Tour de France 2014: Marcel Kittel takes his third stage victory

Germany's Marcel Kittel won the Tour de France's fourth stage from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to Lille Metropole.

Defending champion Chris Froome fell early on but recovered to finish in the peloton as Kittel won his third stage.

Briton Froome, who wore a split on his left wrist for the rest of the race, later went for a precautionary X-ray.

Giant-Shimano rider Kittel pipped Norway's Alexander Kristoff in a sprint finish, but Italy's Vincenzo Nibali retains a two-second overall race lead.

Reacting to Froome's fall, Team Sky sports director Nicolas Portal said: "We were scared out of our wits, like everyone else, but after talking with him, everything seems OK."

What awaits in stage five

"This could be carnage. It is going to be a really stressful day for all the teams who have a rider chasing the overall race win because we have nine sections of pave to negotiate and a lot can happen on the cobbles. It's all about the fighting beforehand, getting into the right position and that's when the accidents happen."

Read Geraint's stage-by-stage guide

Frenchman Arnaud Demare was third, with Slovakia's Peter Sagan - who retained the green jersey - recovering from a fall with 8km left to take fourth.

Froome began the day in fifth overall, but fell just five kilometres into the first stage on French soil after a touch of wheels in the peloton.

He suffered a grazed left hip and torn cycling shorts - but rejoined the main group with team-mates Bernhard Eisel and David Lopez.

Froome, who damaged his left side in a crash during June's Criterium du Dauphine, had been hoping for an incident-free day ahead of Wednesday's cobbled route from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hinaut.

He recovered to finish the stage in 42nd place, slipping from fifth to seventh overall.

Portal added: "He hit the tarmac hard, but everything's all right. We gave him a splint and, of course, we're taking things extra carefully now.

"I'm not superstitious, but this is one fall we could've done without."

Omega Pharma - Quick-Step rider Niki Terpstra crashed and had to change his bike, but was also able to finish the 163.5km stage.

Kittel, who claimed victory in Harrogate on the Tour's opening day before winning stage three on The Mall, edged to victory by less than the width of a wheel.

Marcel Kittel

A photo finish shows Marcel Kittel ahead of Alexander Kristoff (top) and Arnaud Demare (bottom)

The German said: "It was really exhausting. The last 30km, we rode with high speed. It was really fast and difficult to stay together with the team at the end. The boys delivered me to the front.

"Everything I was thinking about was the last corner, just before the finish. I was tempted to go at 500m, but then I sat down again. It was everything I had at the end.

"Today showed we are not unbeatable. It was close today."

Stage four result:

1. Marcel Kittel (Ger/Giant-Shimano) 3hrs 36mins 39secs

2. Alexander Kristoff (Nor/Katusha) - same time

3. Arnaud Demare (Fra/FDJ.fr)

4. Peter Sagan (Svk/Cannondale)

5. Bryan Coquard (Fra/Europcar)

6. Andre Greipel (Ger/Lotto)

7. Mark Renshaw (Aus/Omega Pharma - Quick-Step)

8. Danny van Poppel (Ned/Trek)

9. Davide Cimolai (Ita/Lampre)

10. Daniel Oss (Ita/BMC Racing)

Selected:

42. Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky) - same time

50. Nicolas Roche (Ire/Tinkoff-Saxo)

71. Geraint Thomas (GB/Team Sky)

161. Simon Yates (GB/Orica GreenEdge) +2mins 05secs

Overall classification:

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita/Astana) 17hrs 07mins 52secs

2. Peter Sagan (Svk/Cannondale)+2secs

3. Michael Albasini (Swi/Orica) - same time

4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel/BMC Racing)

5. Alberto Contador (Spa/Tinkoff - Saxo)

6. Alejandro Valverde (Spa/Movistar)

7. Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky)

8. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel/Lotto)

9. Bauke Mollema (Ned/Belkin)

10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den/Astana)

Selected:

22. Geraint Thomas (GB/Team Sky) +16secs

25. Nicolas Roche (Ire/Tinkoff-Saxo) same time

68. Simon Yates (GB/Orica GreenEdge) +8mins 31secs

Tour de France

The Tour spent its first day in France after the opening three stages took place in England

Tour de France

The 163.5km route was the third flat stage out of the 2014 Tour's first four

Tour de France

France's Thomas Voeckler (left) and Spain's Luis Angel Mate lead a breakaway

Marcel Kittel

Marcel Kittel takes victory in a sprint finish in Lille