Froome heads for X-ray

Defending champion Chris Froome was hoping to avoid any lingering after effects of his fourth stage crash as Marcel Kittel claimed a hat-trick of Tour de France wins in Lille on Tuesday.

Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won a third stage win from four attempts on the 163.5 kilometre stage from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, which began with drama as Froome crashed.

After negotiating three British stages unscathed, Froome tumbled 6km into French soil, tearing his shorts, suffering grazes to the left side he hurt in June's Criterium du Dauphine and damaging his wrist.

Froome visited the race doctor and required a splint on his wrist to finish the stage, and afterwards he was sent for a precautionary X-ray.

His joints will face a major test on Wednesday's fifth stage, the 155.5km route from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hinaut, which features nine cobbled sections totalling more than 15km.

Froome's team-mate Bernhard Eisel told ITV4: "He has a cast on his hand, but he feels okay and hopefully we just lost some skin.

"We didn't lose time today. Let's hope for the best."

Froome may not have lost time, but he dropped back from fifth to seventh in the overall rankings, behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Froome finished 42nd on the stage, while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was 24th to retain the race leader's yellow jersey.

The Team Sky leader's wobble could be significant over the cobbles, where punctures are common, as his team support car will be delayed in reaching him.

The forecast wet weather will make the cobbled stage even trickier for the peloton as the Tour commemorates 100 years since the start of World War One.

Tuesday's stage was expected to be straightforward, but Froome's crash showed nothing can be taken for granted in the Tour.

"Somebody made a mistake," Eisel added. "This wave went through the whole bunch, from position 10 to the last position in the bunch.

"It's just a big wave and Froomey was like the third rider and with the wave he had no chance. He just went down.

"Even when I stopped and waited for Froomey, he was back on his bike and you saw the last rider crashing near the end of the peloton."

Andy Schleck, the 2010 winner, did not start due to a knee injury suffered in a crash on stage three from Cambridge to London on Monday, when Kittel won.

Another sprint stage was expected in Lille, but that did not put off an early two-man breakaway and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) continued alone when fellow escapee Luis Mate (Cofidis) was swallowed up by the peloton inside the final 40km.

Voeckler was caught with 17km to go and the sprinters' teams tried to take control, with Omega Pharma-QuickStep to the fore despite the absence of Mark Cavendish, who on Wednesday will undergo shoulder surgery which will put him out for six weeks.

Giant-Shimano lurked menacingly and took over inside the final 2km.

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was first to launch his sprint, but despite appearing more laboured than on The Mall 24 hours earlier, Kittel triumphed once more.

Kristoff was second, with Arnaud Demare (FDJ) third.

"It was close today," Kittel, who won four stages in the 2013 Tour and could surpass that 12 months on, said on ITV4.

"We saw that we're not unbeatable. We always need a plan, we always need to concentrate on our sprint and our preparation for our sprint.

"The last 30km we rode with really absolute high speed, always 60 (kph) or more. It was really, really fast, difficult to stay together with the team.

"In the end the boys delivered me in front. I was able to sit there on the wheel of (Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Mark) Renshaw.

"Everything I was thinking about was the last corner. (The team) told me at 250m I could see the finish line and I was almost tempted to go at 500 because I couldn't see where it was, but I sat down again.

"I went really long. I put in everything I had. It was really, really difficult."