BMC’s Cadel Evans narrowly pipped Alberto Contador to take the fourth stage of the Tour de France on the Mûr-de-Bretagne this afternoon.
Contador raised his hands in celebration as he crossed the line, but the photo finish proved the Australian had indeed pipped him to take the victory.
Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) looked comfortable on the climb, and his sixth place ensured he keeps the yellow jersey.
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) finished in third, ahead of Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran. Birthday boy and hot favourite for the stage, Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) could only finish in fifth despite attacking on the lower slopes of the finishing hill.
Bradley Wiggins came home in eleventh, losing six seconds to Contador, but moved up to sixth overall, ten seconds behind Hushovd.
Ivan Basso (Liquigas) came home with Wiggins, but GC contenders Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek), Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo) conceded a further two seconds after losing contact half-way up the Mûr.
Early breakaway undeterred by wet conditions
Grey skies and rain greeted the riders at the start of the stage in Lorient, completely contrasting the heat they’ve encountered since the start of the Tour.
A group of five riders – Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Blel Kadri (Ag2r), Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel) – attacked 9km into the stage, and remained outfront for most of the stage.
As their advantage swelled to three minutes in a short space of time, Erviti became the race leader on the road, as he trailed Thor Hushovd by 2-58 at the start of the day.
Their gap was strangely changing constantly, from four minutes at one point to two minutes shortly after.
Hoogerland took a flyer to win the solitary point on offer at the top of the fourth-category Côte de Laz before outsprinting Roy to take maximum points at the intermediate sprint at Spezet.
With sixth place and ten points up for grabs when the peloton came through, it was no surprise to see HTC-Highroad and Garmin-Cervélo leading out Cavendish and Farrar respectively.
Yesterday’s stage winner Farrar got the better of Cav, as did current points competition leader Jose Rojas (Movistar) and Vacansoleil-DCM’s Borut Bozic.
The peloton briefly split with just over 40km remaining, which briefly left Evans and Basso in the rear group.
The main field soon came together again, before Omega Pharma-Lotto, Liquigas and BMC began driving the peloton along.
Unsurprisingly, the race fell into an extended lull as the five leaders were left to continue their doomed attempt for glory.
Their gap was down to a minute with 10km remaining, and that fell to thirty seconds after Leopard Trek mobilised at the front of the bunch.
Izagirre and Hoogerland attacked from the leading group 7km outside of the finish, but despite their cohesive efforts they were never going to hold off the charging peloton.
The escapees were caught with 4km remaining, around the same that that Cavendish and Farrar unsurprisingly lost contact with the main field.
Evans bides his time
BMC took over the pace at the bottom of the Mûr, with George Hincapie, Michael Schar and Marcus Burghardt working brilliantly for Evans.
Contador got the action underway 1.3km from the finish, and only Gilbert and his team-mate Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Evans, Uran, Vinokourov, Hushovd, Frank Schleck and Roman Kreuziger could follow.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskedi) and Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) managed to jump across to the select group, but were almost shelled out when Evans kicked at the 1km banner.
Still everyone followed, and with all eyes on Gilbert, it was clear that everyone was waiting for the Belgian to make his move.
He tried doing so with 500m remaining, but ultimately only helped Evans’ lead out. Contador tried desperately to come round the Australian, but Evans held on for the victory.
Tour de France 2011, stage three: Lorient to Mûr-de-Bretagne, 172km
1. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing in 4-11-39
2. Alberto Contador (Esp) Saxo Bank-Sungard
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana
4. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Team Sky
5. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
6. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo
7. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek
8. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) Euskatel-Euskedi
9. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
10. Andreas Kloden (Ger) RadioShack all at st.
Overall classification after stage four
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo 13-58-25
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC at 1 sec
3. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 4 secs
4. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Cervelo at 8 secs
5. Andreas Kloden (Ger) RadioShack at 10 secs
6. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at st
7. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 12 secs
8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky
9. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard-Trek all at same time
49. Ben Swift (GB) Team Sky at 2-06
94. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 4-22
Johnny Hoogerland heads the five-man escape group
David Zabriskie helps the chase
Bradley Wiggins moved up to sixth overall
Alberto Contador attacks on the final climb
Alberto Contador gets pipped on the line by Cadel Evans (far right)
Strong ride by Thor Hushovd to retain the yellow jersey
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