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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from stage four of the Tour de Suisse. Today we have a relatively flat 192.2km to race between Schwarzenburg and Wettingen. The riders will head north before hitting a third category climb after 140km of racing. They'll do that climb twice on a finishing circuit. There's also a little rise just before the finish but the sprinters will fancy their chances today.
Here's how we stand in the overall, with Tony Martin leading after three stages, Fabian Cancellara in second place, just one second down on the German:
1 Tony Martin (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 9:38:04
2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 0:00:01
3 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling Team 0:00:09
4 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d'Epargne 0:00:10
5 Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step 0:00:11
6 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:00:13
7 Jacob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo Bank 0:00:14
8 Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team
9 Nicolas Jona Castroviejo (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:00:15
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank 0:00:17
We have 157 starters today after Tour of California winner, Michael Rogers went to train at altitude before the Tour de France. Rogers would have been one of HTC's strongest helpers in the team's bid to support Martin in the overall. Here's a little story on the subject.
The Australian has raced over 40 days so far this year.
The riders are now in Schönentannen as they cross the start line. Here we go.
This might be the easiest stage on paper but there are no easy stages in a race like the Tour de Suisse. The riders will still be racing close to 200km and they'll have to deal with a headwind for the majority of the stage too. Conditions are cloudy as they set off.
Already a few little digs on the front with Björn Schröder and then riders from AG2R taking it in turns to attack. Lampre on the front.
While the riders warm up let's have a look at the possible candidate for today's stage, assuming that it ends in a sprint.
Here's a nice long-list for us to look at. A few pocket rocket sprinters in there along with a few strongmen who have a nice turns of speed. Who are you tipping and why? Let me know at twitter.com/dnlbenson
Meanwhile we have our first serious move of the day and it comes from none other than Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team). Brice won an epic stage in last year's Tour de France. No invite for him or his team this year so he'll be looking for a result in races like the Tour de Suisse. Today's stage profile doesn't really suit his climbing legs but nevertheless he's on the attack and has around 23 seconds on the bunch.
That gap is getting bigger now and it's up to 4:09 as Feillu goes it alone.
A bit of info on the young Frenchman leading the race today. For a start he's French. He's also 24 and his brother Romain also rides for the same team. Both men were picked up when Agritubel dropped out of the sport. Alas the squad weren't invited to the Tour this year, despite having two of the best homegrown prospects on their books. In fact they didn't get an invite to the Vuelta either, did they?
Feillu's on a mission. His lead is now over six minutes. No Tour invite, no Vuelta invite, the man is clearly out to prove a point.
A similar situation to the Three Days of De Panne. During that race the Tour announced their wild card selection and Vacansoleil weren't included. Over the next couple of days they threw riders up the road in a number of attacks.
While Brice carries on alone let's have a flick through today's biggest news.
Brailsford is looking forward to the challenge of Sky riding three Grand Tours in one year but doesn't confirm if he'll be sending Wiggins to the Vuelta. Frank Schleck is feeling confident after winning yesterday's stage here in Suisse. Haussler is glad to be back on the bike.
BMC say that three Grand Tours in one year is unrealistic but I assume they applied for a place in the race and Johan Bruyneel issues a speechless press release in which he defends the team and questions why they were left out of the Vuelta.
Back to the action and Feillu's lead is now over nine minutes, the bunch content to take this one easy for now.
The gap has now leveled off at just over nine minutes, with HTC moving to the front of the field for their man and race leader Tony Martin.
The bunch have reached the small down of Burgdorf and the lead is now down to 8 minutes. HTC continue to lead the chase as Feillu reaches the 150km to go point.
The race heads slightly downhill for the next few kilometers. HTC continue to set the pace on the front.
Roulston takes a long turn at the front as the bunch head towards the feed zone. The gap is still hovering at just under the 8 minute mark but it should increase once the bunch hit the feed zone.
As we predicted the gap moves out again. It's now 8.36.
