Spaniard Oscar Sevilla, 30, took a strong lone win in the Tour of Catalonia?s toughest stage, a gruelling 203 kilometre trek into the Pyrenees running from Tarrega to Vallnord Arinsal. His victory also propelled the Relax-Gam rider the overall lead - although he will have a tough time defending that advantage in tomorrow?s 17 kilometre uphill time trial at Ordino Arcalis.
Sevilla?s win was taken after the pint-sized climber bridged across to a five-strong group of attackers on the second last climb, the Col de Massana. He then took off alone four kilometres from the line on the un-nervingly steep ascent to the ugly ski station of Valnord- Arinsal.
Second behind Sevilla was T-Mobile?s Mick Rogers, not rated as a climber but still able to hold the Spaniard at 33 seconds. Third was Frenchman Christophe Moreau (Ag2R), another second adrift and afterwards a long, long line of riders straggled in alone or in twos or threes - the consequences of six major climbs and six hours in the saddle.
David Millar was the first British finisher. 19 minutes down, the Saunier Duval pro had nonetheless ridden a strong stage which bodes well for the Tour de France, getting in a break of seven after just 11 kilometres and staying away off the front until the second last climb.
Sevilla?s win met with mixed reactions: as a rider implicated in Puerto - and not yet cleared - French teams had threatened a boycott of the race if he and other riders involved in the doping investigation took part in Catalonia. Riding for a non ProTour team, Relax-Gam, the current ban on Puerto riders in ProTour races technically doesn?t apply to him.
The boycott did not take place, but Sevilla spent the vast majority of his press conference defending his return to cycling after he was sacked by T-Mobile, together with Jan Ullrich, on the eve of last year?s Tour over Puerto.
?I don?t consider this sporting revenge or anything like that. I?m just pleased to be here, I needed a win like this after such a tough year.? Sevilla said.
?I want to dedicate this victory to the people who still believe in professional cycling - and there aren?t many of them left. We?ve done a lot of damage to this sport, and now it?s time to start rebuilding it.?
TOUR OF CATALONIA: STAGE FOUR RESULTS
(Tarrega - Valnord-Arinsal)
1 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Relax-Gam 203.1kms in 6-06-43
2 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile at 33sec
3 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2R at 34sec
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 36sec
5 Laurens Ten Dam (Hol) Unibet.com at 42 sec
6 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Relax-Gam at 44sec
7 Johan Tschopp (Swi) Bouygues at st
8 John Gadret (Fra) Ag2R at 59sec
9 Vladimir Karpets (Caisse D?Epargne) at 1-03
10 Marcos Serrano (Spa) Karpin-Galicia at 1-31
117 David Millar (GBR) Saunier Duval-Prodir at 19-42
149 Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Cofidis at 22-47
172 Mark Cavendish (GBR) T-Mobile at 26-37
dnf: Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FOUR
1 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Relax-Gam 14-55-22
2 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse D?Epargne at 31sec
3 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile at 35sec
4 Laurens Ten Dam (Hol) Unibet.com at 42sec
5 Johan Tschopp (Swi) Bouygues at 46sec
6 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2R at 49sec
7 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 51sec
8 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Relax-Gam at 53sec
9 John Gadret (Fra) Ag2R at 1-18
10 Marcos Serrano (Spa) Karpin-Galicia at 1-35
116 David Millar (GBR) Saunier Duval -Prodir 20-04
125 Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Cofidis at 22-38
179 Mark Cavendish (GBR) T-Mobile at 37-32
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