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Stage 4 of the Tour de France, 172.5km from Lorient to Mûr-de-Bretagne.
After the pleasant sunshine that bathed the Tour for the opening three days in the Vendee, the peloton has just set out under slate grey skies and quite heavy rain in Lorient.
The last time the Tour visited Lorient was in 2006, when Sylvain Calzati took a solo victory. Incidentally, he was also first to the top of all of the stage's categorised climbs, including today's finish, the Mûr-de-Bretagne.
The first two road stages saw the day's main break disappear up the road inside the opening kilometre. Things are bit tighter today. There's a very fast pace in the peloton, and consequently nobody has been able to snap the elastic.
Today's stage takes us through one the true heartlands of world cycling, as the race travels through Brittany. There's always quite a bit of commotion in the Grand Ouest any year that the Tour doesn't make a visit, but the crowds are all the bigger when it does.
An early puncture for Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto). The pace is very high but nobody has yet forged clear.
And at that, the first break of the day goes clear. Jeremy Roy (FDJ), already off the front on Saturday, sparks the move after 9km and brings Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Gorka Izagirre (Euksaltel-Euskadi) with him.
It looks as though our day's early entertainment has been established. The peloton has slowed considerably, and Roy and Co. aren't hanging around. Within 2km of his attack, they have 1:45 over the bunch.
Today's stage takes the peloton northwards out of Lorient, meaning that they miss out on the delights of the south Breton coast at places like Larmor Plage and Fort-Bloqué. On the flipside, the crowds greeting them will be enormous, especially at Plouay.
And right on cue, the break thunders through Plouay to tumultuous applause. The Breton down was the site of Laurent Fignon's iconic national championship victory in 1984, and the same circuit was used for Romans Vainsteins world championship triumph of 2000.
Plouay is also home to the GP Ouest France. Held in August, the under-rated race is often one of the best one-day events on the calendar. Last year's winner Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) is in the peloton today, and other past winners have included Sean Kelly (1984), Frank Vandenbroucke (1996) and a stylish triumph from then Italian champion Michele Bartoli in 2000. That win made him favourite for the Worlds little over a month later, but his race would end with fourth place and a Colnago bike flying through the Italian pit area in Plouay after a fit of pique...
Back to today, and the five men in front are continuing to stretch out their advantage. They have almost four minutes over the peloton after 22 rapid kilometres of racing.
Jeremy Roy was on the attack on Saturday, of course, and after that stage he spoke to our man Pierre Carrey. Roy suggested that the Tour organisers should include a ranking like the old "Intergiro" competition at the Giro d'Italia to encourage attacking riding.
Roy will be somewhat familiar with today's roads. Although from Tours, he studied engineering at the Institut national des sciences appliquées in the Breton capital Rennes.
Incidentally, Roy continued and completed those studies during his early years as a pro at FDJ.
25km into the stage, and the leading quintet have an advantage of 4:35.
The best-placed rider overall in today's break is Imanol Erviti (Movistar), who lies in 111th place overall, 2:58 down on yellow jersey Thor Hushovd.
Today's finish atop the Mûr-de-Bretagne should see another shake-up of the general classification. Philippe Gilbert is the man the whole world has been tipping as stage winner, and there's almost a sense that this Giro d'Italia-esque opening week was designed to attract the Belgian to the race. However, he lies 33 seconds down on the overall standings, and Cadel Evans might instead be a better bet to take the yellow jersey this evening.
BMC could certainly do with some good publicity. After their part-time soigneur Sven Schoutteten was arrested and then conditionally released last week, Alessandro Ballan was questioned by Italian anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri in Rome yesterday. Emerging from Rome's Stadio Olimpico, Ballan told reporters, "I can only say that I have passed all the anti-doping controls that I have undertaken." Well that clears that up then...
The breakaway's advantage has been reined in ever so slightly. After 31km, their lead is down to 3:30 over the peloton.
Incidentally, at the Tour, BMC have done their bit to ease access to Cadel Evans at stage finishes. Rather than have a barrage of sweaty journalists wait outside the team bus for Evans to poke his head out the door, BMC have set up an interview table at the back of the bus where the Australian can take questions with a degree of calm. Here's hoping the rest of the teams are taking note.
