Thor Hushovd and his Credit Agricole team-mate Julian Dean pulled out a perfect sprint to give the big Norwegian his first sprint of 2007 at the end of stage four to Joigny on Wednesday.
After the early five-rider break was caught with seven kilometres to go, no team managed to control and set up the sprint on the long straight finale but in the final four hundred metres Dean dragged Hushovd out of the mess and gave him a perfect lead out.
Then as the bunch moved left and right through a slight chicane, Hushovd powered past Dean and immediately opened a gap as the line approached. Only Robert Hunter (Barloworld) could get on his wheel and the South African tried to come round and beat him with a bike throw to the line but Hushovd was already celebrating his first sprint win since stage in the Vuelta Espana last September.
Hunter screamed and shook his first in anger for missing out on the win, while Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Robert Forster (Gerolsteiner), Erik Zabel (Milram) and Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) could only bow their heads in disappointment and respect for Hushovd?s faster finish.
CAVENDISH IN THE SPRINT
Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) was again in the action but made a slight mistake in the hectic finish. Bernhard Eisel tried to drag him near the front of the action with four hundred metres to go but was slightly blocked as the bunch swayed left through the slight chicane. The road opened up for Cavendish and he sprinted hard but ten metres ahead of him Hushovd had already opened the gas and Cavendish finished tenth at the line.
As Rolf Aldag told cyclingweekly.co.uk on Wednesday morning, Cavendish is set to quit the Tour on Sunday at the end of the first big mountain stage to Tignes in the Alpes. That means he has only one more chance of winning a stage, in Bourg-en-Bresse on Friday.
Thanks to the 20-second time bonus for winning the stage, Hushovd moved up to second overall, 29 seconds behind Fabian Cancellara (CSC). Andreas Kloden (Astana) is third after his good prologue ride in London, with David Millar fourth at 41 seconds, George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) fifth at 43 seconds and Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) sixth, also at 43 seconds.
Thursday?s 182.5km fifth stage is from Chablis to Autun and the eight short climbs dotted along the stage should inspire a breakaway. The last third category climb is 3.4km long and comes just 8.5km from the finish. After two relatively quiet days, the stage through the vineyards and sunflowers is expected to inspire some breakaway attempts.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2007: STAGE FOUR RESULTS
1 HUSHOVD Thor (Credit Agricole)
2 HUNTER Robert (Barloworld)
3 FREIRE Oscar (Rabobank)
4 ZABEL Erik (Milram)
5 NAPOLITANO Danilo (Lampre-Fondital)
6 STEEGMANS Gert (Quick Step)
7 FORSTER Robert (Gerolsteiner)
8 BOONEN Tom (Quick Step)
9 CHAVANEL Sebastien (FDJeux)
10 CAVENDISH Mark (T-Mobile) all at same time
48 MILLAR David (Saunier Duval)
80 THOMAS Geraint (Barloworld)
123 WIGGINS Bradley (Cofidis)
153 WEGELIUS Charly (Liquigas) all st
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FOUR
1 CANCELLARA Fabian (CSC) in 19-49-55
2 HUSHOVD Thor (Credit Agricole) at 29 secs
3 KLODEN Andreas (Astana) at 33 secs
4 MILLAR David (Saunier Duval) at 41 secs
5 HINCAPIE George (Discovery Channel) at 43 secs
6 WIGGINS Bradley (Cofidis) at 43 secs
7 CHAVANEL Sylvain (Cofidis) at 44 secs
8 GUSEV Vladimir (Discovery Channel) at 45 secs
9 BOONEN Tom (Quick Step) at 46 secs
10 KARPETS Vladimir (Caisse d’Epargne) at 46 secs
49 THOMAS Geraint (Barloworld) at 1-07
86 WEGELIUS Charly (Liquigas) at 1-16
173 CAVENDISH Mark (T-Mobile) at 3-57
1 BOONEN Tom (Quick Step)
1 AUGE Stephane (Cofidis)