The bunch have reached the town of Thörigen with HTC on the front controlling affairs. Feillu is still out there on his own.
The gap is still holding as The Frenchman reaches Roggwil. He's d15km from today's first sprint.
So what do you think of Brice's chances of staying out there all day and taking the stage?
Marylineee has tweeted and think that's Special Breschel could win today. "Today it's for Matti Breschel!!! A second victory for Team Saxo Bank: it would be great !!!"
Dependable Roulston takes another long turn at the front of the bunch. He came over from Cervelo at the end of 2009 and has settled in well with his new team. He's made the short list for the Tour de France squad.
Feillu takes the first sprint with Hayden Roulston and Michael Albasini in second and third. The gap starting to come down gradually. It's 6.45 now.
It's starting to come down a little faster now. The leader has lost just over 20 seconds in three kilometers of racing.
Less than 100km to go now and the gaps continues to come down. This has sprint finish written all over it but anything could happen on those final two climbs before the finish.
The Frenchman is starting to lose time rapidly now as the gap dips below six minutes for the first time.
The bunch have now reached the town of Suhr and the gap is at five minutes.
Two reasons for why HTC are on the front right now. The first being that Tony Martin leads the race so it's up to his team to set the tempo and keep breaks in check but also HTC have Cavendish and they'll be aiming to set up a sprint later today.
Brice isn't going to survive this one I'm afraid. The gap is down to under four minutes and we've got 80km to go.
Mr Tony Martin gets an energy bar down as he sits on Monfort's back wheel.
Heinrich Haussler at the back of the bunch having a chat with a teammate. Fabian Cancellara is back there too. Both riders have won stages so far in this year's race. Today could be another day for Haussler.
Well Brice is still digging away. The gap goes back out to 4.14.
A few of Feillu's teammates are sitting just behind the Columbia train, trying to break things up as much as possible.
The pace has been sapped right out of the peloton now. The gap creeps out to 4:35. HTC continue to lead things but they've stopped the chase. Mind games to entice more teams to the front, perhaps?
Assuming that today does indeed come down to a sprint here are a list of riders to watch out for.
Armstrong sitting around halfway down the bunch with Cav alongside him and then four Shack riders just behind them.
Hulsmans goes back to the team car and picks up a number of bottles for his teammates. He can't give them away right now though as rider after rider shake their heads.
The gap comes down to 3.50 again but there's still little urgency in the bunch.
The lone leader comes through the finish for the first time and the crowds are very impressive. He has two laps of this circuit to go.
The peloton come through the finish for the first time.
No crowds for Feillu now as he dips down from the finishline and back into the countryside. He's been away since very early on in today's stage and he's still plugging away off the front of the bunch.
At least Feillu has some nice views to keep himself distracted. Lovely green fields and forests on both sides of the road.
50km to go now and HTC still lead the bunch as Haussler drops back through the cars. Not sure why he's off the back but it doesn't look serious.
Feillu is on the climb now, the gap down to 3.30
And the peloton start the climb. They're rolling along but the pace isn't high enough for anyone to start struggling.
Not too steep as Shack shadow HTC on the front of the pack.
Cavendish is near the back of the HTC train, just keeping out of trouble for now.
As Feillu, who is still on the climb, accelerates around a corner. He's getting some warm support from the Swiss fans that line the road. He's just about to crest the top of the climb.
Feillu dives down the other side but the gap isn't holding and it's down to just 2.15.
The lone Frenchman shakes out his legs but he'll be close to empty.
The bunch are all lined out as they start the descent. The road thins out quite a lot at this point.
Feillu isn't looking great now. Turning the pedals looks hard work and almost unnatural compared the the fluidity he had earlier in the stage.
Cancellara moves to the front of the bunch. Astana are up there too, AG2R as well.
Euskaltel - Euskadi move to the front and set the pace. Are they working for Koldo Fernandez or hoping to pick up some of the points on offer for the climb? Both possibly but they'll be hoping to take over the points jersey today.
