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93rd Tour de France - Stage 4 Live
 
By Staff
Date: 7/4/2006
93rd Tour de France - Stage 4 Live
 

93rd Tour de France - Stage 4 Live
Another flat stage for the sprinters. Will world champion Tom Boonen and stage favorite be able to find his good sprinting legs to add a stage victory?

At last, another day for the sprinters. Probably. Today's 207 km stage between Huy in Belgium and Saint Quentin in France heads in a southwestern direction, taking in a Cat 3 and a Cat 4 climb in the first 60 km. That will probably be enough to launch the opportunists of the day, and then it's pretty much a long day of chasing for the sprinters' teams. It's not a flat day, with lots of little ups and downs along the way, but the sprinters are hungry and this should come down to a hot drag for the line.


© A.S.O.  Amaury Sport Organisation

Here is today's poem of the day from Dancing on the Pedals: The Found Poetry of Phil Liggett, the Voice of Cycling by Doug Donaldson and Phil Liggett.

DELICATESSEN
There’s a big sandwich out there
and a very nasty fall.
Stage 3, 2003

1449 CEST – Five men have gone on the attack in this stage. They are Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel), Cedric Coutouly (Agritubel), Christophe Mengin (Francaise des Jeux), Laurent Lefevre (Bouygues Telecom), and Bradley Wiggens (Cofidis). Their gap was up to almost 5', and the Quick Step squad of Yellow Jersey Tom Boonen have stepped up the pace making in the peloton to bring the gap down.

The Vampires descended on the Tour de France this morning: the UCI's doctors came with a random doping control and tested six teams (Discovery Channel, Cofidis, Credit Agricole, Saunier Duval-Prodir, Agritubel, and Francaise des Jeux). All riders were okayed to start the stage. Interesting that four French teams were checked along with the American Discovery Channel.


Dave Zabriskie ready to start, stage 3. Photo © Tim DeWaele

1456 CEST - 104 km left. Egoi Martinez wins an intermediate sprint and picks ups some more seconds with his time bonus. This should help Discovery Channel in the teams competition. Discovery Channel has a narrow 1" lead on CSC in that competition.

Martinez won the Tour de l'Avenir in 2003, and much has been expected of him as he has developed. He rode with Euskaltel-Euskadi last year before making the jump over to Discovery Channel. The five men in the break are working well together. Their lead is 4' at the moment. Quick Step is all over the front leading the chase. Interestingly, the Phonak squad with Floyd Landis is right behind Quick Step, keeping an eye on the front.

Boonen is the favorite to win today, given that this is a flat day and the race goes through Belgium. Boonen didn't look that great in yesterday's sprint, but that was because he rode the last 2 kilometers yesterday with a rapidly deflating tire! To get 4th in a sprint like that with a flattening tire is pretty impressive.


Jean Marie Blanc at the start of stage 3. Photo © Tim DeWaele

1506 CEST - Coutouly is a strong young rider; last year he had several 2nd places and no victories. He rode a good Tour d l'Avenir, which shows that he is a strong developing young rider. He's done well to get into this group, but I doubt if this break will make it to the finish.

Chris Horner (Saunier Duval-Prodir) is in the race today. He went down in that crash with Stuart O'Grady (CSC) yesterday. They were riding up the gutter moving up the peloton and fighting for position. Then, suddenly, the pavement in the gutter ended and both riders hit the deck. O'Grady has a mild fracture of a vertebra, but he is still in the race today riding through the pain. Horner had a dislocated finger, but today it is taped up and Horner will see how it goes.

1517 CEST - Martinez has a yellow race number on his back. This year, the team that is leading the Teams Classification gets yellow numbers. Back to Coutouly: he scored two second places in Paris-Troyes and semi-classic Paris-Camembert, as well as third in the Trophee Luc Leblanc and fourth at the Memorial Samyn earlier this season. Still no victories, but he's been close.

15:20 CEST - Quick Step and Phonak continue to marshal (sp) things on the front, with Axel Merckx protecting Floyd Landis who is understandably nervous about crashing, especially after what happened to Valverde yesterday. There are five Quick Steps in a row on the front, led by Garate and Vasseur.

 It's a big day for Britain. "Our" Bradley, one of only two Brits in this year's Tour, has made it into a breakaway. Wiggins was the toast of the nation two years ago at the Olympics, when he won gold, silver and bronze medals in the 4000m pursuit, the team pursuit and the Madison.

