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Stage four of the Eneco Tour -- how will they avoid a mass sprint finish today?
Welcome to stage four of the Eneco Tour. Today we travel 169.9 km from Essen to Vimen.
It will surely be no surprise to learn that a four-man group got away early today. Pieter Jacobs (Topsport Vlaanderen), Ioannis Tamouridis (Euskaltel), Staf Scheirlinckx (Accent Jobs-Wanty) and Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil) were the lucky ones today. They built up a maximal lead of 5:40. Now, with 100km to go, the gap is 4:40.
The good luck with the weather didn't hold today, as the stage started in the rain.
Another mass sprint is expectd today – but why say “another”? We haven't had one yet! Who will figure out a way to fool the fast men today, and how?
One problem is that the ending today is very tricky, with sharp turns at 1km, 700 m and 400 m to go. With the possibility of a wet finish, this sounds like an invitation for trouble.
Zdenek Stybar (OPQS) won the sprint of a three-man group yesterday, much to everyone's surprise. Including his own. "I have never sprinted in my life. Even in training I didn't practice. The sprint is not my strongest point but probably after today I will change my mind because I was able to win.” he said.
“Maybe it is because I am sleeping in the same room as [Alessandro] Petacchi. Maybe his sprint power rubbed off on me." -- Zdenek Stybar
The gap has gone back up, to 5:38, with 71km to go.
Don't forget to check out our excellent race preview here.
Arnaud Demare (FDJ) is hanging on to the race lead by one tiny second, over last year's winner Lars Boom (Belkin).
1 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ 12:18:42
2 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling 0:00:01
3 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:00:03
4 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Belkin Pro Cycling
5 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:04
Is this a wide-open race? The top 88 riders are all within one minute of the leader.
And because it is so close, Demare had ordered his team to give chase. That has worked, and with 64 km to go, the gap has now dropped to 3:58.
You can't tell the players without a scorecard! Or in this case, the riders without a start list!
Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen) leads the points ranking.
1 Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise 66 pts
2 Tim Declercq (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise 28
3 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky Procycling 24
4 Benjamin Verraes (Bel) Accent Jobs-Wanty 22
5 Gediminas Bagdonas (Ltu) Ag2R La Mondiale 22
Katusha has now moved to the ead of the field.
And they come to the finish line!
Before setting out on a circuit course, that is. Still 2 laps to go. And the gap is 3:22.
The peloton has just gone around a traffic circle, with a number of riders cutting teh corner by using the bike path. We hear that the race jury has already said it will sanction anyone who gains an advantage by riding on the bike path or sidewalk. Let's see what happens today.
A familiar picture: Wiggins trying to close a gap to the field ahead of him.
Wiggins is not alone, he has 12-15 riders with him.
With 50 km to go, Pieter Jacobs (Topsport Vlaanderen), Ioannis Tamouridis (Euskaltel), Staf Scheirlinckx (Accent Jobs-Wanty) and Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil) have a gap of 2:41
Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) has a one-point lead in the sprint classification.
1 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol 45 pts
2 Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Arg) Lampre-Merida 44
3 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling 41
4 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) RadioShack Leopard 41
5 Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team 32
Jacobs has now won the first two intermediate sprints. He not only gets points, but also time bonuses, 3 seconds each. So he is moving his way up in the GC.
Katusha did its job too well. The gap has dropped to just two minutes with 45km to go, and as you know, we don't want to catch those escapees too soon...
The peloton has evidently decided that since they are so close, they may as well keep on going full speed. The gap is now 1:42.
And now down to 1:15, with 40km to go!
FDJ leads the team ranking.
1 FDJ 36:56:41
2 Belking Pro Cycling 0:00:01
3 Omega Pharma-Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:00:03
4 BMC Racing Team 0:00:07
5 Orica-GreenEdge 0:00:10
There was a problem at the finish line earlier. The covering right at the line was flapping every time an auto drove over it. That would be a very bad thing to do when the peloton comes over!
That covering has been removed (it covers the wires to measure the finish times and record the finishers) and we hope that the organizers come up with something soon!
The four leaders are still hanging on to their lead, 52 seconds with 31m to go.
The lead group negotiates its way around the tricky closing turns and comes to the finish line.
The field is very close now, as Orica-GreenEdge has pulled it along. The gap is only 30 seconds.
Ligthart takes off, in hopes of staying away. Jacobs and Tamouridis go with him, but Scherlinckx decides to wait for the peloton.
OPQS at the head of the field. They would certainly like to win two in a row.
A Cannondale rider has punctured and pulls over to the side.
Belkin now moves to the front, in hopes of putting Lars Boom into the lead after the stage.
The gap is holding steady at around 30 seconds.
The trio comes up to the third intermediate sprint of the day.
Jacobs takes it to, so he has picked up nine seconds today. That moves him up to seventh overall, at least at the moment.
Garmin and Belkin now leading the peloton. 17km to go and 36 seconds.
The three leaders have become nervous and keep looking back to see where the field is.
A problem for Ligthart -- he has punctured. That ends his chances.
Ligthart has been caught by the peloton. He is sitll riding with his puncture, as there were no team or material cars between the leaders and the peloton.
But now he has a replacement.
Cannondale has lined up behind Belkin. That is a lot of green.
With 14km to go, the peloton has the two leaders in it sights, only 13 seconds between them.
Everyone is really flying along here, and the two will be caught momentarily.
Jacobs sits up but Tamouridis still keeps going.
Lars Boom has an extra incentive to do well today. The finish today is his birth ctiy, so he would really like to win the stage and/or take the leader's jersey.
With 10nm to go, Tamouridis looks back, shakes his head, and lets the field fly by him.
The rain has stopped, by the way, and the road is drying out.
Sky, RadioShack, Saxo-Tinkoff all at the front of the field.
Matti Breschel (Saxo-Tinkoff) takes off.
Behin him a number of riders crash.
Belkin has led the chase and caught Breschel.
A Movistar rider and an Astana rider are still sittiing in the road after the crash.
That crash split the field.
5km to go.
The gap in the peloton has been closed. 4km to go, but remember, we have lots of turns coming up, and that at full speed.
Kittel was caught in teh crash, so we don't expect to see him in at the finish.
Lotto blasts along as they approach the 1km marker.
As we said, lots of turns and curves here....
And the sprint is opened!
Boom tries, Ferrar tries -- but it is Greipel!
The "gorilla" goes back and hugs his teammates, who set him up so well.
Boom was either second or third. We must wait and see who how got how many bonus seconds, to know who our new GC leader is.
Nizzolo was second on the stage, and Boom third, with Petacchi fourth.
It looks like our new GC is Boom first, with Greipel second at one second, and Demare third, three seconds down.
It finally came to a mass sprint! The earlier sprint stages all featured a surprise ending, but not today.
Our top ten on the stage:
1 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol
2 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) RadioShack Leopard
3 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
4 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
5 Alexander Porsev (Rus) Katusha
6 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Sharp
7 Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge
8 Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling
10 Christopher Sutton (Aus) Sky Procycling
And the top three in GC:
General classification after stage 4
1 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
2 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol
3 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
That's it for today! Be sure to join us again tomorrow for the time trial, when we expect another shake up in the GC.