Feillu, meanwhile, has just over a minute on the bunch.
Feillu has just 52 seconds now, the Spanish men in orange still setting the pace as they hit the climb for the final time.
Lampre are moving up now too.
Feillu comes through the finish on his own. He takes a huge round of applause from the crowd - well aware that he's given it everything today. He'll be caught very soon.
A number of riders hit the barriers as they come through the finish. The road narrowed and it looked like a Milram rider who came down first.
Everyone seems to be back on their bikes and chasing.
Lampre move more men to the front, looking to set something up for Petacchi. This is perhaps the flattest stage in the race, the one big chance for the sprinters.
And it's all over for Brice Feillu. Bravo. That was a crazy but brave move from the Frenchman. The Tour might just be worse off without him there.
Tony Martin is near the bunch but without any teammates as we hit the climb.
Morabito took the maximum number of points on offer at that last sprint and now leads that competition.
Tony Martin has moved right to the front now and sits in second wheel. Looks like HTC will leave him to his own devices as they look after Cavendish on the climb.
A Vacansoleil rider attacks from the bunch. This team are really going for it today and they'll have won a lot of fans with their aggressive riding.
It's Wouter Poels who has around ten seconds on the bunch.
Gilbert attacks and he takes Ryder Hesjedal with him. That's the 1-2 from Amstel and they'll catch the lone leader.
All coming back together now but Euskaltel, despite all that work, didn't win a single point on that climb. Doh!
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin - Transitions) is still out there and leads on the descent. He doesn't have a big gap, maybe 100 meters or so.
The Canadian has 8 seconds.
Cancellara moves to the front and helps with the chase.
Back onto the flat roads with just 17km to go. Hesjedal still leads but a couple of riders are trying to bridge over to him.
HTC are still taking a back seat. The lead is now 10 seconds for the Garmin-Transitions rider.
Now Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) chasing the Canadian but he won't fancy waiting for them, the gap is too small to the bunch.
Both riders are brought back but Hesjedal is still out on his own. Lövkvist is off the back and chasing with his teammates. He was third overall and doesnt need a problem like this. He should get back on.
Quickstep move the front now. Still no sign from HTC though.
The gap is going out now and it's up to 12 seconds.
Lövkvist just about to make contact with the back of the bunch now.
All back together again now. Boonen's men now on the front controlling things.
And here come Columbia. 9km to go and here comes Cavendish's men.
Boonen is around 20 back, Milram making a move to the front too. Lancaster has a puncture so his lead out skills will be missed by Cervelo.
Pick a winner:
Rabobank move to the front now for their man Freire. So many big name sprinters here.
Renshaw has Cavendish on his wheel. How familiar is that sight?
Fast, very fast descent now as they race towards the finish. Just 5km to go.
HTC hit the front now. They wont have it all their own way though and they've done a lot of work already today. They could be there for the taking!
Monfort drilling on the front now.
3km to go. Petacchi is right up there.
All the big sprinters are here. There's an attack!
Gilbert goes for it!
not it's Van Avermaet!
But he's caught with 2km to go.
That was a nasty right hand turn and Astana attack. HTC cant keep it together. what do they have in the tank for Cav?
HTC are trying to bring it all back . CAv has two with him.
Cav goes down!
Massive crash Petacchi takes the win.
Cavendish and Haussler seemed to come together right at the front both men down. them boonen goes right into the back of Cavendish's neck.
No team were able to control that and that played into the hands of a messy sprint. Ciolek went down too. Cavendish was hit by around four or five riders and behind that there were several more crashes.
Here are the top ten:
Petacchi, Breschel, Marcato, Rojas, McEwen, Flecha, Pietropoli, Molema, Kloden, Drevenyns
Cavendish did seem to drift there. Oh, so many riders came down very hard. One AG2R flipped right over the bars doing a 360.
We have to leave you now but here are the results from today's stage. Please come back to the homepage for a full report and news regarding that big crash at the finish.