less than three kilometres from the line with Cavendish among the casualties.

It left a reduced group of fast men racing for the line, with Greipel coming off the wheel of New Zealand teammate Greg Henderson in the final 200 metres to claim the second Tour victory of his career.

Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) was second with Dutchman Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) third.

"It was a really emotional victory for me, we worked hard for this and I think we deserved this," said Greipel.

"I didn't see the crash... it's not nice to see those pictures, but it's a part of racing and there was still a lot of quality guys there, so it's no problem for me.

"I've just won a stage in the Tour de France, so it couldn't be better."

As expected a day after the rigours of the first crash-hit stage on Tuesday left skin on the road and led to three abandons, the early breakaway which formed almost immediately was allowed to race on unhindered.

Japanese Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) and French pair David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Anthon Delaplace (Suar-Sojasun) were no threat to the bunch and soon built a maximum lead of nearly nine minutes.

With a pancake flat finish, however, they were at the mercy of the sprinters' teams.

They began to put riders at the front of the bunch to prepare the chase, which began in earnest 30 km after Cavendish had beaten his sprint rivals for the green jersey points at the intermediate sprint at 140 km.

Twenty kilometres further on, the day's first crash took down Australian Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo Bank) and Frenchman Mickael Cherel (AG2R), but they were soon back on their bikes chasing.

It took an extra effort, however, for yellow jersey contender Vincenzo Nibali to rejoin the peloton after he suffered a flat tyre and had to wait for a new bike before being paced back to the bunch by two Liquigas teammates.

With 60 km remaining the trio's lead had dropped to 5:00 and was almost halved by the time Arashiro took advantage of a small descent to try and distance his breakaway companions.

His effort did not last long and the front trio were back together for a desperate bid to get to the finish.

But with sprinters' teams like Orica-GreenEdge and Lotto beginning to up the pace their lead dropped to below a minute for the first time with 15 km to race, with the closing stages marred by the second major crash of the 99th Tour.

After the crash, Greipel's Lotto team took over and he was quick to pay tribute to the teammates who wound up the pace.

"With 1.3 km to go (Marcel) Sieberg hit the front did a really long and fast pull, then (Jurgen) Roelandst started at 800 metres to 450," added Greipel.

"(Greg) Henderson was almost at top speed and then I hit the front with 200 to go. It was a bit long but it did the job.

"If we stick to our plan we are pretty strong, and that's how it went today."