Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the fourth stage of the Vuelta a España from Venlo to Liege.
Today's stage takes over 224km from Venlo in the Netherlands to Liege in Belgium. There's only one way to describe the conditions being faced by the riders today: wet. Well, perhaps two words: very wet!
125km remaining from 224km
Four riders have broken away from the peloton today. Javier Ramirez Abeja (Andalucía - Cajasur), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Dominik Roels (Milram) and Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil) have all managed to get away.
The leaders have built up a sizeable gap. The lead had stretched out to 14 minutes at one stage, however the peloton seems content to allow the leaders a little bit of space for now. A number of teams are taking their turn at the front of the bunch. Saxo Bank, in their black rain capes, are well represented at the pointy end of the field.
The peloton is strung out at 60km/h at the moment. Garmin is currently leading the peloton. They'll have a few new teammates for next year after announcing that Johan van Summeren and South African Robbie Hunter will join the squad.
The leaders are making their way up the Cauberg for the second time today. Despite the atrocious conditions, the roads are lined with thousands of vocal, umbrella-toting spectators.
Oddly, the leaders, at the top of the Cauberg now are having a good look at one another. Boom goes!
Lars Boom (Rabobank) takes the points at the top of the climb. The banner was about 300 metres beyond the position of the traditional finish for the Amstel Gold race.
Christian Meier (Garmin) has been leading the peloton for the past quarter of an hour. He peels off the front as the peloton begins its own ascent of the Cauberg.
Some of the capes are coming off, the riders are going grabbing their musettes as they go through the feedzone at the top of the Cauberg.
It looks extremely unlikely that the riders will see the sun today, but the torrential rain of the earlier in the stage has abated somewhat.
The breakaway riders - Javier Ramirez Abeja (Andalucía - Cajasur), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Dominik Roels (Milram) and Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil) - are approaching the border of Belgium.
85km remaining from 224km
The Dutch roads have made way for Belgian roads. Quick Step, Saxo Bank, Garmin and Liquigas are pushing the pace in the peloton, bringing the gap steadily down. It sits now at 5:47
143km remaining from 224km
We're looking forward to an interesting finish on today's stage. The peloton will face some of the hills used in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The Cote Saint-Nicholas sits just 15km before the end and could be the perfect launching pad for a brave escapee.
There's a crash in the peloton. Not too much of a surprise in today's soggy conditions. Everyone is up and away quickly.
Julian Dean was the rider who came down first in the crash. He was up and riding pretty quickly though. David Millar talks about Dean's role in the Garmin team in his latest Cyclingnews blog entry.
Lagutin (Vacansoleil) crashed in the breakaway as they negotiated a roundabout. He brought down Roels (Milram) too.
Roels is back with Lars Boom (Rabobank) and Javier Ramirez Abeja (Andalucía - Cajasur). Lagutin is making his way back after a quick bike change.
A Saxo Bank rider runs into the back of a truck on the side of the road!
Don't worry folks, the truck was parked and he managed to take most of the pace off before he hit it. Now, another rider has gone down, a Cervelo rider this time. These are treacherous conditions.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is in the team cars, working his way back to the peloton. All these crashes are disrupting the continuity of the group as riders scramble to get back on terms after the crashes.
Charley Wegelius (Silence-Lotto) has been forced to abandon today.
47km remaining from 224km
We're not sure whether it was a crash that saw Wegelius pull out. Meanwhile, the peloton have got the leaders within their grasp as we head inside the final 45km of the stage.
The leaders are heading through the town of Theux. About 2.30 minutes behind the peleton is being led by Garmin's Martijn Maaskant.
The breakaway have just started the Alto Mont Theux. This Cat.4 climb won't pose too much of an issue, but it will bite after a long, wet day. Lars Boom sits on the back as Roels leads the quartet.
Things seem to have settled down after that earlier spate of crashes. The peloton have come back together and have spread right across the road. There's a lot of faces spattered with road grime in there.
Javier Ramirez Abeja (Andalucía - Cajasur) and Lars Boom (Rabobank) joust for the top of the Alto Mont Teux. Boom gets the top points, which by our calculations will see him inherit the climbers jersey from his Rabobank teammate, Tom Leezer
38km remaining from 224km
Ramirez and Roels have jumped away from the breakaway. The two are now the lead the peloton by around two minutes. Lars Boom (Rabobank) and Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil) look to have had enough for the day.
Jakob Fuglsang was the rider that hit the parked truck earlier. There are reports that the Saxo Bank rider was injured but he's been surrounded by most of his teammates at the back of the peloton.
