Tour de France: Tony Martin surges at the death to claim stage and yellow jersey
Etixx QuickStep rider shows grit while Dan Martin loses pace after fall
Etixx-Quick Step rider Tony Martin of Germany celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 223.5-km (138.9 miles) 4th stage of the 102nd Tour de France cycling race from Seraing in Belgium, to Cambrai, France. Photo: Benoit Tessier/Reuters
Meanwhile, it wasn’t a good day for Team Cannondale-Garmin’s Dan Martin as a fall on the treacherous wet cobblestones saw him slip to seven minutes 52 seconds behind the overall lead. The Irish rider’s fall eventually led to a 105th place finish today.
His namesake and multiple world time-trial champion Tony Martin began the day one second behind maillot jaune incumbent Chris Froome (Team Sky), having been denied the race lead by bonus seconds on Sunday.
The German made his move three kilometres from the finish of a dramatic 223.5km route from Seraing in Belgium across the cobbles of northern France and held off a charging peloton.
The riders were wary of the cobbles, some of the sectors of which are used in the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic known as ‘the Hell of the North’.
Froome did not even see a cobble as his Tour defence ended 12 months ago after three crashes in two days, but this time was guided expertly by the brilliant Geraint Thomas.
The main moment of concern came when Froome wobbled in the gutter after losing his team-mate’s wheel.
The 30-year-old was second to Thomas coming off the final cobbled sector and wanted to attack, with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) left behind.
But there was no collaboration in the select eight-man bunch, which included defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and Martin next made his successful move.
Froome will be content to have conceded the yellow jersey at this early stage and will hope to add to his British record 15th day in the maillot jaune later in the race.
Froome now sits 12 seconds behind Martin overall in second place, having finished 17th, three seconds behind.
Nibali finished 15th, on the same time. Contador was 19th and Quintana 23rd, both also three seconds behind.
Nibali made major gains on the cobbles 12 months’ ago and it appeared his tactics would be similar on this occasion as his Astana team-mate Lieuwe Westra again made the early break, comprising three other riders.
Drizzle made the roads wet and slick, with Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) and Alex Dowsett (Movistar) among the riders to go down.
The narrow cobbled sections strung out the peloton, so positioning was all important and the jostling began in earnest as the second of seven cobbled sections neared with 46km remaining.
Dust kicked up off the bone-juddering cobbles, known as pave, as Nibali positioned himself ideally, with Froome’s Team Sky squad shadowing the move as the breakaway was swallowed up.
Again Nibali’s Astana squad pressed the accelerator on sector five, but the burst was covered, with Froome holding his ground alongside key lieutenant Thomas.
Team Sky moved to the front between sectors, hoping to take the initiative, but Froome lost Thomas’ wheel and was squeezed into the gutter in Saint-Python before wobbling in a worrying moment after nudging Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha).
Once more Astana pushed and Froome hung in on sector three, with two more to go, and had Nicolas Roche and Thomas for company.
Nibali attacked on the final section, but Thomas bridged the gap with Froome on his wheel.
The Team Sky duo were the first off the final section with around 10km to go and Froome forced the pace to form a select eight-rider bunch.
The escape was soon caught as the riders refused to share the workload, perhaps in part due to the presence of swift finisher John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin).
Tony Martin, one second behind Froome at the start of the day in the general classification, attacked solo with 3km to go and used his time-trial skills to forge on through the 1km to go mark and hold on to win.
Etixx-QuickStep will hope for another win on Wednesday, when Cavendish will be among the favourites for the 189.5km fifth stage from Arras to Amiens.
The Manxman is looking to claim his first Tour stage win in nearly two years and 26th in all after placing fourth on Sunday’s second stage when Fabian Cancellara (Trek) denied Martin yellow.
Team Sky’s Nicholas Roche was the best of the Irish finishers in today’s stage as he came in in 43rd, 51 seconds behind the winner.
Sam Bennett crossed the line 16 minutes 53 seconds behind Martin in 168th.
Roche now sits 68th in the overall classification with Bennett 173rd.