Erik Dekker (Rabobank) went down and crashed out of the race yesterday. That was very sad, because he was likely in his last Tour de France. He had severe facial injuries and lost some teeth. Today he is having surgery to remove some gravel from his face. So needless to say he didn't land well when he crashed. Here's hoping Erik has a speedy recovery.

 84.5 km left. The five leaders are on another little uphill section. It's not like those little hills they had yesterday... more of a false flat. By the way, many of you may remember Christophe Mengin from last year's race. Burying himself, going for a solo win in Nancy in last year's race, the veteran Frenchman crashed on the tight last corner, which was slick with rain. Then most of the bunch followed him. Then Lorenzo Bernucci thought "Wait a minute, I've got a gap" and rode away to victory. Mengin has worn the polka-dot jersey in the first week on previous occasions though, and won a stage into Fribourg in his first Tour in 1997. He's now 37.

1533 CEST - The peloton is really strung out single file, but the gap continues to go up: it is up to 4' 25" now, despite the pressure of Quick Step.  Martinez is likely giving us a glimpse of the new Discovery Channel strategy this year. Instead of riding on the front all the time, they will be flying off the front on attacks a lot.

A reminder, you can join other fans from around the world to discuss the race in progress while you follow the ticker in the Daily Peloton Chat room.  Commentary today is by Locutus, Andy McDobbin in London and Michael Akinde in Denmark.

1541 CEST - Status quo in the race: Quick Step still chases in the peloton, the five escapees still buzzing along working well together. Erik Zabel (Team Milram) can relax a bit: he won't have any problem with his Italian leadout men today. Italy beat Germany in the World Cup yesterday, so his leadout will probably have a little extra gas today.
Martinez (DSC) leads through the second sprint of the day. Mengin cheekily pipped Lefevre on the line as his other companions just rode along.

71 km left. Martinez is moving up the GC with his wins in the intermediate sprints. He's into the top ten now, I think. The gap has come down to 3' 55". The peloton is still single-file. This is a dangerous stage potentially: if they hit some wind as they head for the coast, it could split the field. The GC hopefuls must stay vigilant near the front.

Locutus, it seems to me that this is a stage tailor-made for Tom Boonen - not only does it go through Belgium, but the headwinds and finish in Saint-Quentin, not a world away from Roubaix, will also suit his style. Indeed it is Andy; He just has to make sure he doesn't completely burn out his teammates before then. Exactly, second will not be good enough for Quick Step today considering the amount of work the rest of the team's riders have done for the world champion.

 So does the curse of the World Champion's Jersey hold when he gets to put on a different jersey?  Davitamon-Lotto has moved some men up to help with the chase. Of course, McEwen lost his leadout man from that squad: Fred Rodriguez went down hard yesterday and abandoned with an injured shoulder. No breaks, fortunately, but he won't be around to guide McEwen through the sprints. Robbie McEwen could pick his way through a minefield, I reckon he'll be ok without F-Rod, though it's still a blow.


Tom Boonen slips on the Maillot Vert. Photo © Time De Waele

66 km left. The gap is down to about 3' 33"Current standings for the green jersey:
Point Jersey G.C. Maillot Vert
1 BOONEN Tom QSI BEL 67
2 BENNATI Daniele LAM ITA 66
3  MC EWEN Robbie DVL AUS 65

4 HUSHOVD Thor C.A NOR 62
5  ZABEL Erik MRM GER 59

6 PAOLINI Luca LIQ ITA 57
7  FREIRE Oscar RAB ESP 54
8 O’GRADY Stuart CSC AUS 43

Looks to be a six man race at the moment with six time winner Erik Zabel still in the mix; and Lampre's Daniele Bennati showing strong in second place. Speaking of another Z, David Z (abriskie) is right at the back of the bunch, just getting on some water.

1558 CEST - Well the gap is really coming down -to about 3'. Phonak has dropped some riders back to pace Landis, who has a flat and is off the back. Grabsch, Pena and Moos are the men helping him to get back on.
Today could be a day for Daniele Bennati (Lampre), the young Italian sprinter who has been threatening every day in the sprints but still hasn't done better than 3rd. He's now in 2nd in the points classification, only 1 point behind Boonen. He's wearing the Green Jersey today because Boonen in wearing the Yellow Jersey. But he'll want to take the victory and earn the Green Jersey outright.
Cedric Vasseur and Juan Manuel Garate continue to tap out the pace for Boonen, bringing the break back bit by bit.

