Veteran Frenchman Christophe Moreau took a superb lone stage win on the Mont Ventoux, and in the process came within a whisker of regaining the yellow jersey he lost in Wednesday?s time trial.
Moreau is now second overall, just a handful of seconds behind new Dauphine Libere leader Andrey Kashechkin, who took over from his Astana team-mate Alexandre Vinokourov after his fellow-Kazakh cracked early on the 20 kilometre Ventoux.
But whilst Kashechkin was never looking strong, Moreau was clearly on full song. The AG2R rider?s second Dauphine stage win in three days came after he charged out of the peloton of main favourites with more than half the Ventoux climb left to go. Ahead and almost simultanously, Moreau?s team-mate Sylvain Calzati dropped the three other riders from a day-long leading break.
As the woods gave way to the summit?s bleak screeslopes and the race passed the Chalet Reynard restaurant, Moreau and the only rider able to follow him on the long ascent, Pole Sylvester Szmyd (Lampre) finally reached race leader Calzati. Less than a kilometre afterwards, Moreau attacked again to drop his team-mate and then Szymd for a lone Ventoux victory.
?I wanted the stage more than go for the overall? Moreau admitted. ?And I?d have liked to win with Calzati, because he did an amazing attack after being away so long in the break.?
?But with Szmyd there we couldn?t really go in for those sorts of shows. Instead, I had to attack to make sure we got the stage win, which I want to dedicate to Sylvain.?
Just 13 seconds behind Kashechkin on the overall, Moreau refused to rule out challenging for the overall in a race which he won back in 2001 and in which he finished second last year.
?It?s definitely possible.?, he said. ?There are three tough Alpine stages left to go, the first of them tomorrow, and I don?t want to rule anything out.?
For the 36-year-old Moreau victory on the Ventoux was sweet sporting revenge in any case. Last year he lost the the stage win on the same climb by a wheel?s length to Russian Denis Menchov. Finishing alone ensured that did not happen again.
Of the other overall favourites, race leader Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) had a rough day and lost nearly seven minutes. Brits David Millar (Saunier Duval) and Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) climbed the Ventoux together and crossed the line some 16 minutes back. Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D?Epargne) had the toughest time of all: after spending half the night vomiting because of an upset stomach, Valverde finally finished 28-54 down, second last on the stage and with just one team-mate, Jose Luis Garcia Acosta, for company. For the last two kilometres, he?d needed pushing from Garcia Acosta just to make it in.
DAUPHINE LIBERE: STAGE FOUR HAUTERIVES ? MONT VENTOUX
1 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2R
2 Sylvester Szymd (Pol) Lampre at 1-08
3 Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1-21
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto at 1-51
5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at st
6 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1-56
7 Manuel Beltrán (Spa) Liquigas
8 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel
9 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir
10 Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery Channel at 2-00
78 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval-Prodir at 15-52
79 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis at st.
1 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana 16-17-21
2 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2R at 14 sec
3 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 25sec
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto at 26sec
5 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC at st
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel at 53sec
7 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis at 1-50
8 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3-15
9 Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery Channel at st
10 Manuel Beltrán (Spa) Liquigas at 3-34
61 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval-Prodir at 15-19
64 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis at 17-18.