Lotto-Belisol's train rolled into Rouen in north western France with André Greipel in a first-class seat. Jürgen Roelandts stretched the group out heading into town, Greg Henderson took over and Greipel finished the job ahead of Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) to win Tour de France stage four.
Greipel had been the only one to push Mark Cavendish (Sky) to the line in stage two to Tournai. Cavendish crashed today in the final three kilometres and was unable to contest the stage.
"I know we have the horsepower in the team. I was close on Monday but I wanted to take the victory today. I had a good feeling," Greipel said in a press conference. Asked about the absence of Cavendish, he said, "Monday showed that I'm competitive. I hope we can see another sprint against him."
"It's always the same. The first day Cav won the stage, most of the people told us that Lotto worked all day even if he won the stage," Lotto DS, Herman Frison told Cycling Weekly. "Today, another situation. Cav is alone with Eisel, all the riders know to stay in the wheel of Greipel, they are fighting and fighting. It's not our problem, but for the others."
Roelandts led over the bridge into town, downhill and kept charging towards the line. Henderson relieved him with 500 metres remaining and left Greipel at 200 metres out. The speeds were fast, lending themselves to crashes.
"I heard it, it happened behind. You can imagine it'd be a fight behind Greipel's wheel, they all want the Lotto lead-out," Henderson continued. "It's a fight, you touch wheels at 60K an hour, shit happens quite quickly."
With the crash behind, Greipel could focus on his second Tour de France win. Last year, he went head-to-head with Cavendish in Carmaux and won. Lotto worked to beef his train over the winter and brought in former HTC-Highroad team-mate Henderson.
Greipel also relied on Roelandts, who fought back to be in the Tour. In the Tour Down Under, he crashed and fractured a vertebra in his neck on stage one. Henderson said the team's tight bond makes a difference for Greipel.
"If your job is to finish at 200m, then you just go to 200m and pull off. If it feels like you need to go longer, then you go longer," Henderson explained. "You just find an extra couple of pedal strokes to ride that little harder or go that little further."
Greipel battled for leadership in his years together with Cavendish at Highroad. Only last year, did they have separate teams and a chance to sprint head-to-head. Cavendish congratulated his former team-mate on Twitter today after the win.
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Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list
Tour 2012: Who will win?
Tour de France 2012 provisional start list
Tour de France 2012 team list
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Stage four: Greipel wins stage after Cavendish crashes
Stage three: Sagan runs away with it in Boulogne
Stage two: Cavendish takes 21st Tour stage victory
Stage one: Sagan wins at first attempt
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
Analysis: How much time could Wiggins gain in Tour's time trials
CW's Tour de France podcasts
Blog: Tour presentation - chasing dreams and autographs
Comment: Cavendish the climber
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Stage four by Graham Watson
Stage three by Graham Watson
Stage two by Andy Jones
Stage two by Graham Watson
Stage one by Graham Watson
Prologue photo gallery by Andy Jones
Prologue photo gallery by Roo Rowler
Prologue photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2012: Team presentation
Sky and Rabobank Tour de France recce
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
Stage three live coverage
Cycling Weekly's live text coverage schedule
Tour de France 2012: TV schedule
ITV4 live schedule
British Eurosport live schedule
Tour de France 2012: Related links
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Brief history of the Tour de France
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
1989: The Greatest Tour de France ever