58km to go - The gap is now 3'01", as Lefevre offers some rut-juddered words and a grin to the cameramen. In the break, Coutouly pulls through. He must be making the farmers proud as he rides by their farms today, what with riding for the Agritubel squad. The Agritubel site has the motto, Quand Agritubel "lève les bras" c'est le monde agricole qui gagne...  "When Agritubel raise their arms, it's the agricultural world which wins" Well, that's a bit of inspiration for the sponsor when a rider crosses the line with the familiar salute for the farm equipment company. So between Credit Agricole (Farmers Bank), Agritubel, and Milram, we have the full production cycle, for farming represented in the peloton.

53 km left. The gap is down to just around 2' 45". Now, as the forecast rain begins to fall, the escapees are going over damp roads.

The latest info regarding sponsors after Operation Puerto in the European press; Spanish cycling has already lost Liberty-Seguros, Wurth, and Communidad Valenciana. Latest news is that 3 Molinas and Kaiku will also be stopping by the end of this year. The cameras focus on a guy in a comically-oversized sombrero playing the French horn - impetus for the peloton to speed up if ever there was any... is he playing Taps for the 3 Continental Teams?

The Quick Step men are followed by a long line of Davitamon riders. Evans and Horner sit at the back of the Davitamon line. Horner's hand is wrapped up, and he's grimacing a bit, but he's hanging in there. Evans is looking really good for the GC.

1616 CEST - 50km left for the leading quintet, their lead cut down to 2'36". These crowds in Le-Nouvion are huge! Milram has sent a few men to work now as well in the chase. They are working for Zabel.

Casar (Francaise des Jeux) is dropping back to the team cars. He was taken down yesterday by another camera: just like Hushovd and Boonen in Stage 1, a fan reached an arm way out over the barriers to try to get a picture and clipped Casar. These kamikaze cameramen... His right arm is bandaged up around the elbow, and he's holding his right leg massaging it a bit. But he's still in the race.

Away from the action, the news on Valverde are good. This morning, Unzue informed the press that Valverde's fracture was mercifully uncomplicated, and the chances seem good that he will soon be back on the bike, and will be able to ride the Vuelta.

44 km left. The gap is 2' 40". Tornado Tom Boonen is only the seventh rider to wear yellow on top of the WC jersey. Unlikely he will be wearing it in Paris like Merckx did, though.  Greg Lemond was the last man to take the Yellow Jersey while wearing the World Champion Jersey. Of course, Lemond was a bit better climber than Boonen. Will he ride into Paris in green is the question, with less climbing this year he just might; when Merckx rode into Paris in yellow as WC, he actually had both the Green and Yellow.

The peloton, while having many teams working on the front right now, have slowed down a bit. They seem to be waiting a bit before accelerating again to really nail back the break. If they bring it back too early, they will have to deal with a flurry of counter-attacks from men with fresher legs.  By the way, Filippo Pozzato is the race Lanterne Rouge: not the type of rider you might expect to be in that kind of position, but he has been working tirelessly for Boonen. Quick Step should be careful to not leave it to the last four kilometres.

They should know what Bradley Wiggins' favourite track distance was... so who is this Wiggins fellow, Andy? Brad Wiggins was one of Britain's best track riders, but is making the transition into a roadman, the culmination of which is riding the Tour de France. He writes a column for British paper "The Observer" and has emphasized how he is riding "clean". He is looking good in the this break, despite the fact that it appears doomed.

1628 CEST - Some farmers have built some monuments out of hay bales to celebrate the race. The riders roll by two large hay horses with lots of fans jumping up and down on them. I wonder if these farmers are rooting for Credit Agricole, Agritubel, or Team Milram? Well, what do they value more, Locutus? Farming equipment or a safe place to put their well-earned money?!

37 km left. The gap is down to 2' 10". Stuart O'Grady looking uncomfortable; well, he should be considering that he is riding with a cracked vertebrae. Fortunately the fracture is so small that the CSC team feels he should be able to recover.
"I won't gamble with my health," Stuey said in the morning, indicating that he would not finish at any cost. Absents any more accidents, though, it looks like he has got through today at least. By the way, in financial news, CSC is not going to be sold to another company. They have bought back stock and will continue with the current structure. If CSC had been bought, it obviously would have had an impact on the cycling squad.

Davitamon-Lotto is no longer at the front because McEwen was off the back with some sort of problem. Lampre and Quick Step and Milram and Credit Agricole are working together at the front of the peloton. There are rumours circulating that Sergio Paulinho is going to Discovery for 2007 McEwen is back in the peloton, and his teammates will help him back up to the front now.  Well, the riders roll by a giant Zadane tribute. He does something in some other sport, I think.

