Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia-HTC) won his second consecutive stage at the Tour of Britain after another high-speed lead out from his team mates on stage four.
Team Columbia make sprinting look easy and have perfected the lead out train, turning it into a work of cycling art. They limit the risks of high-speed sprinting and avoid the crashes thanks to having hugely talented riders and then a designated sprinter clinically finishes off the job. Mark Cavendish has done it over 20 times this year and Boasson Hagen is rapidly catching up to him.
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The stage win was his 11th win of the season and the 75th for Columbia. Boasson Hagen has now won five stages in the Tour of Britain in two years. Team Sky has definitely signed a quality rider.
In Blackpool Garmin, Cervelo and Barloworld tried to take on Columbia but were left with placings. CJ Sutton (Garmin) was second and Martin Reimer (Cervelo) was third. Russell Downing (Candi-TV) was again best British finisher, taking fourth.
Breakaway in the Forest of Bowland
Yet again the bunch only pulled back some late attacks in the final kilometres. This time six riders entertained the crowds along the route.
Nicolas Roche (Ag2r), Federico Canuti (CSF Group) and Simon Clarke (ISD-Neri) jumped away after 23km. The three climbs in the middle of the stage through the Forest of Bowland were a key section and Geoffroy Leqautre (Agritubel), Maxime Monfort (Columbia) and Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) set off in pursuit of them. The six came together on the run-in to Blackpool. Geraint Thomas could have been there as well. He was with the three chasers but punctured on a climb and a slow wheel change meant he never got back on.
The bunch never let them gain more than four minutes and the gap came down thanks to Bradley Wiggins (Garmin) dragging the bunch along for long spells at 60km/h. It was his final part of racing/training for the world time trial championships before quitting the race and riding home after the stage.
Lequatre and Monfort made late attacks but it all came together with two kilometres to go.
Wilko goes down in high-speed crash
Everything was set for a bunch sprint but then disaster struck 500 metres from the line. Columbia was on the front but a few places behind, Ian Wilkinson (Halfords) tangled with other riders and went down hard.
The crash scattered the bunch, with other riders going down and it left just a handful of riders to contest the sprint. Boasson Hagen won it as the rest of the bunch came across the line in little groups.
Wilkinson seemed the worst injured. He has a suspected fractured elbow and other nasty cuts and bruises. He was taken to hospital but told Cycling Weekly he would try and start Wednesday’s stage.
Boasson Hagen closes in on race lead
Edvald Boasson Hagen is not only one second behind race leader Kai Reus (Rabobank) in the standings. The Dutchman must be worried about Wednesday’s tough stage around Stoke on Trent and then the double whammy in Somerset and Devon on Thursday and Friday.
The Team Columbia-HTC riders are confident they can win again and win overall. We will see on Wednesday after the hilly 134km Stoke on Trent stage. It includes climbs of Wootton Hill, Gun Hill and Cheddleton before the uphill finish in the town centre. Boasson Hagen won there in 2008 and must be favourite again.
Tour of Britain 2009: Stage four, Blackpool-Blackpool, 148km
1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Columbia-HTC in 3-32-04
2. Christopher Sutton (Aus) Garmin-Slipstream
3. Martin Reimer (Ger) Cervelo
4. Russell Downing (GB) CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta
5. Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
6. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-HTC
7. Renaud Dion (Fra) Ag2r
8. Mauro Finetto (Ita) CSF Group-Navigare
9. Graham Briggs (GB) CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta
10. Malcolm Elliott (GB) CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta all same time.
Overall classification after stage four
1. Kai Reus (Ned) Rabobank in 14-56-19
2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Columbia-HTC at 1sec
3. Chris Sutton (Aus) Garmin at 5sec
4. Martin Reimer (Ger) Cervelo at 11sec
5. Michele Merlo (Ita) Barloworld at 14sec
6. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Joker-Bianchi at 19secs
7. Simon Clarke (Aus) ISD-Neri at 21sec
8. Reinier Honig (Ned) Vacansoleil at 23sec
9. Rob Ruygh (Ned) Vacansoleil at 23sec
10. Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) Agritubel at 23sec
11. Russell Downing (GB) CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta at 25sec