93rd Tour de France - ProT
France, July 1-23, 2006
Results & report
Stage 4 - Wednesday, July 5: Huy (Belgium) - Saint-Quentin, 207 km
Complete live report
Dearest Cyclingnews readers, faithful
followers of the greatest cycling race on earth - welcome. Welcome back to stage
four of this year's Tour de France, which takes the peloton from Huy in Belgium
back to the event's mother land France, to finish in Saint Quentin after 207
kilometres of pretty flat Northern European countryside.
today in Southern Belgium has unfortunately turned worse than the last few days.
Because of the heat, thunderstorm clouds have gathered over the region, and
the air is heavy. Rain is thus expected for this stage, as the weather is similar
over to the West in France, where the riders are headed.
The riders have just started to roll
through town to proceed to the "Départ réel" - the real start just outside of
The team strategy of French team Bouygues Telecom will be clear
this morning: Polkadot jersey Jérôme Pineau and his mates are sure to go for
the first climb of the day, the Peu d'Eau (literally: Not Much Water) climb,
a Cat. 3, to defend his jersey. He'll sure be tired from yesterday's efforts
in the break, but you don't give away a Tour de France jersey easily, that's
The race has begun! 172 riders are
on their way back to France, there hasn't been any non-starters. That's good
news, because it means that Stuart O'Grady (CSC) as well as Sandy Casar (Francaise
des Jeux), who both crashed yesterday, have been able to continue.
Casar hurt his left knee and lost
a lot of time in this finish. What a pity also for the Frenchman, who placed
6th on GC at the Giro d'Italia this year and was a serious rival for Christophe
Moreau for the title of "best Frenchman on the Tour"...
Doping controls have been performed
this morning on 54 riders, of the following teams: Saunier Duval, Crédit Agricole,
Française des Jeux, Discovery Channel, Cofidis and Agritubel. All were declared
fit to start.
12:37 CEST 5km/202km to go
The bunch is riding
trough the outskirts of Huy, with no attacks going just yet. But the first climb,
which averages 4.9 percent, is only a few kilometres away...
Speaking of injuries: Of course,
some other riders were less lucky in yesterday's stage, as they crashed so badly
that they had to be taken to hospital - I'm speaking of Alejandro Valverde,
Erik Dekker and Fred Rodriguez. Of these three surely the greatest loss for
the race is the Spaniard, but it's always painful to lose riders under theses
circumstances. Let's hope that there won't be any more crashes today.
12:45 CEST 10km/197km to go
The peloton is still
groupé at the foot of the climb, which is 2,9 kilometres long.
Another little climb awaits the riders
at km 57,5: the Côte de Falaën, a Cat.4 hill of 1,4 km averaging 5,4 percent.
Afterwards, we'll have three sprints in Beaumont (km 103), Sains-du-Nord (km
135,5) and Bernot (km 188) before the race gets to Saint Quentin for a pretty
certain bunch sprint finish.
Tom Boonen had a good time this morning
showcasing his beautiful Yellow jersey in his home country, where he is already
an icon similar to a rock star. Fortunately, it wasn't a s hot this morning
otherwise we would have seen all these young girls fainting for sure. They did
12:52 CEST 14km/193km to go
And the expected
has happened: The points on top of the climb were taken by Polkadot jersey wearer
Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues), followed by David De la Fuente (Saunier), Fabian Wegmann
(Gerolsteiner) and Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues).
Erratum: Contrary to what I had written
earlier, Sandy Casar didn't lose any time on GC - you're right, readers. Sorry
about that. As he crashed within the last 3 kms, he was credited the same time
as the bunch, and is thus still with the main favourites, at 39 seconds behind
current leader Boonen. We haven't got any news on his knee, though, but if he
started again today, it should be fine.
13:03 CEST 20km/187km to go
Now the race is finally
on: David Lopez (Euskaltel), Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R), Patxi Vila (Lampre) and
Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne) have tried to get away, but Tom Boonen himself
joined them to annihilate their efforts. The bunch swallowed them again.
Then, Egoi Martinez (Discovery) countered and got a few seconds. A chase group
formed with Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis), Christophe Mengin (Francaise des Jeux),
Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues) and Cédric Coutouly (Agritubel).
13:07 CEST 25km/182km to go
The four chasers
have joined the Discovery rider, and it looks like we have the break of the
day: Egoi Martinez (Discovery), Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis), Christophe Mengin
(Francaise des Jeux), Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues) and Cédric Coutouly (Agritubel).
They already have over one minute.
13:12 CEST 28km/179km to go
The gap is getting
bigger: 2.10 minutes already - the bunch is letting them go. Well, that wasn't
a too hectic race start, was it?