1643 CEST - Laurent "Le Mullet" Brochard (Bouygues Telecom) is back in the team cars now, probably coming back from visiting his director. (or his barber?)

26 km left. The gap is down to 1' 30". Some Davitamon-Lotto riders are visible near the front again. McEwen is probably back in position then. Perhaps Lampre will try something today. This morning Bontempo was almost bouncing with joy, and reported that spirits on the team where high. Reason, of course, was that other sports event happening in Germany, where Italy had a good evening yesterday. The finish is a bit of an uphill sprint. Hard to say who this sprint will suit. Bennati did well on that climb yesterday... maybe he will give Boonen a run for his money.

The peloton rolls under the 25km banner. It is a bit fat, which means the pace isn't all out yet. That will change soon. The gap is down to 1' 15" for the five men in the break. Once caught, it will be all out to the finish line.

1653 CEST - Boonen in Yellow grabs a drink from a teammate. Last bottle before the finish line, that. He's up near the front looking good.  Bennati currently in sixth place on the G.C. at 15 seconds is expected to fade away in the challenge for the points jersey, but if he keeps up his consistency, he could make the battle for green even tastier. Well, Bennati did very well at the Tour de Suisse, even though he was mostly spending his time taking second place to Boonen. One never knows - anything can happen between here and Paris.

Big Bradley Wiggins gets onto the drops and stretches; doesn't look like it'll be his day today, but still nice to see Britain represented. This moves him further up the GC. He'll have to hold on to the peloton when they get caught though.  Through the third and final sprint in Bernot, it is again Basque Egoi Martinez who leads the line through, ahead of Lefevre and Mengin; once more, they don't break ranks to go for the bonuses.

18 km left. The gap is about 1' 10". An AG2r rider, Arrieta, has a flat. He will have to haul his red number (for most aggressive rider yesterday) back up to the peloton now. The pace is picking up now in the peloton. Davitamon-Lotto have taken over the pace making. CSC are flying the colors near the front of the peloton too. Not sure why they are up there.

Daniele Bennati, wearing the green jersey as Boonen is in yellow, is currently on the wheel of Boonen. If O'Grady wins this stage, they should give him a special award for being crazy tough. 

Crash 5 riders down, There was a hard right hand turn, and the peloton overshot that a bit. Mayo went down right in the middle of the pack. Luckily all the riders are up and rolling with Mayo's Euskadi mates pacing him back to the peloton. Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne) was also in that crash. He's chasing back. Mayo has four Euskaltel mates pacing him back, but Acosta is on his own. Caisse d'Epargne sprinter Galvez and teammate Acosta are also off the back.

1606 CEST- 13km to go, 59 seconds for the break. After Beneteau, De la Fuente and Arrieta, this could be the first day that a solo rider hasn't clipped off the front from an escape in the closing kilometres.  As I say that, Coutouly attacks on a drag and brings Lefevre and Martinez with him. Mayo and his Euskaltel buddies are 22 seconds down on the bunch.

 Mayo has come back to the bunch now thanks to his vigilant teammates. Wiggins and Mengin have been caught, but Martinez, Lefevre and Coutouly are pressing on, now under the 10km banner. The peloton is only about 35" behind the three leaders.

9km to go - Credit given where credit is due, the trio in front have resisted the charge of the cavalry superbly so far. The peloton is surprisingly disorganized just now... the front is spread all across the road, with no team wanting to take responsibility and string things out. The peloton is surprisingly disorganized just now... the front is spread all across the road, with no team wanting to take responsibility and string things out; if this break succeeds, Martinez will take over the Yellow Jersey for Discovery Channel. That would be the coup of a lifetime for Martinez.

7 km left. The peloton is 30" back. It's Marzio Bruseghin pulling for Lampre. There's not a great amount of urgency evident in the chase, but we will soon see some, surely. Liquigas now has four men working for Paolini on the front. Paolini has been top ten in every bunch sprint so far. Big Maggie Backstedt firing on the front.

6 km left. Martinez is hammering away, with a new urgency. He can smell the Yellow Jersey! If one of these three leaders hesitates though, it's over. They can't afford to play any cat-and-mouse games. Rabobank is setting things up for Freire in the front. Boonen and McEwen are hidden somewhere in the peloton. Coutouly, Lefevre, and Martinez are working well together still. 22" is the gap.

