(CNN) -- Fabian Cancellara retained his gold jersey at the Vuelta Espana despite being caught up in a huge pile-up involving the leading riders near the end of Tuesday's fourth stage from Venlo to Liege.
Andre Greipel of Team Columbia celebrates as he wins the 225km fourth stage of the Tour of Spain.
Andre Greipel of Team Columbia edged out Belgian Wouter Weylandt and fellow German cyclists Bert Grabsch and Marcel Sieberg in a sprint finish to the rain-hit 225km leg which saw the race move from the Netherlands into Belgium.
They moved clear after the main pack endured a major spill two kilometers from the end of the stage, which featured the first real climbs of the race.
Switzerland's Cancellara now has a nine-second lead over Belgian sprint specialist Tom Boonen, who moved up to second as the top 57 riders involved in the crash were given the same time as the leaders.
Grabsch is third, 11 seconds off the pace, with Greipel next at the same time following his fourth-place finishes on the two previous stages.
"My goal before starting the Vuelta was to win a stage," Greipel told the Vuelta's official Web site.
"I accomplished that here in Liege and now we'll just take it one day at a time. However, I really want to direct my first words to my fellow racers in the peloton who were involved in the spill.
"I just hope everyone can continue the race. As for me, I received great support from my team and that made my job much easier."
On a difficult day for riding, the temperature dropped from 25C to 17C and persistent rain led to several falls for the competitors.
Ezequiel Mosquera was one to cross the finish line in an apparent pain, though no details were released as to his condition.
Lars Boom of Rabobank led a breakaway from the 21km mark with Dominik Roels (Milram), Javier Ramirez (Andalucia Cajasur) and Sergei Lagutin (Vacansoleil), and they built a 14-minute lead by 55km.
However, that was slowly trimmed to just 2:35 with 47km remaining, and then to less than two minutes after the third and final ranked climb.
Once they were caught, Enrico Gasparotto of Lampre went 10 seconds clear with 10km left but was also reeled in just before the mass crash.
The riders have a much much-needed day off on Wednesday before moving to Spain for the 174km fifth stage from the Catalan city of Tarragona to the coastal city of Vinaros in Castellon.
British rider Charles Wegelius became the first entrant to quit the event, meaning that New Zealander Julian Dean of the Garmin team is now the only man with a chance of completing all three of the sport's major three-week races this season.
The duo started the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta along with Cancellara, Britain's David Millar and American Tyler Farrar, with the latter trio failing to finish in Italy.