Porte avoids carnage on another bloody stage
FERNANDO Gaviria has stamped himself as the strongest sprinter at the Tour de France, winning for the second time in three road stages.
The Colombian prodigy emerged victorious at the end of the longest finishing straight of the Tour after a flat 195km slog from La Baule to Sarzeau.
On a day tailor made for the fast men, Gaviria was again the fastest, holding off sprint royalty in the form of Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel.
Aussie title contender Richie Porte finished safely in the main bunch to consolidate Monday's team time trial gains.
Gaviria - a Tour de France debutant at 23 - was elated at the finish.
"It was a very difficult victory. We didn't have any help to control the breakaway today ... but we really wanted to win today and the team did an incredible job and we're really happy," Gaviria said.
"It's hard to say that you believe that you can do it when you come here, but we really trained very hard for this Tour. We've arrived here in very good condition."
Sagan's second place saw him retain the green jersey, but new kid on the block Gaviria is presenting a threat.
Asked how to beat Gaviria in his pursuit of a sixth green jersey, Sagan said: "Maybe we wait for a mistake. We will see over the next days with the climbs."
Despite Stage 4 looking among the most comfortable on paper, more crashes made for an edgy day in the peloton.
German Marcus Burghardt came down hard in the neutral zone before the race had officially started.
Another prang with 50km to go held up a high-profile group including Dan Martin, Mikel Landa, Jakob Fuglsang and Bauke Mollema before all were able to rejoin the main field.
But it was a smash with 5km to go that caused more problems. Martin was involved, making in two crashes in one day, while fellow GC contenders Ilner Zakarin and Rigoberto Uran were also held up and forced into a serious chase as the sprint teams put the foot to the floor in search of the finish.
Uran got back on, but Zakarin didn't and lost 59 seconds in the only change to the general classification.
Porte was well protected by his trio of bodyguards, Michael Schar, Stefan Kung and Patrick Bevin and kept at the head of affairs, with teammate Gren Van Avermaet in the yellow jersey.
Indeed, for one of the few times in his Tour de France career, Porte was unaware of the chaos behind.
"That's the thing, I did even know of any crashes. We stayed right up the front there," Porte said.
"My teammates did a super a super job for us. Sometimes it's nice to have the jersey to have that right to sit up the front and it was a nice day."
Aussie Michael Matthews, who has shelved any plans to defend his 2017 green jersey in support of potential overall winner Tom Dumoulin, was happy to chalk another one off.
"We have a GC goal here and so far we've got through that very well. It's been a good few first stages and we stayed safe," Matthew said.
Stage 5 presents a trickier proposition for the peloton, in the form of a lumpy 204.5 trek from Lorient to Quimper, which has a technical finish.
Then comes the Stage 6 tester for the contenders, with the finish a double-ascent of the Mur de Bretagne - the sight of a Cadel Evans victory on the way to his 2011 Tour title.
1. Fernando Gaviria (COL/QST) 195.0 km in 4hr 25min 01sec (average: 44,2 km/h) 2. Peter Sagan (SVK/BOR) at 0.
3. André Greipel (GER/LOT) 0.
4. Dylan Groenewegen (NED/LNL) 0.
5. Marcel Kittel (GER/KAT) 0.
6. Andrea Pasqualon (ITA/WGG) 0.
7. Alexander Kristoff (NOR/EAU) 0.
8. John Degenkolb (GER/TRE) 0.
9. Dion Smith (NZL/WGG) 0.
10. Timothy Dupont (BEL/WGG) 0.
1. Greg Van Avermaet (BEL/BMC) 13hr 33min 56sec.
2. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) at 0.
3. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 3.
4. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/QST) 5.
5. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/QST) 7.
6. Bob Jungels (LUX/QST) 7.
7. Tom Dumoulin (NED/SUN) 11.
8. Soren Kragh Andersen (DEN/SUN) 11.
9. Michael Matthews (AUS/SUN) 11.
10. Rigoberto Uran (COL/EFD) 35.