The French again want to show themselves:
we have three of them in the break, who are all also anticipating tonight's
semi-final of the Football World Cup against Portugal. A thought for the defeated
Germans yesterday evening - but Italy did play better by a hair. Europe is feverish
about the competition these days, and if France wins tonight, there will surely
be some partying on in the Tour de France village, too!
In the breakaway group, Martinez
is the best-placed on General Classification, only 28 seconds off Tom Boonen.
He will therefore - at least in theory - ride much of this stage as the new
race leader. Were it not for the experienced Quick.Step team, and the other
sprinter's squads such as Davitamon-Lotto, Milram etc., who will most probably
reel them in again.
But let's not be too pessimistic right from the
start. A break is a break.
13:30 CEST 39km/168km to go
The gap is already
at over 3 minutes after 38,1 kilometres of racing since the start, one hour
ago. For you math talents out there, that gives you the average speed, doesn't
The loss of Fred Rodriguez as lead-out-man
for Robbie McEwen must weigh heavy on Davitamon this morning. The Cauberg in
Valkenburg proved to be too steep for the Australian rival of Tom Boonen, and
he is definitely hungry to make up for that today, especially as the last 150
kilometres of the stage really are perfectly flat.
his shoulder and suffered a severe concussion.
Team CSC press officer Brian Nygaard
just told us that Stuart O'Grady is not feeling too well - hardly a surprise
as he's riding with a broken vertebrae. "Stuart is in pain, but we all hope
that he will continue to race," Nygaard said. "The pain is bearable for him,
and he decided to continue. We'll see how it goes inside the bunch today. We
don't expect him to sprint in Saint Quentin though, that would not be fair."
13:51 CEST 57km/150km to go
The advantage of
the five breakaway riders has further increased: 3.40 minutes. We're at the
second and last climb of today, the Côte de Fallaen.
is already imposing its rhythm on the bunch, with a few of Boonen's teammates
sitting at the very top of the peloton. Doesn't look like there will be any
really gig gaps today.
On top of the climb, Lefèvre was
first to score the points, followed by Martinez and Coutouly. Jérôme Pineau
will therefore keep his dotted jersey and will be kissed again this evening
on the podium of the Tour de France - good for him!
OK, so let's continue in the spirit
of the last few days. Here's another of our very elaborated questions from the
CN blimp: Which was better, Thor Hushovd's one legged sprint for third or Tom
Boonen's flat tyre sprint for fourth and the maillot jaune?
answer wins our almost-dead ventilator, which has really got on our nerves these
last few days.
Thinking again about injuries. Cycling
is a merciless sport, and I bet Valverde must be very disappointed about having
to leave the Tour now, especially since he abandoned it last year, too, due
to a knee injury.
Sandy Casar, for his part, was able to continue
this morning but what a nightmare it must have been yesterday to get hit by
a drunken spectator, stretching his camera over the barriers to get that one,
very probably out-of-focus shot? The man also got into a fight with Casar's
directeur sportif, and had to be calmed down by police officers.
Valverde's DS Eusebio Unzue said
that the Spaniard took a flight from Brussels to Valencia this morning, after
sleeping very badly because of the pain. "He will get further examination this
afternoon in Murcia," Unzue added. "Then we'll decide if he has to get surgery
or not. The break seems rather simple, no complication, so maybe he could get
well soon without an operation. If this is the case, he may participate in the
The break, meanwhile, has extended its advance to 4.30 minutes.
They will be at the feed zone soon.
On today's prize question, Michael
Levin from Florida shared his thoughts with us: "It has to be Tom Boonen riding
on 2-3 kilos of air pressure for the last 5K," he wrote. "Riding on the rim
knowing that the Maillot Jaune is waiting for you is the ultimate in persistence.
He wanted it so badly, especially to have it in front of his home crowd this
nothing could stop him! It was all heart!!!!"
Lakes agreed with him, but not for the same reasons: "I have to go with Boonen’s
sprint. Anyone can tell that Thor was just trying to imitate Zabel’s ball banger
from 7 or 8 Tours ago. At least Thor finished higher in the stage than when
it happened to Zabel."
Isabelle Beel from Belgium, though, voted
for big Thor. "Hushovd’s one legged race wins by a few bike lengths, as I don’t
really buy into Tom’s deflating tyre story. Maybe it’s too hot in my 'no-airco,
big glass window-office', but I’ve seen a lot of pictures of the last K, and
it doesn’t look like a deflating tire to me. As for the prize, better a near
dead airco than no airco at all!" Sorry Isabelle, it's only a fan...
