Tour de France Stage 4: Petacchi wins, Lance Armstrong lags

Italian Alessandro Petacchi won the Tour de France Stage 4 today, his second win of the race. Racers used the smooth roads to recover from a grueling Stage 3 that saw Lance Armstrong fall to 18th place.

By , Correspondent

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    Lampre's Alessandro Petacchi of Italy celebrates his stage victory on the podium of the fourth stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Cambrai and Reims, on July 7.
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After three stages marred by crashes in rough conditions throughout Belgium, Holland, and northern France, today’s fourth stage of the Tour de France was downright relaxing.

Smooth roads and clear skies greeted riders on the short 95.4-mile route from Cambrai to Reims, in the heart of France’s Champagne region.

The peloton packed in together for most of the stage, looking like a multicolored school of fish in the strong afternoon sun.

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Many riders spent the day chatting amicably, while winding their way past opulent châteaus, vineyards, and fields of bright-yellow sunflowers.

Others, like Garmin-Transition’s Tyler Farrar, used the respite to try to heal their wounds. The American sprint specialist broke his left wrist in stage 2.

And his Colorado-based team is down to just eight riders – a full Tour squad is nine – after team leader Christian Vande Velde was forced out of the race because of injuries suffered during the same stage.

“Everyone was so tired and beat up so we took it easy today,” Farrar told the Monitor at the finish line.

Well, not everyone.

Five riders, including French rider Dmitri Champion, mounted a long breakaway that was eventually pulled back by the peloton with less than five miles remaining.

And in the final kilometer, the sprint specialists dialed up the intensity as the racers passed Reims’ Cathédrale Notre-Dame, once used to coronate French monarchs.

In front of thousands of fans blowing the Tour de France’s version of the vuvuzela, veteran Alessandro Petacchi edged out the field in a mad dash to the finish.

It was the 36-year old Italian’s second win of this Tour. After missing the last four Tours because of a combination of injury and doping allegations, the former sprint king is enjoying a renaissance.

“I had nothing to lose, and I wanted to try my chances," Petacchi told reporters. "At this stage in my career, winning two Tour stages is really important."

Petacchi, not considered a challenger for the yellow jersey, is 12 minutes and 27 seconds behind race leader Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland. Lance Armstrong, who lost crucial time Tuesday after a flat tire, is still in 18th place, 2 minutes and 30 seconds off the lead.

The three-week race ends July 25, in Paris.

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