Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) won the fourth stage of the Eneco Tour, in a bunch sprint that was marred by a dramatic crash that saw Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) taken to hospital.
Stybar – who had been fifth in the overall classification – came off worse in a finishing straight crash that saw several riders hit the deck. He exited the race via an ambulance, with some strapping across his head as well as a neck brace.
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At the finish meanwhile, Bouhanni got the better of Luka Mezgec to claim his first win since the Giro. Belgian champion Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol) was the first to open his sprint, allowing Bouhanni to stay in his slipstream. The Frenchman then soured past his wheel and away from the peloton, with Mezgec the only rider to come close.
Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) was best of the rest in third place, having benefited from some good pace-setting work at the front of the bunch from his team, including one long turn from Fabian Cancellara.
Many sprinters’ chances were ended by the crash, however. The incident occurred when Andre Guardini (Astana) and Janse van Rensburg (Giant-Shimano) – who had sat up having finished his turn at the front – brushed together, and others fell upon failing to avoid them and their bikes.
The scene was chaotic, with Stybar’s bike somersaulting across the air and hitting another few riders. The protruding legs of the roadside barriers have also been blamed for the severity of the crash.
Earlier, Stybar had been lively in his pursuit of bonus seconds. Frederik Veuchelon (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) was the sole escapee for much of the day after other attempts had been reeled in, which meant that bonus time were up for the grabs for the first two riders of the peloton.
Stybar claimed one second behind van Rensberg for the first, and then, after Veuchelon had been caught, another two behind Sep Vanmakre (Belkin), who himself moves up a few places.
There was a late attack from Daniel Oss (BMC), but this stage never looked like ending in anything other than a bunch sprint.
Lars Boom (Belkin) retained the overall race lead.
Eneco Tour 2014, stage four: Koksijde to Ardooie, 183.3km
1. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ in 4-13-59
2. Luka Mezgec (Slo) Giant-Shimano
3. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek Factory Racing
4. Michael Van Staeyen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
5. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
6. Andrea Guardini (Ita) Astana
7. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Sharp
8. Yohann Gene (Fra) Europcar
9. Roy Jans (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
10. Nikolay Trusov (Rus) Tinkoff-Saxo all st
Overall classification after stage four
1. Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin in 12-45-53
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Shimano at 4 secs
3. Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing at 4 secs
4. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana at 7 secs
5. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 9 secs
6. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 14 secs
7. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin at 18 secs
8. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 18 secs
9. Kristijan Koren (Slo) Cannondale at 19 secs
10. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge at 21 secs
Brit Geraint Thomas places third on stage to move up to sixth overall in WorldTour race