After two hours of racing, the average
speed is 38,9 km/h. The peloton is still controlling the breakaway and doesn't
allow it too much of a gap.
Another interesting answer to our
prize question comes from Mihai in Romania: "I consider that Tom Boonen's flat
tyre sprint was better, because it lasted for 5 long and nervous kilometres;
also, you need to be really strong to climb the Cauberg on the saddle, at that
speed." That's true!
But Timo van den Berg from the Netherlands disagrees.
"The best sprint was by Thor Hushovd. First he tried with one arm (cut). Yesterday
he tried with one leg. A flat tyre does not count for the Viking. He will try
to sprint with one wheel!"
14:44 CEST 85km/122km to go
Back to the today's
race: the bunch is at the feed zone now, getting the necessary calories to continue.
The stage has not yet been too draining, though: not even 39 km/h have been
ridden, and the peloton is behind schedule at the moment. Surely the pace will
pick up in the last 30 kms, though! They should arrive in Saint Quentin just
after 5pm CEST.
Fortunately, it's also dry at the
finish, with only a few scattered could here and there. A light breeze blows
from the South-East, which means that the bunch has a light head wind - which
could explain it's a little off the pace.
Boonen drinks a famous
fizzy brown-coloured drink coming from the USA - a little caffeine is always
14:56 CEST 103km/104km to go
The race is still
moving through beautiful hay fields, rolling hills; the sun is shining and nothing
much happens, I'm afraid... Riders are munching and drinking away, Quick.Step
sits in front and Boonen has a completely Yellow outfit including his helmet,
of course. Too bad the rainbow colours seem not to have been included on his
The break is at the first intermediate sprint now, in Beaumont
(km 103). Martinez took the points, but there wasn't much of a sprint anyway.
Indeed, the breeze has picked up
a bit and is making it harder for the breakaway. The five riders still have
around 4 minutes over the bunch, but Team Quick.Step has them on a loose leash.
In the back, Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) has a flat and gets a new wheel, while
Alessandro Ballan fetches drinks for his Lampre teammates at his team car.
Another word on our prize question:
Many readers seem to think that Boonen's flattening tyre yesterday was in fact
only a bad excuse, since he hasn't won a stage yet and might not have the same
form as last year. 'Thor with a stitched-up arm and finishing the sprint with
one leg beats a bad excuse any time', as Mike put it.
Teammates of Robbie McEwen are happy
to stay at the back of the bunch for now, leaving all the responsibility to
Quick.Step. The escaped riders are having a hard time with that head-wind, which
makes the pursuit easier for the peloton. They surely don't want to catch them
too soon, which could explain why the pace is still under 40 km/h.
The race will soon cross the border to France.
Aha, the pace has picked up a bit.
The bunch is strung out now, but they're also on a bit narrower roads now. Floyd
Landis sits behind the Quick.Steppers, protected by his teammates. Then follow
some T-Mobile riders, including stage 3 winner Matthias "Matze" Kessler. He
really had a great engine going yesterday.
There are a lot more spectators
now in this forest road, compared to the wide fields that we had earlier on.
Cédric Vasseur is working in front
now, followed by this teammate De Jongh and Cyclingnews diarist Wilfried Cretskens.
We all wonder if Tom Boonen be the first maillot jaune to win a Tour de France
stage in a sprint since Cipollini did it in 1997? Patience, folks...
15:40 CEST 136km/71km to go
The race has come
back to its motherland France, but that doesn't change anything on the situation.
Egoi Martinez is pedalling 98 rpm, still eating something, while Bradley Wiggins
is having a smooth ride, now taking his turn in front. Still 4.13 minutes over
Egoi Martinez also took the second
intermediate sprint in Sains-du-Nord (km 135.5), while the pack behind arrives
in the town, still stretched out. Davitamon riders have now mingled in front
and are sharing Quick.Step's load. Wim Vansevenant takes his turn.
The race is still about 30 mins behind
schedule. TV broadcasters will hope that the riders give it a little more gas,
otherwise they're in trouble.
A beautiful cow - white with brown
patches - just ran by. People have stacked up hay balls to stand on and get
a better picture of the bunch as it flies by...
15:59 CEST 144km/63km to go
Floyd Landis punctured.
He gets a wheel change, and Victor Hugo Pena, Carlos Da Cruz as well as one
other teammate is there to take him back to the bunch. He'll be fine.
They're back on. No worries.
Now the whole Quick.Step and Davitamon teams are driving the peloton, with Garate
16:06 CEST 150km/57km to go
(Rabobank) seemed to have an insect in his helmet - he's taken it off and shook
it, passing his hand over his head. All good. The talented climber will certainly
try to go for the mountains jersey again - but not on these stages...
