Alessandro Petacchi of Italy won the fourth stage of the Tour de France in a mass sprint Wednesday, with the main contenders for the yellow jersey finishing safely in the main pack.
The Lampre rider collected his second stage win this Tour in the 153.5-kilometre ride from Cambrai to the champagne capital Reims -- a mostly flat trek that appeared tailor-made for sprinters.
Petacchi, competing in his first Tour since 2005, veered out wide left to get a jump on three lead riders with a few metres left, and pedalled furiously to hold them off at the finish.
He edged Julian Dean of New Zealand into second, and Edval Boasson Hagen of Norway was third. The pack had the same time as Petacchi: three hours 34 minutes 55 seconds.
"I'm really happy … I had nothing to lose, and I wanted to try my chances," said Petacchi, who also won four stages in the 2004 Tour. "At this stage in my career, winning two Tour stages is really important."
Defending champion Alberto Contador was 32nd, last year's runner-up Andy Schleck placed 58th, and seven-time champion Lance Armstrong crossed 36th.
Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria maintained his fourth spot overall after finishing 96th. Toronto's Michael Barry was 42nd in the stage and stands 62nd overall.
Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland retained the yellow jersey, having recovered it during Tuesday's ride over cobblestones -- where Armstrong sustained a punctured tire and lost precious seconds.
The other top standings didn't change.
Among the overall contenders, two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans is third, 39 seconds back, Schleck is sixth, 1:09 back, Contador is ninth, 1:40 back, and Armstrong is 18th, 2:30 back.
Before the stage, Armstrong said he would need to be "opportunistic" in a bid to make up ground in the race, that ends July 25 in Paris. The next big challenges loom in the Alps in Sunday's Stage 8.