Froome loses Tour lead to Martin

Britain’s Chris Froome was relaxed about losing the lead in the Tour de France to Tony Martin after the German won stage four from Seraing to Cambrai.

Etixx – Quick-Step’s Martin made a solo break towards the end of a tricky stage, with seven sections of cobbles, and leads Froome by 12 seconds.

Team Sky’s Froome, 30, finished in the chasing pack to retain his lead over his main rivals for the overall win.

“Losing the yellow jersey at this stage is no big deal,” said Froome.

“There is still a long way to go and, as a time-trial specialist, Tony is not going to be there in the mountains.

“I was definitely happier to see it go to him than any of my GC (general classification) rivals.”

Froome, who was wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey for a British record 15th day, finished alongside rivals Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana in a group three seconds adrift of Martin.

The result means the 2013 champion continues to lead Contador by 36 seconds, Nibali by one minute 38 seconds and Quintana by one minute 56 seconds.

Stage four was fraught with danger with seven tricky cobbled sections for the riders to negotiate.

Thankfully the forecast rain stayed away meaning the cobbles were dry and dusty, marginally preferable to wet and slippery.

Nibali attacked four times on the cobbles, but each time Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas responded to keep his team-mate Froome near the front of the race.

And on the final section, Thomas emerged from the dust first with Froome in tow as the pair led into the final 10km of the 223.5km stage – the longest of this year’s race.

Thomas, who had a phenomenal ride, immediately sat up, partly through exhaustion and partly through knowing that his job – to keep Froome safe over the cobbles – had been expertly done.

“It was a bonus to come out of the last cobbled section on the front with Geraint, and the legs felt good,” said Froome.

“It wasn’t about showing how strong I am on the cobbles, it was all about staying out of trouble.”

Froome had one hairy moment, 27km from the finish when he was nudged into the gutter by Katusha rider Jacopo Guarnieri but he kept his balance.

As the race entered the final five kilometres, no rider was prepared to take up the pace, so three-time world time trial champion Martin made the move that would prove decisive.

It was extraordinary to even see Martin at the front of the race given he suffered a puncture inside the final 20km and had to use his team-mate Matteo Trentin’s bike, rather than waste valuable seconds waiting for his team car to bring him a new wheel.

“After having a flat tyre and changing bikes I was thinking about the next stage,” Martin, who beat John Degenkolb by three seconds, conceded after winning the stage and his first yellow jersey.

“But I got back in [the lead group] and with five kilometres remaining everybody was looking round and not pulling so I went for it. A thousand thanks for my team. I am super happy.”

It was a deserved victory for Martin who had narrowly missed out on the yellow jersey on each of the first three stages.

In fact, he was denied it by 0.07seconds when Froome finished second on Monday to take the race lead.

The stage’s big loser was Thibaut Pinot. Thought by many to be the most likely man to end France’s 30-year wait for a home winner – Bernard Hinault was the last in 1985 – the FDJ rider suffered a puncture on the cobbles, lost more than three minutes and is now six minutes 18 seconds behind Froome.

Geraint Thomas (left) riding on the cobbles

If Froome wins the Tour, he will look back to the help given to him by Geraint Thomas on stage four

Tony Martin

An exuberant Martin moments before he was mobbed by his team-mates

Tony Martin

Martin came close to winning the yellow jersey on each of the first three stages

Stage four result:

1 Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step 5hrs 28mins 58secs

2 John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant +03secs

3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff – Saxo Same time

4 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing

5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team MTN

Selected others:

12 Mark Cavendish (GB) Etixx – Quick-Step Same time

15 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana

17 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky

19 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff- Saxo

22 Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky

23 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar

68 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ

General classification:

1 Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step 12hrs 40mins 26secs

2 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky +12secs

3 Tejay van Garderen (US) BMC Racing +25secs

4 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto +38secs

5 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff – Saxo +39secs

6 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing +40secs

7 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Etixx – Quick-Step +46secs

8 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff – Saxo +48secs

9 Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky +1min 15secs

10 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx – Quick-Step +1min 16secs

Selected others:

13 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana +1min 50secs

16 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar +2mins 03secs

17 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar + 2mins 08secs

30 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ +6mins 30secs

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