World champion Mark Cavendish's bid for a 22nd Tour de France stage win was ended by a crash today as Andre Greipel won stage four to Rouen.
In the close-packed bunch, Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Sharp) spectacularly tumbled over his handlebars fracturing the peloton with around 2.7 kilometres to go of the 214.5km route from Abbeville.
The incident delayed more than two thirds of the peloton, but Greipel had support from his Lotto-Belisol team as he claimed a sprint victory. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) was second, with Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) third.
Cavendish (Team Sky) was seeking to draw level with Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade by adding to his 21 Tour stage wins, but was seen gingerly picking himself up off the tarmac, his world champion's jersey in tatters.
Cavendish crossed more than four minutes behind Greipel, but apparently with no more than superficial injuries. As the collision occurred inside the final 3km of the stage, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) retained the race leader's maillot jaune.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin finished in the main peleton. Roche lies 21st overall, with Martin 87th.
Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) comprised the day's three-man breakaway, which began in the opening kilometre.
Japan's Arashiro led the trio over the intermediate line in Fecamp with 74.5km of the stage remaining.
The peloton followed six minutes later, with Cavendish leading the sprint over the line.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) and maillot vert Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) followed.
The result saw Cavendish move into second place in the points classification standings behind Sagan, the winner of stages one and three, who took nine points.
The Manxman moved to 86 points, with Slovakian Sagan going to 125.
The peloton then increased the tempo in pursuit of the escapees, with Team Sky, BMC Racing, Orica-GreenEdge and Lotto-Belisol to the fore.
A handful of riders broke out of the peloton in an attempt to bridge the gap with 10km to go, and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) stayed clear on the final descent into Rouen.
It was a forlorn break, though, as the sprinters' teams set to work and the peloton soaked up the trio with 3km remaining.
Just as the teams sought to get their teams in position for the finale, an innocuous stage turned sour with a large crash.
With Cavendish down, Greipel was able to avoid the crash and surge to victory, while Sagan, winner of stage one and three, added to his points haul by finishing fifth.
Cancellara rolled in well down alongside Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), who remained second overall, seven seconds behind.