Stage 4 of the Tour de France, featured 172.5km of length and traveled form Lorient to Mыr-de-Bretagne. Not the “Mur” part – yes, this stage finishes on a punchy Cat 3 climb after a lumpy day to begin with. The Tour continues to throw diverse courses at the riders to shake up as much as possible early on.
Jeremy Roy (FDJ) threw the first punch and drew out Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), (surprise!) Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Gorka Izagirre (Euksaltel-Euskadi) and the quintet quickly built up time and made the break of the day.
At 30km to go, the 5 leaders’ time gap continued to fall, now down to 2:17, but they continued to throw their backs into it and worked hard in the rain. Behind, of course, teams were sharing the work to keep the break on a leash and reeled slowly. Thor of always near the front resplendant in rain soaked yellow.
Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo) was doing the hard yards for Garmin in the chasing line, taking his trademark long TT-esque pulls. With the uphill finish and much to be wary of, it was in no one’s best interest to bring the break back too soon.
A moment of panic for one of th race favorites, Cadel Evans, stopping for some sort of mechanical or issue, which in turn caused one of the photographers to fall off the back of his moto in his haste to get the incident on film. A few BMC teammates rolled back to help their captain and avert disaster. As they rolled through Cleguerec, an older man dressed in drag serenaded the group with an accordian.
By 17km to, the break had lost almost another full minute to come down to 1:25. Omega Pharma Lotto now committed 4 or 5 guys to the front now, chasing hard for Gilbert, a heavy favorite for today’s punchy uphill finish. Glued to Gilbert’s polka dot jersey was Thor Hushovd’s yellow jersey, vigilant.
The wet weather, coupled with the fierce roads of Brittany made for a hard day’s work for all riders. There were no easy faces to be found.
Roman Feillu had a mechanical, and in some degree of his sprint like histrionics, stood on the side of the road frantically waving his team car down for a replacement bike. The uphill finish might not have suited him too well, but if he had hopes of being there in the end, things got worse for him having to chase back on at this late stage of the race as up front the pace was whipping up.
Now the big teams were massing at the front to position their team leaders for the final climb. Leopard Trek had Andy Schleck right where he needed to be, Contador was being ushered up by his Saxo-Bank Sungard team, and of course the Garmin boys looking after Thor.
At about 7km to go, Gorka Izagirre decided to take his leave of the breakaway group at the first pitches of the climb, taking Hoogerland with him (barely) and shattering the rest of the break. The Spaniard had to play to his climbing prowess for Euskatel.
Behind, Cancellara rode on the front and as a result, the group was in a narrow line behind, spelling the doom for the break. Izagirre and Hoogerland got brought back by their former mates, but at just about 30 seconds advantage, their day was done at 5 km to go. The pace was also dooming the pure sprinters out the back as the big sprint names were shown the door.
Cadel Evans found the line first, just ahead of a storming Contador.
Hincapie went to the front as they rolled into town, and drilled the pace, with Evans tucked in with him. The men with stage aspirations sat attentive at the front: Gesink, Evans, Gilbert, Contador….and the yellow jersey was there too. One wonders if the climb is difficult enough that Contador might try to grab some time back. Hincapie still was just killing it, whittling the front group down all the time. George drove it right to the foot of the “wall” and peeled off, his job well done. All the favorites sat near the front and the tension was palpable, these guys were in some serious pain trying to maintain position while the climb started to bite. Contador flashed his teeth, Frank Schleck marking him. The climb is only2 km long but it is brutal as all the riders wore their pain faces trying to stay near the front.
The effort of the final few kilometers was not hidden on Contador’s face.
Contador saw his chance and launched at 1 km to go…Gilbert had the measure of it, and Evans slipped in behind, with Frank Schleck….about 6 men split off just enough, but no one kept the pace going and the group came back together. Sky’s talented young Colombian, Rigoberto Uran, took a short dig, and then laid off.
Improbably, Thor Hushovd managed to hold on to the lead group to defend his Maillot Jaune – how far can he go in Yellow?
Lots of looking around and then Van den Broeck went hard to start setting up Gilbert’s sprint. 400 meters to go and Omega in the driver’s seat, but Contador launched the sprint early, but Evans again measured him and drove it, staying away to pip the charging Contador by the length of a tire! A great gutty ride by Thor Hushovd will result in him protecting his 1 second lead, and thereby he will ride again in yellow tomorrow.
Cadel Evans’ first four days of this year’s Tour de France have been absolutely perfect. No GC contender could hope for a better opening.
All of the rest of the GC riders came in close behind, some with a few losses of just a handful of seconds. Tomorrow we go back to more sprint-friendly roads and we’ll likely see a group gallop into Cap Frehel.
Stage Four Results
1 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 4:11:39
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana
4 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling
5 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
6 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo
7 Frдnk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
8 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
10 Andreas Klцden (Ger) Team RadioShack
11 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:06
General Classification After Four Stages
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo 13:58:25
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:01
3 Frдnk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:00:04
4 David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:08
5 Andreas Klцden (Ger) Team RadioShack 0:00:10
6 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
7 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:12
8 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
9 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
10 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek
11 Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad 0:00:13