Evans wins Tour 4th stage, Hushovd keeps yellow jersey
MUR-DE-BRETAGNE, France - Cadel Evans edged defending champion Alberto Contador in a photo finish Tuesday to win the fourth stage of the Tour de France, while Thor Hushovd retained the overall lead.
The mostly flat 172.5-kilometer (107.2-mile) course from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne with a short, steep uphill finish epitomized two race aspects so far: Evans has been nearly flawless, and Contador - who hasn’t - can never be ruled out.
The nail-biting finale was so close that Contador raised a fist to celebrate what the three-time Tour champ believed was his victory, but a photograph at the line showed Evans, an Australian two-time runner-up, had won.
Still, the ride left little doubt that Contador, who has faced a series of early setbacks already, is in shape to compete. With his second-place finish, he regained several seconds against other likely title contenders.
“I still can’t quite believe it .?.?. It was a very close final, I didn’t even know if I had it on the line myself,” Evans said. “To win in front of Alberto Contador is really a nice present.”
But the Spaniard’s strong finish demonstrated “Contador again proving himself. He was up there and riding well,” Evans said. “He’s never a guy you can underestimate.”
It was the first in-competition Tour stage win for Evans in seven appearances, though he inherited a stage victory in 2007 after Alexandre Vinokourov was barred in a team doping scandal. It was also the first Tour stage victory for an Australian since Simon Gerrans won Stage 15 finishing at Italy’s Prato Nevoso in 2008.
Hushovd, the Norwegian world champion known as a sprint specialist, narrowly kept the race leader’s yellow jersey by trailing not far behind in a small breakaway group.
“My only goal today was to keep the yellow jersey,” said Hushovd, of Garmin-Cervelo. “I had a great day .?.?. I will do all I can to defend this jersey as long as possible.”
Evans clocked 4 hours 11 minutes 39 seconds - the same time as Contador, third-place Vinokourov and Hushovd, who came in sixth. Overall, Hushovd held on to a one-second lead over Evans.
Frank Schleck of Luxembourg rose to third place from seventh by staying with the seven-man group, including Evans and Contador, though he didn’t gain any time on Hushovd and is four seconds back overall.
Contador remains 1:42 behind Hushovd in 41st place after two dismal opening days at the Tour, first being stalled by a crash on Saturday and then losing time with his Saxo Bank squad in the team time trial on Sunday.
But the Spaniard finished Tuesday eight seconds faster than possibly his biggest rival - Andy Schleck, Frank’s younger brother and the Tour runner-up for the past two years. It was a message not lost on Andy Schleck.
“Losing seven seconds [sic] [to Contador] isn’t good, but it’s not a catastrophe,” he said. “I never thought that he was out of the race; he just had bad luck the first day and his team wasn’t suited for the time trial.”