With a wet day and a lumpy course, a small breakaway was on tap, and Javier Ramirez Abeja (Andalucнa – Cajasur), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Dominik Roels (Milram) and Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil) all made their way off the front to for the day’s escapee group and gained upwards of 15 minutes on the wet and seemingly uninterested peloton. But 4 cannot beat 150+, and the chase began in due time. The break broke up, Boom and Lagutin waved the white flag, but Abeja and Roels pressed on.
At 33km two Dutchmen, Johnny Hoogerland (Vancansoleil) and Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank) made their move to bridge up but were swept up, and quickly afterwards Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) went to bridge up as well. Lots of Dutchmen making all the moves today; especially the wildcard Vacansoleil team, obviously keen to make good on their wildcard invitation and show that they belong in the Vuelta.
Behind as the group started sharpening up in their pursuit of the men ahead, a large pile up took out a good ten riders on the left hand side of the wet roads leading into Liege. Everyone managed to remount, but that one looked pretty painful for a few of the victims. Wet and skinny roads made the perfect conditions for crashes, and today sadly we had a lot of them.
Boom’s second consecutive day of aggression resulted in the Mountain Jersey.
Westra finally caught the two up front right after the last sprint point, and the breakaway was strengthened to three men, but the peloton was right on their heels. One more cobble laden roundabout saw the small Spanish rider say “no mas” as he took his leave of the Belgian and the Dutchman, who were obviously more comfortable on the wet bumpy rocks. But then Roels, too, had had enough and now Westra was all alone.
With 13km to go the group went into a straight line as the speeds went up. With the wet roads, the sprinkles of cobbles, and the speed being kept high, this was pure white knuckle stuff.
Small solo moves were attempting to take off after Westra was swept up, but nothing really stuck. It certainly was looking like the field was playing for a bunch sprint. One Lampre rider, Enrico Gasparotto, did finally make his way out alone at 10k and managed to chip out 10 seconds or so.
The finishing circuits in downtown Liege had the riders whipping around the football stadium, and the group was single file, led at times by some of the bigger names vying to stay out of trouble on the wet roads, most notably Cadel Evans and then Alejandro Valverde.
No team was taking pure control of the field, but riders from the sprinter’s team all lent a hand. Some Garmin, some Liquigas, some Quick Step, and a hodge podge of other teams.
And as if to script, nearly the entire peloton ate shit in a wet roundabout in spectacular fashion after a touch of wheels. As the road choked coming out of the roundabout, bodies and bicycles were stacking up several feet high. Only 6 riders out of the entire peloton were ahead of the crash. Several riders went down terribly hard, and among the mass of bodies was the gold jersey of Cancellara. Another notable hard faller was Chris Horner.
Of the six that managed to escape the fall, it was 3 Quick Step and 3 Columbia-HTC. 3 on 3, street basketball style.
Marcel Seiberg lead out Andre Greipel to beat Wouter Weylandts in a head to head sprint. But Greipel had enough of a leadout to beat the Belgian, who sat up when he knew he didn’t have the goods some 10 meters from the line.
Certainly that crash destroyed the stage finish, leaving just 6 riders – 3 each from 2 teams – to sort out the last kilometers. All the big names limped in to the finish in dribs and drabs, with the gold jersey coming in 5 minutes behind the winner. But after a short bit of deliberation, the race officials decided to give everyone the same time so that meant Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank held on to the Maillot Oro!
Stage 4 Results
1. Andrй Greipel (Ger) Columbia-HTC
2. Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step
3. Bert Grabsch (Ger) Columbia-HTC
4. Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Columbia-HTC
5. Marco Velo (Ita) Quick Step
6. Matti Breschel (Den) Saxo Bank
7. Adam Hansen (Aus) Columbia-HTC
8. Jьrgen Roelandts (Bel) Silence-Lotto
9. Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Milram
General Classification After Stage 4
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank
2. Gregory Henderson (NZl) Columbia-HTC at 0.06
3. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Milram 0.08
4. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 0.09
5. Bert Grabsch (Ger) Columbia-HTC 0.11
6. Andrй Greipel (Ger) Columbia-HTC 0.11
7. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Slipstream 0.12
8. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank 0.14
9. Jens Mouris (Ned) Vacansoleil 0.14
10. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas 0.16