Result: Cadel Evans narrowly beat Alberto Contador in a sprint finish at the top of Mur de Bretagne to win Stage Four. Alexandre Vinokourov was third.
Here’s how it happened: The day started in much the same way as yesterday with the peloton allowing five riders to form a breakaway. In damp, miserable conditions the escapees were rounded up with just four kilometres left to race as the riders approached the 2km climb to the finish.
All eyes were on Philippe Gilbert who has been absolutely peerless in these sorts of finishes so far this year. But after putting in a big effort to chase down a Contador attack with 1km to go, Gilbert, for once, looked spent.
The front group had been whittled down to about ten riders as they approached the finish line. Evans started the sprint from the front and just barely managed to hold off a charging Contador to win by a tyre width.
The win is made even more impressive by the fact that Evans had a mechanical problem with 20km to go and had to ride hard to catch up to the back of the peloton. It is the Australian’s second ever stage win in the Tour de France having won previously in 2007. He will also have the honour of wearing the polka-dot jersey of King of the Mountains during tomorrow’s stage.
The Big Winner: Thor Hushovd. The big Norwegian sprinter surprised everybody by managing to stay with the front group on the final climb. Evans was just one second behind him on G.C. before today but a massive effort from Hushovd ensured he stays in the yellow jersey.
With three flat stages coming in the next three days, Hushovd will likely keep the yellow jersey now until Stage Eight when there is a much harder uphill finish on the menu.
The Big Losers: Alberto Contador. As he came charging up to Cadel Evans, he thought he had pipped him on the line for the stage win and duly celebrated by punching the air. Oops!
Although Contador did make up eight seconds on Andy Schleck who looked surprisingly lethargic on the climb to the finish.
Philippe Gilbert will also be disappointed as it’s his birthday today and was expected to win this stage. The Belgian champion will now set his focus on Stage Eight where he will again be one of the favourites for another stage win.
What about the Irish? Nicolas Roche finished in 43rd place conceding 19 seconds to the likes of Evans, Contador and Frank Schleck. It was a good effort from Roche although he might be slightly disappointed as many of his direct rivals for a top 10 place overall finished in Andy Schleck’s group, just eight seconds back.
Even though Roche conceded time to the other G.C. favourites, the number of riders who struggled on the Mur de Bretagne means that he has actually moved up to 27th overall, 1’12″ behind Hushovd.
What happens tomorrow? Stage Five sees the riders cover 165km from Carhaix to Cap Fréhel as the race remains in Brittany. With only one small climb on the route after 45.5km, this should definitely be another opportunity for the sprinters. Watch Mark Cavendish silence all the doubters as he makes up for his misfire on Stage Three.