Fernando Gaviria

Fernando Gaviria wins Tour de France Stage 4 by a wheel (video)

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SARZEAU, France (AP) — Fernando Gaviria and Peter Sagan have turned the first four days of the Tour de France into an enthralling duel of rising star versus world champion.

And Tour newcomer Gaviria is winning so far.

Gaviria edged Sagan at the finish line to claim Stage 4 on Tuesday and take his second stage win in his first participation at cycling’s greatest race.

The 23-year-old Colombian had already bettered Sagan in a sprint to take the opening stage, amid rising expectations since his four stage victories at last year’s Giro d’Italia.

Sagan hit back by winning Stage 2 in an uphill sprint after Gaviria had fallen in a group pileup on the final corner.

Tuesday’s flat leg with its four-kilometer finish — the longest straightaway to conclude a leg on this Tour — was perfect terrain for the budding rivals to break the tie.

After Quick-Step hunted down the breakaway to set up Gaviria, he powered ahead of the pack with handlebars swinging and crossed just inches ahead of Sagan and Andre Greipel in a close third.

Sagan was closing fast and seemed to be on pace to overtake him just when Gaviria hit the line.

“He is faster than me,” said Sagan, the three-time defending world champion who excels in finishes on slight ascents.

“We will see. Maybe I will wait for some mistake (to beat him). And maybe we will see the next days on the climbs. Every stage is different, every sprint is different.”

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Sagan held onto the green jersey as the top sprinter and will wear it for a record-breaking 89th time in stage five on Wednesday. German Erik Zabel wore it 88 times in the 1990s and 2000s as he won a record six points classifications, according to Gracenote.

Sagan will match Zabel’s record six titles if he’s in green in Paris on July 29.

Belgian Greg Van Avermaet remained the overall leader, with BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen in second place with the same time. Van Garderen missed becoming the second (or sixth) American to wear the yellow jersey via tiebreaker.

Van Avermaet, the Rio Olympic road race champion, is expected to cede the race lead either in upcoming cobblestone or mountain stages. He and van Garderen will work for BMC team leader Richie Porte.

Porte, four-time Tour winner Chris Froome and the rest of the men expected to fight to top the podium in Paris all finished with the same time Tuesday.

The Tour de France continues with a hilly stage five on Wednesday, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

“Tomorrow is going to be a hard stage. It is a mini-classic in the Tour,” said Van Avermaet.

The Tour works its way east before hitting the feared cobblestones of Stage 9 and then heading south and into the mountains.

Froome, who was cleared of doping allegations last week by the International Cycling Union, has been jeered by some skeptical fans since arriving in France. During Tuesday’s stage, several syringes were seen alongside the course route in apparent protest by anti-Froome spectators.

Froome is trying to join the select group of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the only riders to win the Tour five times.

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Chris Froome crashes as Colombian wins Tour de France stage 1 (video)

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FONTENAY-LE-COMTE, France (AP) — Chris Froome tumbled off the road into a grassy field in the opening stage of the Tour de France on Saturday, immediately putting his pursuit of a record-tying fifth title in peril.

With grass stains on his right shoulder and back, Froome got back up and crossed 51 seconds behind Fernando Gaviria, the Colombian who claimed the race’s first yellow jersey with a commanding sprint victory.

“I saw a lot of crashes out there today. It’s just one of those things. We always knew the first few days were going to be tricky and going to be sketchy. It’s part of the game unfortunately,” said Froome, who went down with about 5 kilometers to go as the sprinters’ teams jockeyed for position.

“I’m just grateful I’m not injured in any way and there’s a lot of road to cover before Paris obviously.”

The 105th Tour de France continues with stage two, 114 miles, circular and flat, on Sunday, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

When fans at the finish were informed of Froome’s crash, many cheered. The Team Sky rider, who was cleared of doping in an asthma drug case on Monday, was also jeered at Thursday’s team presentations.

Fellow overall contenders Richie Porte and Adam Yates were also caught behind in the Froome group. And in what was expected to be a calm day for the favorites, two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana lost 1:10 due to a tire puncture.

The pre-race favorites who finished safely with the main pack included 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin, Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Alejandro Valverde and Dan Martin.

Gaviria, the Quick Step rider making his Tour debut, easily beat world champion Peter Sagan and Marcel Kittel to the line.

“The yellow jersey is one that everyone dreams of wearing and to get it on the first day is amazing,” Gaviria said. “We had a clear plan and we’re happy because we pulled it off.”

Gaviria required 4 hours, 23 minutes to complete the mostly flat 125-mile stage from the island of Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile on the Atlantic coast to Fontenay-le-Comte.

He became the first rider to win the opening stage on his Tour debut since Fabian Cancellara took a prologue in 2004. David Zabriskie also won a prologue on debut in 2005 but was later stripped of the victory for admitting to doping.

The 23-year-old Gaviria won four stages in last year’s Giro d’Italia and is living up to his billing as the next big thing in sprinting.

Froome was fortunate he didn’t do more damage by avoiding a post near where he fell while riding at more than 50 kph. The Kenyan-born British rider also crashed on the opening day of the Giro d’Italia in May, while warming up for the Stage 1 time trial. But Froome eventually climbed back up the standings to win the Giro — his third straight Grand Tour title.

Froome is aiming to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the only riders to win the Tour five times.

Accounting for time bonuses in the overall standings, Froome trails Gaviria by 1:01.

Fans came out in large numbers for the 105th edition of cycling’s biggest race, standing along nearly every stretch of the route and waving the red and white flags of the Vendee region.

For much of the stage, the route hugged the coastline alongside sparkling waters, pristine beaches and an abundance of salt marshes.

Three French riders — Kevin Ledanois (Team Fortuneo-Samsic), Jerome Cousin (Direct Energie) and Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) — attacked at the start flag and quickly established an advantage of more than a minute.

Cousin and Offredo, the last remnants of the breakaway, were caught by the main pack with 10 kilometers to go.

Lawson Craddock, one of five Americans in the race, crashed in a feeding zone midway through the stage and continued with blood streaming down his face.

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