Incidentally, at the Tour, BMC have done their bit to ease access to Cadel Evans at stage finishes. Rather than have a barrage of sweaty journalists wait outside the team bus for Evans to poke his head out the door, BMC have set up an interview table in front of the bus where the Australian can take questions with a degree of calm. Here's hoping the rest of the teams are taking note.
Jurgen Van de Walle (Omega Pharma-Lotto) is the first rider to abandon the Tour. The unfortunate Belgian fell heavily on the first stage of the race and has had to give best to his injuries.
The rain is continuing to fall steadily over southern Brittany. The break are approaching the town of St-Thurien and heading north towards the more undulating terrain of Brittany's Montagnes Noires.
The montagnes are more hill than mountain, of course, and we won't even be touching 300 metres above sea level on today's stage.
Most of the peloton are still draped in race capes and jackets as they grind their way though the wet, misty conditions.
The irrepressible Johnny Hoogerland leads the break. Both Hoogerland and Roy aren't even wearing arm warmers, they clearly mean business today.
Alberto Contador is well wrapped up in the heart of the peloton. Only he, and maybe Bjarne Riis, knows if he's going to try something on today's finish to the Mur-de-Bretagne. He surprised everybody with a snap attack on the road to Tropea at the Giro d'Italia. 1:42 down overall here, it will be fascinating to see if he tries to peg any of that back before the mountains.
Kadri has drifted clear of his breakaway companions. It wasn't an attack, however, he simply went up the road to stop for a natural break. Erviti angrily waves the television cameras away to give his breakaway companion some privacy.
Omega Pharma-Lotto and BMC are doing the work at the front of the peloton. With Gilbert and Evans fancied for the stage and the yellow jersey this evening, it's certainly in their interests to ensure the break's lead doesn't get out of control.
Gilbert is in the king of the mountains jersey today. completing his tour of the leaders' jerseys. He already wore yellow during the team time trial and then green yesterday on the road to Redon. Tomorrow, he could well be in green again...
Our man Brecht Decaluwe was out on the course this morning, and he warned that the climb of Mur-de-Bretagne is not the only test on today's stage:
"The Cyclingnews crew drove parts of the course this morning and found out that there's much more than just two official climbs today. For sure it's going to be tough on the legs for everybody today and not only because of that last steep official climb towards the finish line. All the roads in the region constantly go up and down, a bit like the Ardennes region. Combine the foul weather with the course – think the Ardennes and Giro di Lombardia – and there's only one name that pops up: birthday boy Philippe Gilbert. While some felt that the final climb wasn't as steep as expected it's the series of climbs that makes it hard."
The five up front are still collaborating well, but they've never been allowed to stretch out that advantage. Erviti is leading at the moment through the grim rainfall, and their lead is currently 3 minutes.
Erviti took a clever stage win at Vilanova i la Geltrú in last year's Vuelta a Espana. He slipped clear of his breakaway companions on the descent of the Rat Penat to take the win. Movistar have a team full of riders who can shine on transitional days, but in the opening week of the Tour, it's always difficult for a break such as this one to stay clear.
Omega Pharma-Lotto are setting the pace on the front of the peloton and keeping that gap comfortably under control. Weather conditions today are reminiscent of a Belgian spring, and they seem to be in their element.
Ivan Basso has a big escort of lime green Liquigas-Cannondale jerseys around him near the front of the peloton. The Italian was caught behind the split on the Saint-Nazaire bridge yesterday but made it back on soon afterwards. He explained afterwards that a crash involving Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) sparked the confusion.
We're 10km from the day's first categorised climb the Côte de Laz. There's only one point on offer on the fourth category climb, so it will be interesting to see if anybody in the break is motivated enough to go for it.
The pace is still relaxed back in the peloton. Yellow jersey Thor Hushovd shares a joke with Swiss champion Fabian Cancellara.
The roads are constantly rippling up and down today. Given the weather conditions, it's the kind of stage that could take a surprising toll on the some of the peloton in the days to come.
The bunch passes through the town of Coray. From here they'll start to loop back around northwards and then eastwards towards Mur-de-Bretagne.
The rain is no longer falling heavily, although the skies are still leaden. Euskaltel-Euskadi's Gorka Izagirre is riding his first Tour de France, and showed decent form at the Tour de Suisse recently, finishing 18th overall, one place ahead of Andy Schleck.
