(CNN) -- Italian veteran Alessandro Petacchi won his second stage of the 2010 Tour de France on Wednesday as cycling's premier event returned to less testing terrain after two days of crash-marred racing.
Petacchi triumphed in the fourth leg from Cambrai to Reims as last year's top sprinters Thor Hushovd and Mark Cavendish could manage only ninth and 12th respectively.
Fabian Cancellara retained the leader's yellow jersey as he came home 26th in the 163-strong peloton in the same time as last year's winner Alberto Contador (32nd) and seven-time champion Lance Armstrong (36th).
British rider Cavendish, who won six stages last year, had a better day after struggling in the wet and on the cobble stones of previous runs but will be disappointed after being forced out of contention at the final sprint.
Petacchi timed his dash to perfection as he followed up his win in the first stage into the Belgian capital of Brussels, where several crashes dented the hopes of Cavendish among others.
The Lampre team rider came home in three hours 34 minute and 55 seconds to edge out New Zealander Julian Dean and Norway's Edvald Hagen Boasson, with Australian Robbie McEwen fourth and South Africa's Robert Hunter fifth.
Saxo Bank's Cancellara retained a 23-second lead over Team Sky's Geraint Thomas, who was 19th, while third-placed Australian Cadel Evans remained a further 16 seconds back after ending in 16th.
Hushovd retained the sprinters' green points jersey that he won overall last year and in 2005, but had his margin trimmed to 10 points by Petacchi and acknowledged the threat posed by the 36-year-old -- back at the Tour for the first time since 2004.
"I don't know what happened at the finish today, I just had nothing in the legs when I started to sprint. I just felt tired and I couldn't go in the last couple of hundred meters," Hushovd told the Tour de France website.
"Yesterday and the day before I went really deep and I think I'm paying for it now. I still have a lead in the green jersey competition but you saw today that I lost a lot of points to Petacchi and McEwen. It was a fast and nervous sprint today and in the last corner I was too far back.
"I think I spent too much energy to fight with Cavendish and, when Petacchi went on the left, I just couldn't sprint. Petacchi is a threat to the green jersey. He seems really strong now and, if he wants to, he come make it all the way to Paris.
"I'm surprised by how well Alessandro is going. I know he's a good, strong rider but to come back to the Tour de France like he has is impressive."
Swiss rider Cancellara was happy to have an uneventful day after losing teammate Frank Schleck on Tuesday.
"My team was happy and I think many other teams were pleased. We needed something like this after tough, hard, nervous, and stressful opening stages," he said.
"We've spent a lot of energy and we need to recover a bit because soon we'll get to the Alps, and that's when another sort of music will play."