REIMS, France -- Alessandro Petacchi of Italy won the fourth stage of the Tour de France in a mass sprint Wednesday, with Lance Armstrong and other contenders for the overall title finishing safely in the pack.
The Lampre rider collected his second stage win this Tour in the 95.4-mile ride from Cambrai to the champagne capital Reims -- a mostly flat trek that was tailor-made for sprinters.
Petacchi, who is competing in his first Tour since 2005, veered wide left to get a jump on three lead riders -- including Thor Hushovd of Norway and Britain's Mark Cavendish -- with about 400 meters left.
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By the end, Petacchi had dusted them and edged Julian Dean of New Zealand in second and Edval Boasson Hagen of Norway in third. The pack was given same time as Petacchi: 3 hours, 34 minutes, 55 seconds.
Armstrong crossed 36th, defending champion Alberto Contador was 32nd and last year's runner-up Andy Schleck placed 58th.
"I'm really happy ... I had nothing to lose, and I wanted to try my chances," said Petacchi, who won four stages in the 2004 Tour. "At this stage in my career, winning two Tour stages is really important."
The Italian veteran schooled Cavendish, who had a lead-out man with him. The Briton, who won six Tour stages last year, hurled his bike in frustration after the stage.
"I don't think he has anything to learn from me," the 36-year-old Petacchi said. "He won six [stages] last year."
Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland retained the yellow jersey, having recovered it during Tuesday's ride over cobblestones -- where Armstrong punctured a tire and lost precious time.
The other top standings didn't change.
Among the overall contenders, two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans was third, 39 seconds back, Schleck was sixth, 1:09 back, Contador ninth, 1:40 back, and Armstrong 18th, 2:30 behind.
Armstrong was happy to get out of Wednesday's relatively short stage without mishap after being one of the dozens of riders to crash during a rainy second stage and the flat in Stage 3.
"I didn't want to have a third day in a row of bad luck," he said. "[It's] nice that everybody stayed up."
So how does he handle bad luck?
"You just deal with it, make it happen," he said, before cutting his comments short while being heckled by a nearby fan. "There's always crashes, days like yesterday are so extreme there's nothing you can do."
Before the stage, coming out of the team bus to a huge ovation from fans, Armstrong said he would need to be "opportunistic" in his bid to make up ground in the race, which ends July 25 in Paris.
The next big challenges loom in the Alps, starting with Sunday's eighth Stage 8.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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