Schleck's form was a huge conundrum in the run-in to this Tour de France, but so far the Luxembourger has been flawless. Had Fabian Cancellara not slowed the peloton on the road to Spa last year on stage 2, he could well have been out of contention even at that early stage. But so far this year, he's shown himself well able to manage the treacherous and stressful opening days on crowded and narrow roads.
BMC are now setting the pace at the front of the peloton, helping out Omega Pharma-Lotto.
This morning HTC-Highroad's director sportif Brian Holm said that his team was surprised the Omega Pharma-Lotto team didn't ask for support during Saturday's stage 1. “We would have put two of our men at the front of the peloton without a problem but the Lotto guys didn't bother asking,” Holm said. Clearly Gilbert told his men to start pulling right away to prevent the breakaway group from getting a huge gap due to protracted negotiations in the peloton. Incidentally, today the men from Philippe Gilbert and GC-rider Jurgen Van den Broeck's team have apparently made a coalition with Cadel Evans' BMC team.
No surprises here. An attack from Johnny Hoogerland on the climb of the Cote de Laz.
The Dutchman is noted for his aggression. Hoogerland's attacks may not always make the greatest sense tactically, but he certainly guarantees entertainment.
Hoogerland takes the point at the top of the climb, and then waits for his breakaway companions. He really opened out quite a lead on the climb. Given his reputation, it's almost surprising that he didn't press on a little further and see what that brought him.
The rain has stopped now, although the sun is still steadfastly refusing to poke though the charcoal Breton skies.
The breakaway's lead is fluctuating in and around the three-minute mark. Any time it goes above that, BMC or Omega Pharma-Lotto turn up the pace and peg it back. Once it drops below 2:30, they ease up again. Meanwhile, the five in front are still doing their bit.
Just under 10km to go to the day's intermediate sprint at Spézet. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) holds the green jersey after finishing third yesterday, and picking up points on the intermediate sprint yesterday too.
Today's sprint is slightly uphill, but much of the attention will be centred on Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd. The pair were disqualified after coming together during yesterday's intermediate sprint. There really didn't seem to be much in it, but the commissaires have clearly decided on something of a zero tolerance policy this year.
Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma-Lotto) leads the peloton but the green jersey contenders are moving up on the way to the approach to the sprint.
Of course, the first five places will be hoovered up the escapees, but then this is perhaps the beauty of the new sprints system - there's still something very substantial for Cavendish et al to scrap over here.
An armada of Movistar jerseys are at the front of the bunch in support of the green jersey Rojas. The Spanish champion is a very canny operator, he could be a real dark horse for that particular classification.
There's a bit of interest among the breakaway in the points on offer too. Roy is leading out the sprint.
Hoogerland takes it ahead of Roy, then Kadri, Erviti and Izagirre.
Hoogerland and Roy weren't holding much back there, although the Spanish duo were pretty nonplussed by the sprint. Roy even attacked to take the sprint on Saturday.
Movistar are stringing things out as they lead out the sprint behind. The HTC train is trying to move up.
Interesting sprint. Farrar comes across for 6th ahead of Rojas.
Farrar had to squeeze though a tight gap to get that one, while Rojas looked boxed in but held his nerve to move up and come in just behind the American.
Not a great sprint for Cavendish. He didn't seem to be able to match Farrar and eased up to take fourth in the bunch sprint (9th at the intermediate sprint) behind Borut Bozic.
We'll have the full results from that sprint in a moment.
1 Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
2 Jeremy Roy (Fra) FDJ
3 Blel Kadri (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale
4 Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar
5 Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
6 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Cervélo
7 José Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar
8 Borut Bozic (Slo) Vacansoleil-DCM
9 Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad
10 Denis Galimzyanov (Rus) Katusha
11 Matt Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad
12 Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra) Saur-Sojasun
13 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
14 André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto
15 Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
That upsurge in pace from Movistar has seen the gap come back down to 2:15.
Rojas had to drop back with mechanical trouble, incidentally, but he's safely back in the peloton. The Spaniard will be pleased with his defence of the maillot vert so far today. Of the fastmen, he's one of the best-suited to hanging on to the front end of the bunch on the climb to the line today.
Shortly after that sprint, the bunch came through the feed zone. Once that's digested, the chase of the leading quintet will begin in earnest.
The finishing climb to Mur-de-Bretagne is two kilometres in length at an average of 6.9%, but it's worth noting that the first kilometre pitches upwards at an average of 10%.
