Tour de France: Mark Cavendish misses out as Marcel Kittel wins stage four
Mark Cavendish missed out on a 29th Tour de France stage victory as German rider Marcel Kittel won stage four in a dramatic photo finish.
The 31-year-old Manxman, who won Saturday and Monday's stages, was boxed in at the sprint and finished eighth.
Ettix Quick-Step rider Kittel took the win by a tiny margin from French rider Bryan Coquard in Limoges.
Slovak Peter Sagan came third and keeps the overall lead, while Britain's Chris Froome finished safely in the peloton.
No joy for Cavendish on Tynwald Day
With Cavendish's native Isle of Man celebrating Tynwald Day - the national day for the Irish Sea island - it seemed fitting that he might add his third stage win of this year's Tour.
Cavendish, nicknamed the Manx Missile, has been in tremendous form so far, winning stage one and three.
But he was denied the opportunity to take his career tally of stage wins to 29, and pull clear of Bernard Hinault into stand-alone second on the list of all-time stage wins behind Eddy Merckx, as his Dimension Data team were unable to manoeuvre him into an advantageous position on the incline to the finish.
Instead, it was Kittel, 28, and 24-year-old Coquard who were set up for a thrilling finale and the two bumped elbows together as the German edged the victory by a matter of millimetres for his ninth career stage win.
"I'm very emotional. It feels like my first stage win again [in 2013]," said Kittel. "I'm very happy and proud because the team was fighting for this win. To win a stage like this - I can't believe it."
No sweat for yellow jersey chasers
This 237.5km stage from Saumur to Limoges, the longest on this year's Tour, was not as pedestrian as Monday's similarly flat route, but there was very little stress for defending champion Froome and his yellow jersey rivals.
A four-man breakaway gained more than six minutes on the peloton at one point, but were caught with 7km to go.
There was brief concern as the pace quickened into Limoges and riders scattered to avoid obstacles in the road, but Froome crossed in 37th place and is in a group of 27 individuals 18 seconds behind general classification leader Sagan.
Tinkoff's Sagan, who finished the stage in third place, also tops the points classification, but will wear yellow on stage five and pass the green jersey to Cavendish, who is second in the points standings.
Sagan's possession of the yellow jersey is unlikely to last much longer, as the route heads into the mountainous area of Massif Central, where the punchy climbs will see the general classification contenders, such as Team Sky's Froome and Movistar's Nairo Quintana, attempt to build up leads.
"It's a bit too early to see a real general classification battle but it's definitely somewhere where there will be time gaps,'' Froome, 31, said.
The surprise Briton
Daniel McLay may not have been a household name coming into the this Tour, but the 24-year-old has got himself noticed so far.
The New Zealand-born Briton, who was raised in Leicester, is in only his second season as a professional and competing in his debut Tour - but he came seventh on stage four after ninth-place finishes on stages one and three.
His Fortuneo-Vital Concept team, a wildcard entry into this year's event, will be thankful to the former British road race junior champion for the exposure he has given them.
Stage four result:
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger/Etixx-Quick-Step) 5hrs 28mins 30secs
2. Bryan Coquard (Fra/Direct Energie) same time
3. Peter Sagan (Svk/Tinkoff)
4. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned/LottoNL)
5. Alexander Kristoff (Nor/Katusha)
6. Sondre Enger (Nor/IAM Cycling)
7. Daniel McLay (GB/Fortuneo)
8. Mark Cavendish (GB/Dimension Data)
9. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra/AG2R)
10. Simon Gerrans (Aus/Orica)
General classification after stage four:
1. Peter Sagan (Svk/Tinkoff) 20hrs 3mins 2secs
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra/Etixx-Quick-Step) +12secs
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa/Movistar) +14secs
4. Warren Barguil (Fra/Giant) +18secs
5. Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky) same time
6. Roman Kreuziger (Cze/Tinkoff)
7. Nairo Quintana (Col/Movistar)
8. Fabio Aru (Ita/Astana)
9. Michael Matthews (Aus/Orica)
10. Pierre Rolland (Fra/Cannondale)