GERMANY'S Marcel Kittel has put the disappointment of missing last year's Tour de France with a virus by winning stage four of this year's event in tough bunch sprint.
Kittel (Etixx-Quick Step) defeated fast-finishing Frenchman Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie), to win in a photo-finish by a tyre's width.
Slovak Peter Sagan (Saxo Tinkoff) was third and retained the overall leader's yellow jersey at the end of the stage, at 237.5km, the longest in this year's race.
Frenchman Julian Alaphillipe (Etixx-Quick Step) is in good shape, sitting second 12 seconds behind Sagan with a good chance of taking yellow on stage five which is a 216km ride up into the mountains of the Massif Central.
After the virus ruined his 2015 season, Kittel was also dropped by his Giant-Alpecin team.
The 28-year-old then decided to sign for Etixx-Quick Step as the team was looking for a replacement for Mark Cavendish.
"There is a lot of emotion. I had to fight to come back. I had a tough start to the season but the goal has always been the Tour de France," Kittel said.
"The plan was to take the yellow jersey after the first stage but that did not go as expected."
Kittel was not part of the huge sprint won by Cavendish on Saturday's opening stage.
He also finished seventh on stage three, also won by Cavendish, suggesting he was out of form.
However, after being led out perfectly by teammates, he held off a late surge from Coquard and celebrated soon after as the photograph confirmed him as stage winner.
Others who will be looking forward to the first big mountain stage will be defending champion Chris Froome, Movistar's Nairo Quintana and Astana's Fabio Aru.
Both are sitting 18 seconds off the lead and might well attempt to close that gap tonight.
"It's a bit too early to see a real general classification battle but it's definitely somewhere where there will be time gaps," Froome, 31, said.
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