Cadel Evans of BMC Racing just edged out defending champion Alberto Contador to win Stage 4 of the 2011 Tour de France on the Mur de Bretagne this afternoon, with Astana's Alexander Vinokourov third. Birthday boy Philippe Gilbert missed out on celebrating turning 29 in style with the win he had widely been predicted to get, while Thor Hushovd retains the race leader's yellow jersey.
As Evans and Contador crossed the line, the Spaniard seemed to be about to celebrate, evidently thinking better of it as it became apparent that there was nothing between the two riders.
The Australian former world champion’s win was all the more remarkable since a mechanical problem forced him to change bikes around 20km out, and he was quick to praise team mate Marcus Burghardt, whom he described as “my hero of the day,” for the work he put in to pace his leader back to the peloton.
Evans was safely at the front of the bunch by the time a five-man breakaway group was swept up with 4km to go, as were all the riders with ambitions for a high place on the GC in this year’s race, mindful that it was vital to be in a good position at the head of the race going onto the final climb.
Once the bunch hit the Mur de Bretagne, nicknamed the Breton Alpe d’Huez, the peloton became strung out back down the road, and the first attack in earnest came from Contador, the three-time Tour de France winner aiming to make up the time he had lost to his rivals over the weekend.
By now, the contenders for the stage win had been reduced to just ten, including Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran who finished fourth, as well as Leopard Trek’s Frank Schleck, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez and RadioShack’s Andreas Kloden. Gilbert was there too and had team mate Jurgen Van Den Broeck for company, but the winner of Stage 1 would finish fifth today as Evans who launched himself for the line and just held off Contador.
Bradley Wiggins, who himself had needed to be paced back to the main group by four Team Sky colleagues after puncturing some 60km from the finish, led the second group over the line, 6 seconds down on the winner, accompanied by Liquigas-Cannondale’s Ivan Basso and points classification leader Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar.
Geraint Thomas was a further 2 seconds back and retains the lead in the best young rider's competition and the winner of that prize for the past two years, Andy Schleck, recorded the same time as did David Millar, who drops from 2nd to 4th on the GC.
In contrast to yesterday’s clear skies and soaring temperatures, rain had greeted the peloton this morning as they set off from Lorient and would persist all day, with Evans saying before the start that the weather would make an already nervous peloton “even more nervous.”
That rain didn’t deter five riders from attacking and getting off the front of the peloton early on in the 172.5km stage, including the ever combative Jonny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil-DCM, who picked up maximum points at the intermediate sprint as well as the solitary point on offer in the mountains competition today.
The Dutchman was joined in the break by Biel Kadri of AG2R, Gorka Insausti from Euskaltel-Euskadi, Movistar’s Imanol Erviti and Jeremy Roy of FDJ and Johnny Hoogerland. Behind them, it was Gilbert’s Omega Pharma-Lotto team who shared duties in leading the chase along with race leader Hushovd’s Garmin-Cervelo.
Yesterday’s intermediate sprint proved controversial with Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd subsequently stripped of the points they had accrued by the race jury after rubbing shoulders as they approached the line.
Today the HTC-Highroad man had to be content with 7 points as Tyler Farrar nipped through a gap between two riders to claim the maximum 10 points available to the peloton after the breakaway had taken those on offer for the first five riders through the sprint point.
The Manxman was the fourth man across from the main bunch, with green jersey Rojas crossing second to pick up 9 points and Vacansoleil’s Borut Bozic taking third place for 8 points.
Jersey wearers Hushovd and Rojas apart, that signified the end of the day’s real business for the sprinters, with Farrar and Cavendish rolling over the line more than 4 minutes after Evans and Contador had fought it out for the stage win.
Tour de France Stage 4 Result
1 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING 4h 11' 39"
2 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD Same time
3 VINOKOUROV Alexandre ASTANA
4 URAN Rigoberto SKY PROCYCLING
5 GILBERT Philippe OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO
6 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO
7 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK
8 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI
9 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO
10 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK
11 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 06"
12 ROJAS Jose Joaquin MOVISTAR
13 BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE
14 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD + 00' 08"
15 KREUZIGER Roman ASTANA
16 HORNER Christopher RADIOSHACK
17 GESINK Robert RABOBANK
18 DEVENYNS Dries QUICK STEP
19 HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - CERVELO
20 LEIPHEIMER Levi RADIOSHACK
Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 4
1 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO 13h 58' 25"
2 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 00' 01"
3 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 04"
4 MILLAR David GARMIN - CERVELO + 00' 08"
5 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK + 00' 10"
6 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 10"
7 THOMAS Geraint SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 12"
8 HAGEN Edvald Boasson SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 12"
9 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 12"
10 FUGLSANG Jakob LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 12"
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