This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) took the 24th Tour de France stage victory of his career, on stage 4 of the 2013 Tour in Marseille. The Briton, who is recovering from bronchitis, beat Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), with Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) fourth. A crash with several hundred meters to go stopped much of the field from continuing to the finish line, but the riders lost no time in the GC.
Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) retained his overall lead ahead of teammates Daryl Impey and Michael Albasini.
A six rider group broke away early on in the stage and built up a lead of over 13 minutes. The peloton reacted late to the threat and it was touch and go as to whether they would be caught, with the last of them, Alexey Dyachenko (Astana) being swept up by the field with only 4 km to go.
Only 195 riders took to the start in Cagnes-sur-mer. Cannondale's Ted King had hoped that the race jury would overturn its decision that he was over the time limit yesterday, but that did not happen.
The break group of the day formed just after the start with Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Kevin Reza (Europcar), Romain Sicard (Euskaltel), Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil), Anthony Delaplace (Sojasun) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) taking off. The sextet quickly built up an enormous lead, which went all the way up to 13 minutes.
Arashiro was the best placed of the group, only 3:42 down on Gerrans. He was in the virtual yellow jersey for much of the day, with many hoping he would become the first Japanese to claim the leader's jersey.
Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) rides in the breakaway
It was a rolling stage, with four ranked climbs, one category 3 and the rest category 4. De Gendt had come into the race with his eye on the GC and proclaiming his aim of winning on Alpe d'Huez, but illness threw him back earlier in the race. The Vacansoleil rider must have been feeling better though, as he started slowly gathering mountain points on the first two climbs.
Eventually Lotto Belisol and Argos Shimano moved in to help with the lead work, and the gap started coming down. With 75km to go it was just over seven and a half minutes. That also saw the third climb of the day, the category four Cote de la Roquebrussanne. This time it was Arashiro who sprinted out to grab the one available point.
The group finally broke with some 54 kms to go as Delaplace and Sicard could no longer keep up.
The gap was still over five minutes with 40km to go, and the sprinters saw their chance slipping away from them, and Omega Pharma-QuickStep moved up to help with the chase. The seconds ticked away until Arashiro was out of the virtual lead.
The gap dropped dramatically as the finish line approached. The four still in front continued to work together and fought hard to stay away, while behind them Orica-GreenEdge gave furious chase.
The last climb of the day was the Cote des Bastides, with about 20 km to go, not very steep but a long ascent. Although ranked category 4, it was enough to start dropping riders off the back of the field.
Arashiro attacked on the climb, as the gap dropped to 1:45. He and Reza worked together to drop their rivals, but unsuccessfully, and it looked more and more as if they would eventually be caught.
A large crash in the middle of the field took down, amongst others, Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp). Both got back on their bikes, but it eliminated Kittel from a possible mass sprint finish.
The gap dropped to below a minute with just over 13 km to go. It was too much for Lutsenko, who took off, followed only by Reza. Despite their brave efforts, they too were caught.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep moved up to the front with 2km to go, hoping that Mark Cavendish could pull out his first win of this year’s race. Lotto Belisol had other plans though, riding hard for Greipel. Peter Sagan chose Greipel's rear wheel. A crash took down may riders with about 200 meters to go, totally blocking the rest of the peloton. It came down to a handful of riders, with Cavendish turning on his legendary acceleration to take an easy win. Boasson Hagen put in a strong sprint for second place ahead of Sagan, while Greipel eased off near the end, seeing he was beaten.