The Latest: Froome in yellow as stage 4 starts
CAMBRAI, France (AP) The latest from the fourth stage of the Tour de France (all times local):
Just four days into the Tour de France, Thibaut Pinot is already out of contention.
After finishing third last year, the 25-year-old Frenchman had his remaining hopes shattered as he lost more than three minutes following a string of problems during the cobbled sections of Tuesday's stage.
Pinot, who dreamed of ending a 30-year drought for France in cycling's biggest race, is lagging 6:30 minutes behind overall.
"I had a mechanical problem and then the peloton went full gas,'' said Pinot, who had trouble with his derailleur and could not change bike.
"I could have received assistance, but from who? Mathieu (Ladagnous), who is much taller than me?'' added Pinot, his face caked with mud.
After the incident, Pinot lost precious time waiting for his team car, which was delayed in traffic.
''It's sure that when your car is number 13 in the line, you must expect to wait a long time,'' he said.
Two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador rode the last 25 kilometers of Tuesday's stage filled with cobblestones sections with a broken rear wheel.
With the rim of the wheel broken and hitting the brakes, the Spaniard battled to stay within the group of favorites - and managed to reach the finish without conceding time to his main rivals.
''We realized that it would not be possible to change the wheel,'' Contador said. ''I hung on there, with the help of my fantastic teammates, especially Peter Sagan, who sacrificed himself for me.''
Behind second-placed Chris Froome, who relinquished the yellow jersey to Tony Martin, Contador is the best placed among cycling's ''Fab Four''. He trails the British rider by 36 seconds, with defending champion Vincenzo Nibali 1 minute and 38 seconds behind. Colombian climber Nairo Quintana lags 1:56 back.
After losing out on the yellow jersey for one second at the top of the Mur de Huy climb the day before, Tony Martin used his time trial skills to post a solo win in Cambrai and move into the race lead.
Martin, a specialist against the clock, worked hard to remain in the main pack throughout the stage's seven cobbled sections, and then attacked with three kilometers to go.
The sprinters' teams were caught cold by his bold move and couldn't catch him before the finish line.
John Degenkolb, whose ability over cobblestones helped him win the Paris-Roubaix this year, won the sprint for second place ahead of Peter Sagan.
Both Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali are showing fine bike-handling to avoid crashes in the frenetic finale of Tuesday's stage.
After Froome was forced to ride on the sidewalk when Katusha rider Jacopo Guarnieri squeezed him off the side of the road, Nibali then almost bumped into Frenchman Tony Gallopin as the defending champion moved to the front before launching another attack with 26 kilometers remaining.
Clouds of dust raised over the small road lined up with hundreds of fans as the peloton entered the second cobbled section of Tuesday's stage in Northern France.
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali's Astana team set up a quick pace at the front and the peloton stretched out and split in two.
Two-time champion Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and race leader Chris Froome are fighting hard to stay within reach of the Italian champion, who has launched another attack at the start of the third section of cobblestones after the day's breakaway riders were reigned in.
With its seven cobbles sectors, the fourth stage of the Tour de France looks very much like the Paris-Roubaix classic.
At 223.5-kilometer, it's also the longest of the race this year and comes after two days of frenetic racing in the Netherlands and Belgium. For Nairo Quintana's Movistar team manager, it's far too much.
''This is the stage of all dangers, I can't believe that we have to tackle such a dangerous stage at the Tour de France,'' Unzue told The Associated Press. ''There were many incidents last year on the cobbles, and the riders don't deserve a day like this. Cycling is already one of the most dangerous sports, there is no need for extra danger.''
Quintana, one of the four favorites for the yellow jersey alongside Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador, was briefly dropped after the first section of cobblestones Tuesday but easily made his way back in the peloton.
Raymond Poulidor, the eternal Tour de France runner-up, was left baffled by the organizers' decision to neutralize the third stage of the race because of a massive crash.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme said the 10-minute interruption of the race on Monday was made to ensure the riders' safety. In Poulidor's opinion, it went against cycling's etiquette.
''Prudhomme said it himself, riders are like wild animals, they don't want to stop after a crash, they want to go for the kill,'' Poulidor told The Associated Press at the start of Tuesday's stage to Cambrai.
Poulidor, who secured eight podium finishes at the Tour during his career, said the race would have never been stopped in his racing days. At the 1968 Tour, he was involved in a serious crash after a motorbike knocked him over and fell on top of him.
''During my time, when a rider was down he was attacked,'' Poulidor said. ''When I was hit by the motorbike, I was almost dead on the side of the road and my rivals attacked. When I had a puncture, I was attacked, when I stopped for a piss, I was attacked. And that was normal.''
Back in the yellow jersey for the first time since winning the Tour de France two years ago, British rider Chris Froome leads out the peloton Tuesday for the fourth stage of the race.
Froome took the jersey from Fabian Cancellara in Monday's crash-marred third stage, and holds a slim one-second lead over German rider Tony Martin and 13 seconds over American rider Tejay Van Garderen.
After two days of chaotic racing, stage 4 promises to be another eventful one. At 223.5 kilometers it is the longest of the race and features several treacherous cobblestone sections that should ensure some nerve-jangling moments for a peloton somewhat banged-up after Monday's heavy crash took down some 20 riders.