The steepest part comes midway up, with a section that reaches 12-13%, but then it flattens out considerably in the final kilometre. Gilbert - or Contador - will likely have to try and go from the bottom, but it might be difficult. The approach to the foot of the climb is very, very quick, and it might prove difficult to attack at the foot of the climb. Positioning will be crucial.
If a sprinter can survive the first kilometre of the climb, he might be able to do something if it comes back together on the drag to the line, but it would be very, very difficult indeed. Local rider Sebastien Hinault told Velo Magazine that "it's certain that a sprinter like Cavendish won't win at the top."
Hinault did reckon that Thor Hushovd could be a contender, however. "Philippe Gilbert is the big favourite, but it's possible to see Thor Hushovd winning, like he did in Barcelona (in 2009)."
Two minutes the gap now, with 65km to go. the rain has stopped, but it's still a dreary day in Brittany, in spite of the passionate following in every village along the road.
Ag2r-La Mondiale's pre-Tour press conference gave an indication of the depth of feeling for cycling in Brittany. Every year, the organisers selects a group of teenagers known as the Jeunes Reporters du Tour to come and report on the Tour. It seems that a sizeable portion of this year's jeunes reporters are Bretons who had so many questions for Sebastien Hinault on Friday afternoon that some slightly more vieux reporters found it difficult to get a word in with Nicolas Roche, John Gadret et al.
Ag2r-La Mondiale's pre-Tour press conference gave an indication of the depth of feeling for cycling in Brittany. Every year, the organisers select a group of teenagers known as the Jeunes Reporters du Tour to come and report on the Tour. It seems that a sizeable portion of this year's jeunes reporters are Bretons who had so many questions for Sebastien Hinault on Friday afternoon that some slightly more vieux reporters found it difficult to get a word in with Nicolas Roche, John Gadret et al.
Rear wheel puncture for Bradley Wiggins (Sky), but he has a quick change and is chasing back calmly. He has three teammates back with him to help out too.
Omega Pharma-Lotto have done 64% of the work in the last 10km, according to France Television's on-screen graphics, with BMC picking up the slack.
Wiggins is safely back in the peloton. It will be fascinating to see what the Englishman can do this year. Logically, a repeat of his 4th place in 2009 should be beyond him on such a mountainous course, but he has been in fantastic form in recent weeks, and his morale appears to be sky high. He has cut a relaxed figure on the Tour so far this year.
An untimely puncture for Izagirre at the front of the race, he'll have to chase hard to make it back up to his breakaway companions.
Izagirre makes his way back up to the break, who certainly weren't waiting for him. Hoogerland is at the front now. With 55km to go and a lead of just over two minutes, the odds are stacked against the quintet staying clear.
Hoogerland and Erviti are trying to keep the pace high in the break as their gap drops below the two-minute mark.
Sebastian Lang is stretching things out at the front end of the peloton now. Philippe Gilbert is sitting in 10th place in the king of the mountains jersey, looking focused.
Luis Leon Sanchez punctures and is now chasing back on alone. It's all for Robert Gesink at Rabobank it seems....
The undulating roads mean that it's difficult for either the break or the peloton to establish a steady rhythm. The gap is currently fluctuating around the two-minutes mark.
Luis Leon Sanchez now has two Saur-Sojasun riders for company as he chases back on, including the French hope Jerome Coppel.
Coppel and LL Sanchez make it back to the rear of the peloton. Omega Pharma-Lotto are continuing the pace-setting and are loathe to reel in the the break too early. They've relented slightly and the advantage bumps up slightly again to 2:20.
Cadel Evans is pedalling very fluidly in the peloton. The Australian has appeared upbeat on the race so far, and he has every reason to be. He put in a fine performance on stage one, a decent team time trial, and above all, his form looks to be very good. Of course, we'll get a better idea on the Mur-de-Bretagne later on and a more definitive verdict next week on Luz Ardiden....
There's been a split in the peloton, and once again Ivan Basso is caught behind. That must have happened coming through Mellionnec. Liquigas is leading them back up.
Indeed, Evans and Fabian Cancellara are also in the that second peloton. Uncharacteristic for Evans to be caught napping like that. Liquigas are leading the pursuit, however, and they should make it back on without any real problems.
Actually, that split clearly happened before Mellionnec, as the peloton is just passing through the town itself now.
