With another uphill finish on Stage 4, the hardmen of the Classics were once again expected to take center stage. But at the line, it was a pair of contenders to the overall that ended up fighting tooth and nail to capture the victory.
While no Tour has ever been won in the opening week, it can certainly be lost. Sensing his opportunity to repeat as Tour Champion slipping into a precarious state after the uncontrollable debacle on Stage 1, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) attempted to regain lost time on the difficult uphill finale of the Mûr-de-Bretagne.
Unfortunately for the Spaniard, a host of contenders, including Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and yellow jersey wearer, Thor Hushovd (Team Garmin-Cervelo) were equal to the task.
Evans would hold on to the slimmest of margins at the line to take the win as Contador gave one last ditch effort to steal the stage in the closing meters.
In what may prove to be his last Tour de France, Alexandre Vinokourov (Pro Team Astana) fought valiantly to cross the line in third, while Hushovd finished a few wheels behind the lead pair to retain his race lead.
Results - Stage 4
1. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
2. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana
General Classification After Stage 4
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
3. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
4. David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Cervelo
5. Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack
6. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
7. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling
8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
9. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek
Jersey Leaders After Stage 4
maillot jaune - Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo
maillot vert - Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
maillot a pois rouges - Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
maillot blanc - Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling
Quick Stepping Through The Tour
After the beautiful weather conditions of the last days the riders were confronted with rainy conditions on their way to the Mûr de Bretagne. Just like in the previous stages there was an early breakaway which animated the stage for a long. After 2 kilometres a group of 5 riders attacked. The peloton tried to reel them in quickly, but when that didn`t work they let the escapees go. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Blel Kadri (AG2R) and Jérémy Roy (FdJ) opened a gap of 4 minutes quickly, but then the peloton accelerated again and closed in on the escapees.
Despite the hard chase of the bunch, the early breakaway stayed in the front until the Mûr de Bretagne came in sight. After the escapees were reeled in, Contador launched an attack which was countered by Philippe Gilbert (Omega-Pharma-Lotto) and a strong performing Dries Devenyns. Our Belgian rider put down a strong ride and in the final kilometre he tried to attack. The group with Evans, Contador and Gilbert reacted immediately and reeled Devenyns in. A group of 15 riders battled for the stage win which was taken by Evans who kept Contador just behind him. Devenyns finished in 18th place, only 8 seconds behind the stage winner. "I tried to stay with the leaders up to 300 meters from the arrival. I resisted a couple of important changes in rhythm, but then I really had nothing left to give in the sprint. I'm happy anyway, because it sure wasn't easy to stay with the first group. It was a hard stage, with rain and wind and high speeds in the final. Let's hope tomorrow the weather is better", said Devenyns after the line.
Kevin de Weert did a good job finishing in the group at 8 seconds of Evans. The Belgian rider was satisfied after the stage. "I'm pleased with my race. I gave it my all on an arrival more suited to riders who can vary their rhythm. I closed out in Schleck's group and I lost only a few seconds on the stage winner. The roads were narrow and continually up and down. These are situations where you should never lose your concentration." Jerome Pineau tried his luck early in the stage, but couldn`t make it into the day`s breakaway. "This morning I tried to bust out at least three times, but with no luck. I'll try again in the next days. The stage was super fast in the final. I couldn't have done more than what I did on this type of arrival", said Pineau.
Next: Stage 5 - Carhaix to Cap Fréhel (158km)
Photo: (top: Michael Steele/Getty Images; bottom: © Tim de Waele - TDWSport.com)