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Roche tour plan stays on course

Nicolas Roche's Tour de France is going according to plan so far as he retained his 11th place overall in the event yesterday, finishing the 153km fourth stage in the same time as bunch sprint winner Alessandro Petacchi of the Lampre-Farnese Vini team.

The Italian was quickest on the first all-French stage of the 97th Tour, which finished in Reims, edging out New Zealand's Julian Dean (Garmin Transitions) plus the rest of the peloton.

Roche picked up several top 12 finishes last year in similar bunch gallops but said he wouldn't waste energy this time around. He is aiming for a high general classification result and consequently will hold back on the flatter stages.

"I am sticking to what I said before, keeping safe," he said afterwards. "It was a bit dangerous coming towards the end, but it was OK. Nothing too bad. There were a few roundabouts near the end, but lucky enough it was really strung out with the tailwind. If there was a headwind it would have been much more dangerous.

"I felt fine today after yesterday's cobbles," he continued. "I felt a bit stiff, but nothing too bad."

Mark Cavendish, meanwhile, was trying today to put his season and his Tour back on track. Yesterday the HTC-Columbia sprinter was surprisingly overtaken with the finish line at his mercy. The stage from Cambrai, through champagne country, was always destined to end in a bunch sprint, a moment where Cavendish usually thrives.

But the 25-year-old was unable to add to his 10 Tour wins in two seasons as Petacchi triumphed, with Dean second and Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen third. Cavendish's frustration at failing to finish off a leadout branded "perfect" by his mentor Erik Zabel was visible as the Briton returned to the HTC-Columbia bus.

"I'm disappointed about today," said Cavendish last night. "I feel sorry for my team-mates who rode unbelievably and I just didn't finish it off at the end. We're really motivated as a team and I'm going to go out there tomorrow and give it 100pc again."

Zabel, six times a winner of the points classification's green jersey, said yesterday: "The team did a perfect job today. The only thing we missed today was Cav's sprint legs from last year."

After being shaken up on the cobbles on stage three on Tuesday, the general classification standings were unchanged with Fabian Cancellara (Team Saxo Bank) first, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) second and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) third.

Tour favourite Alberto Contador (Astana) was in ninth place after five days, with Team Sky leader Bradley Wiggins 14th and Team RadioShack counterpart Lance Armstrong four places further back in 18th.