Evans is back at the team car getting some mechanical attention from a team car as he riders along. His chain needed oiling, but he's now chasing back on in the company of Ivan Santaromita.
In any case, Liquigas-Cannondale have brought Basso et all safely back up to the peloton, and Evans makes it back with Santaromita without any problems.
2:25 the lead for the break. Izagirre puts in a decent turn, and then swings over to let Roy through. The Frenchman is out of the saddle leading them up a nasty false flat.
Omega Pharma-Lotto are beginning to up the pace now, with 35km to go. Meanwhile, Yaroslav Popovych sits on the back of the peloton and smiles for the television camera.
Nobody's wearing a jacket or a cape in the peloton now, as the pace begins to pick up in earnest ahead of the run-in to Mur-de-Bretagne.
Kadri has the look of a man who might try and slip away, but for now the five men in the break are continuing to collaborate. They lead by 2:20 with 31km to go.
Garmin-Cervelo are now contributing to the pursuit. They've barely had to do a tap for Thor Hushovd today, but they have a real chance of holding the yellow jersey today. If Hushovd can't hang on to Gilbert et al in the finale, then David Millar is lying second overall, one second ahead of Cadel Evans.
Jeremy Roy isn't giving up the ghost, and might well be riding his way towards another Prix de la comabtivité for his troubles today. With a 2:10 lead 28km to race, it's unlikely that he or his fellow escapees will get much more than that for their considerable efforts.
Jeremy Roy isn't giving up the ghost, and might well be riding his way towards another Prix de la comabtivité for his troubles today. With a 2:10 lead and 28km to race, it's unlikely that he or his fellow escapees will get much more than that for their considerable efforts.
On a slight downhill, Erviti attempts to inject a bit of pace into the breakaway's efforts, and his companions are still working well together.
The break still has two minutes over the peloton, but David Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo) is putting the cat among the pigeons with a hefty turn at the head of the bunch.
The roads are noticeably drier on the run-in to the finish, although it did rain heavily on the Mur-de-Bretagne earlier this afternoon.
The pace is soaring under the impetus of Zabriskie's flat-back riding, and the break's lead is down slightly to 1:42.
Andre Greipel comes through to the front for Omega Pharma-Lotto. He hasn't won much this year for his new team, but he has certainly never shirked working for Gilbert this season.
Izagirre is struggling at the back of the lead group now, he's finding it hard to contribute to their efforts.
Another mechanical problem for Cadel Evans. It's not clear whether he had to stop or if he simply dropped back to the team car, but in any case, he's quickly back up to the flying peloton.
Zabriskie has done great work in his brief stint on the front of the bunch. He leads the peloton under the 20km to go banner just 1:30 down on the break.
It seems that Evans needed a bike change due to the problems he was having with his chain.
It's worth noting at this point that the "3km rule" has been suspended for today's stage, given that the final 2km are uphill. Riders caught behind crashes will not have their times corrected after the finish.
Omega Pharma-Lotto are back setting the pace now, and Leopard Trek are shepherding the Schlecks up to the front, with Fabian Cancellara very prominent. No sign of any group of Saxo Bank jerseys up there. Contador might have to do this one by himself.
Romain Feillu needs a bike change, and he desperately chases back on alone.
Feillu will struggle to get back on with the bunch barrelling along at such a high speed.
1:10 the gap with 13km to go. The five up front are keeping the pace high on the approach to Neulliac. They swing left through the town to head north towards the finish at the Mur-de-Bretagne.
Big Daniel Oss has Ivan Basso on his back wheel near the front for Liquigas. Fabian Cancellara has the Schlecks on his wheel, and Stuart O'Grady is also up there to help out.
The stylish Erviti and Roy are dragging the break towards the 10km to go banner with a minute in hand over the peloton.
A number of riders have been dropped off the back of the peloton, including Christophe Kern (Europcar). After a fine Dauphine, the Frenchman has struggled so far on the Tour.
Robert Gesink is up near the front of the peloton, as is Alberto Contador. The heads of state are gathering for what will be one of the Tour's briefer summit meetings.
Romain Feillu and Vacansoleil-DCM are treating us to one of the most blatant displays of motor pacing the Tour de France has ever seen, as he chases back on.
Izagirre attacks from the break, with Hoogerland for company. The Basque hadn't been contributing much in the last 10km, but he's summoned the strength from somewhere.