Fuglsang should be okay; with plenty of support he'll work his way towards the front of the bunch. Maaskant (Garmin) once again is leading the pack.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) punctured. The mechanic was on the job quickly and he's on his way back to the peloton.
Lars Boom (Rabobank) and Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil) are just about to be caught by the peloton.
Johnny Hoogerland (Vancansoleil) and Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank) have attacked, just as Boom and Lagutin were brought back. The peloton aren't letting the move get too far away.
Vancansoleil are very keen to make the move today. Hoogerland and Kroon were brought back and immediately Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) makes a move. This time, he's opened a decent little gap.
26km remaining from 224km
Westra is pushing on in search of the two leaders: Roels (Milram) and Ramirez (Andalucía - Cajasur) The duo are 0.46 ahead of the Dutchman.
A big crash in the peloton!
Gerald Ciolek (Milram) went down hardest after being pushed into the gutter. A Lampre-NGC and Saxo Bank rider went down too, they're all up and riding again, but Ciolek is hurting.
The race is in the city of Liege now. Westra (Vacansoleil) has closed to within 0.20 behind. The peloton are just 0.10 seconds further behind.
19km remaining from 224km
The race has gone through the finish line, they'll return there in about 19km
The peloton makes it's way over a paved section in the centre of the city. The pace drops way down as the paving will be like an ice rink today.
Westra (Vacansoleil) and Roels (Milram) have dispatched themselves of Javier Ramirez Abeja (Andalucía - Cajasur).
Now Roels has sat up. Lieuwe Westra is the sole leader.
14km remaining from 224km
Kim Kirchen has attacked as soon as Roels is brought back to the peloton. He's closed down quickly.
13km remaining from 224km
Westra (Vacansoleil) is shut down. The peloton is about to start the Saint Nicholas together.
The peloton is strung out single file as it gets set to start the climb.
A Lampre rider fires out of the peloton. It's Gasparotto.
7km remaining from 224km
Gasparotto went early. He's got 7.8km to go and a lead of just 0.10
There's still a large peloton. It's certainly been whittled down a touch but there are more than a hundred riders in the group.
4km remaining from 224km
Gasparotto enters the final five kilometres.
Gasparotto's been brought back and Quick Step have assumed control of the peloton as they work to set it up for Tom Boonen.
The peloton are running along the canal through Liege. The long straight roads are keeping the pace high.
A massive crash, most of the peloton has crashed!
Just six riders managed to get through that. Race leader Cancellara went down. There are still a lot of riders on the deck.
It's a three-on-three contest for the win between Columbia-HTC and Quick Step.
Andre Greipel is there. Greipel opens his sprint and takes the win!
A group of fifty or so riders are now making their way towards the finish.
We're just trying to work out if the crash occurred inside or ouside the 3km to go mark. Given that most of the riders in the race came down in the crash, the jury may give the race the same time regardless.
Saxo Bank teammates Cancellara, Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Stuart O'Grady and Matti Breschel are just making their way over the finishline 5:30 behind stage winner Greipel.
Chris Horner (Astana) went down very, very hard. There was a very tall concrete gutter that the rider's hit just inside the 3km to go mark. Horner looks likely to be out of the race.
As for the stage result, it was as follows:
1. André Greipel (Ger) Columbia-HTC
2. Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step
3. Bert Grabsch (Ger) Columbia-HTC
4. Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Columbia-HTC
5. Marco Velo (Ita) Quick Step
6. Matti Breschel (Den) Saxo Bank
7. Adam Hansen (Aus) Columbia-HTC
8. Jürgen Roelandts (Bel) Silence-Lotto
9. Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Milram
Fabian Cancellara holds onto his lead in the general classification as the race jury have given the peloton the same time as one another.
General Classification after stage 4
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank
2. Gregory Henderson (NZl) Columbia-HTC at 0.06
3. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Milram 0.08
4. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 0.09
5. Bert Grabsch (Ger) Columbia-HTC 0.11
6. André Greipel (Ger) Columbia-HTC 0.11
7. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Slipstream 0.12
8. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank 0.14
9. Jens Mouris (Ned) Vacansoleil 0.14
10. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas 0.16
Click here for the full report, results and images from stage 4 of the Vuelta a España
Thanks for joining Cyclingnews on stage 4 of the Vuelta a España from Venlo to Liege. Tomorrow's rest day will see the peloton transfer to Spain for the first in-country stage of this year's Vuelta. Join us on Thursday as we present live coverage of stage 6 from Tarragona to Vinaros. See you then!
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