4 km left. This will be close! Boonen is glued to Hushovd's wheel as a Credit Agricole train goes to the front to drive the peloton. I make the gap 18 seconds. Tom Boonen leans on a Gerolsteiner rider for balance before taking up Hushovd's wheel.
Lefevre attacks! Egoi Martinez is there after him! The peloton is closing this down now with 2.5 km left. Only about 10" lead for the two leaders. There is a lot of road furniture heading in toward the finish.
 Zabel's punctured! Surely he's too far back now to do anything.

2 km left. The break is caught! Lampre leading out now. 
1km to go, Tosatto hammers it on the front of the bunch. Hushovd, Boonen, Bennati, McEwen are all here. So is Freire. No clear leadout... just a lot of men scrambling. The uphill is making this a slow motion sprint.
Crash! But most of the leaders are through.

Here comes McEwen he wins it!!

Hushovd went down I think! Or Dean his leadout man!!! Once there was a gap with 120m left, McEwen had it easy. Boonen slams the handlebars in frustration. There was a Credit Agricole rider, Julian Dean, who went down in the middle while leading out. But all the other sprinters made it around him.
The Little Napoleon strikes again. Galvez and Freire were up there too, perhaps second and third.

McEwen got a good leadout from a teammate right down the middle of the road. McEwen came around him and just had a clear shot at the line. No contest. Boonen faded, Freire made a go of it up the right, but nobody came close. McEwen, Galvez, Freire, Hushovd, Boonen, Kopp. McEwen won by a country mile, in sprinting terms!

Remarkably, everyone managed to avoid Julian Dean, who was wisely protecting his head nonetheless. McEwen got an excellent, perfectly timed leadout by somebody on his team. Considering Rodriguez and Horner are either out or suffering, it was probably Gert Steegmans. And Robbie gets back "his" green jersey.

Will Boonen keep the Yellow Jersey? Probably. Bennati faded at the end, and Rogers was nowhere to be seen. Looking at the replay, Dean was falling back after leading out Hushovd and made contact with a Quick Step rider, subsequently falling. Boonen keeps the yellow jersey, yes, though it's not the stage victory he wanted; he looked to struggle in a too high gear underestimating the slope of the uphill finish. McEwen won by about four bike lengths there. That was a real butt-kicking.

Results Stage 4 (Provisional)
1. Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto)
2. Isaac Galvez (Caisse d'Epargne)
3. Oscar Freire (Rabobank)
4. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)
5. Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
6. David Kopp (Gerolsteiner)
7. Daniele Bennati (Lampre)
8. Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval-Prodir)
9. Michael Albasini (Liquigas)
10 Bernhard Eisel (Francaise des Jeux).

No change in the overall, except that Martinez is up to 5th on GC at 10" and McEwen is up into 6th at 12". With two more flat stages, to Caen tomorrow and then Vitre, McEwen could yet take yellow yet; however, so the winds could cause some splits in the peloton.
Good results for Spaniards Galvez and Freire, especially considering Galvez was off the back with Acosta with 15km to go, and had to make his way to the front. Rogers of T-Mobile was 12th on the stage, so he did try to contest the sprint. The problem is that he isn't a sprinter.

Erik Zabel will be annoyed at the timing of his puncture, the sheer malheur to flat inside the last 3km. De Jongh was probably the Quick Step man who brought down Dean. He was looking to his left, then turned back and - bam - Dean was there.

GC After Stage 4 (Provisional):
1. Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
2. Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) @ 1"
3. George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) @ 5"

4. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) @ 7"
5. Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel) @ 10"
6. Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) @ 12"
7. Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) @ 15"
8. Daniele Bennati (Lampre) @ 15"
9. Floyd Landis (Phonak) @ 16"
10. Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne) @ 17"

Is it me, or have these flat stages been better than previous years;  breakaways a bit closer to succeeding
I think so how many years have you seen the favorites for the G.C. sprinting for time bonuses? And the breaks have been closer because nobody wants to take over responsibility for chasing... even strength amongst the sprinters.

Tomorrows Stage 5 Beauvais to Caen - 225 kms, another stage for the Rouleurs and sprinters with a mostly flat 34.5 km section after the last roller to the finish.


© ASO Amaury Sports Organisation

 Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) finished 137th in yesterday's third stage after being taken out by a drunken spectator at the foot of the Cauberg. The spectator then got into an argument with Casar's DS Marc Madiot, while others tried to steal the Frenchman's wheels.

This concludes our live coverage, of stage 4. Thanks for joining us today. Discuss the race and cycling with Tifosi from around the world in the  Daily Peloton Chat Room. Comment and debate cycling topics, race tactics and your favorite riders on the Daily Peloton Forums.
Full official results and  more photos to follow.

 
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