Cancellara takes up the pace-making for Leopard Trek at the head of the peloton, while yesterday's winner Tyler Farrar suffers at the rear of the peloton.
The pace is very, very high in the peloton under Cancellara's impetus, and there are a lot of anxious faces among the overall contenders. This could be a very tense finish.
The five up front have come back together with a little over 5km to go. 17 seconds the gap back to the Cancellara-led peloton.
The game is up for the escapees inside the final 5km. The peloton is breathing down their necks.
Izagirre goes once again just as the bunch looks like it's about to snap up the break.
Then break is caught, and now BMC take over the pace-making on the false flat before the climb proper.
Hincapie leads through a sharp left-hand turn.
Impressive piece of pace-making from Hincapie. Gilbert is well-placed in 5th or 6th position.
All the big names are up here on the downhill run-in to the foot of the Mur-de-Bretagne.
Alberto Contador the sole Saxo Bank rider up there as the climb starts.
Bauke Mollema paces Robert Gesink on the climb, with Gilbert sitting on his wheel, looking comfortable.
The bobbing figure of Alberto Conador is up there behind Gesink and Gilbert. Nobody has attacked yet.
Contador attacks with 1.3km to go. Gilbert follows.
Dries Devenyns is up there too with Evans and Frank Schleck. They haven't opened a significant gap but these seem to be the strong men.
Rigoberto Uran (Sky) attacks under the red kite.
Uran is brought back and then Jurgen Van Den Broeck takes up the pace making and attacks.
Gilbert dives across the road to his teammate. Contador is on Gilbert's wheel.
Contador attempts to jump but only leads out the sprint for Evans.
Evans come past Contador and Gilbert can't respond.
Evans just - just - holds off Contador to take the stage win.
Vinokourov was third ahead of Uran, Gilbert and Thor Hushovd.
Great sprint from Evans, even if Contador raised an arm after the line. He thought he had it.
Overall, Thor Hushovd - remarkably - holds on to the yellow jersey. Great ride from the Norwegian.
Worrying day for Andy Schleck, he was nowhere to be seen when Contador and Evans put the hammer down, and appears to have lost 8 seconds in the finale. A better climb for his brother Frank.
1 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 4:11:39
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana
4 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling
5 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
6 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo
7 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
8 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
10 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack
Bradley Wiggins led home the second group a few seconds down ahead of Ivan Basso. Damiano Cunego and - presumably - Andy Schleck must have been in there too.
It was a strange climb. The anticipated pyrotechnics on the steep opening kilometre never materialised, the riders must have been concerned about the headwind on the false flat to the finish.
Contador's attack sparked the race into action, and Evans must have been very confident in his strength to sprint from so far out into the headwind.
It was reminiscent of his win at Macerata at Tirreno-Adriatico in March, although the final kick to the line was a little steeper on that occasion.
Contador was closing rapidly in those final metres. He may only have gained a handful of seconds on Andy Schleck, but his morale will have improved no end after that performance.
Gilbert seemed to use up too much energy diving onto his teammate Van den Broeck's wheel with 500 metres to go and had nothing left for the sprint.
Provisional general classification:
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
4 David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Cervelo
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack
6 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
7 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling
8 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
9 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
10 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek
Before we go, we just have time for today's Easton competition. The racing was so breathless in the final hour that we hadn't time to squeeze in today's trivia teaser before now.
Here is today's trivia question in the Easton/Cyclingnews Tour de
France Trivia Challenge: Which current Tour de France rider won Stage 4 of the 2007 Tour (Vilers-Cotterets-Joigny)? You are entered for the random drawing for prizes by filling in your answer here - http://easton.cyclingnews.com/. Good luck!
And in response to yesterday's question, Lance Armstrong and the inimitable Raymond Poulidour hold the record for the most amount of podium finishes at the Tour de France. They managed the feat on no fewer than 8 occasions.
Thanks for joining us on Cyclingnews for today's dramatic stage of the Tour de France. We'll be back tomorrow for another day in Brittany as the peloton heads from Carhaix to Cap Fréhel. The last 80km hug the coast and the wind could wreak havoc on the peloton in the finale. Before that, we'll have a full report, results and pictures from today's stage, as well as all the news from our team on the road in France, as they tour the team buses after the stage.