16:15 CEST 157km/50km to go
The break is losing
time; their gap is now barely worth 3 minutes. They won't be able to hold it,
anyway, and they know it, of course. Still, spending all this energy to show
their team colours up front is very honourable, and sometimes, it does work...
Boonen is sitting comfortably in
the middle of the bunch, waiting for his time to get into the action. The Green
jersey could also change ownership today, as all the best sprinters are on top
of the classification, only a few points away from each other. This is going
to be exciting; and hopefully we won't see any accidents, flat tyres or one-legged
sprints anymore in the finale today!
The finish today is slightly uphill
and there are a few curves before the last 300 straight metres. A good possibility
also for Erik Zabel to prove he is still world-class.
16:27 CEST 166km/41km to go
In the back of the
bunch, Sandy Casar unclipped his feet to shake up his legs a little. It must
be tough to get back into the rhythm after crashing and hurting yourself.
Ha! The French spectators have built two cows or horses with bales of hay on
the roadside... noice!
16:31 CEST 169km/38km to go
The sun is still
shining down on the race, and it hasn't been as hot as yesterday - good news,
as we had actually expected thunderstorms in the region. That will make the
sprint a little safer.
Lefèvre is taking in an energy gel. How long
will they last? 2.23 minutes left for them.
We wonder about how it must have
been for the Milram riders to watch last night's semi-final of the World Cup?
It's an Italian team, with a German sponsor and a mixed roster. They probably
Robbie McEwen has a mechanical and
has stopped to get it fixed. Looks like it was some plastic object in his derailleur.
Two Davitamon teammates take him back to the bunch - he'll be fine and I I'm
sure Boonen is waiting for him!
McEwen is back in the bunch. That
wasn't much of a problem at all.
16:40 CEST 172km/35km to go
The breakaway is
not able to accelerate; they're still losing time. The race passes a canal now;
the country is nice and green, with rolling hills.
Some Lampre riders
have started to help out in the chase, too, working for Daniele Bennati.
Crédit Agricole, Milram... all the
sprinter's teams have now sent helpers to the front. The peloton is still strung
out, and Laurent Brochard is all alone trying to get back on. There he goes.
16:49 CEST 181km/26km to go
Coutouly, in front,
Quick.Step has taken over the train again. Wilfried
Cretskens, our Cyclingnews diarist and one of the lead-out men for Tom Boonen,
has given us his last entry last night. If you want to know what guys like him
are about, click here: Wilfried
Only 1.15 minutes left for the breakaway
riders. Plus, we're on long, more or less straight roads now, so the bunch will
see them shortly. Boonen grabs a bottle out of the back pocket of his teammate
16:56 CEST 187km/20km to go
The break has made
it to the last intermediate sprint in Bernot. Martinez will go for it again.
16:59 CEST 191km/16km to go
And Martinez has
done it, picking up another six points along the way. Wiggins could try and
get away now, but will he have the legs?
José Luis Arieta, yesterday's
most combative rider (he got a red back number for that) is struggling to get
back to the bunch after he flattened.
The fight for a good placing is on; all the riders are trying
to get as much to the front as they can.
The break's gap is dropping under
the magic minute now. Not long, and they will be caught!
Uhh - that
was a bad 90° curve. Mayo crashed, but not badly at all. He gets another bike
and now chases down his teammates, who waited for him. Garcia Acosta (Caisse
d'Epargne) also got caught up there, but is also on his way.
17:07 CEST 193km/14km to go
They're chasing back
to the bunch now, Mayo has six teammates with him. They're on a large, straight
road. They'll make it.
17:08 CEST 197km/10km to go
And there are some
attacks coming off the front: Wiggins got dropped by Lefèvre, Martinez and Coutouly.
The Euskaltels are back on. There
was also Isaac Galvez involved in the crash, but he, too, is back inside the
Wiggins and Mengin will be caught now.
17:12 CEST 200km/7km to go
Lefèvre is grinding
his teeth - impressive. He really wants to do this, and his two companions work
17:14 CEST 201km/6km to go
Liquigas has placed
itself in front of the bunch, now, working for Backstedt. Bennati is already
on Boonen's wheel.
But first they have to catch the remainder of
17:15 CEST 202km/5km to go
Phonak mingles in
the front, too, and Rabobank for Freire. Commesso takes a turn now. He has force!
17:16 CEST 203km/4km to go
The three are still
resisting, but they haven't got any power left. 18 seconds.
Coutouly can't follow anymore. Lefèvre
leads, followed by Martinez. Coutouly is gooone.
Zabel flattened! He won't be able
to sprint here today - pity.
here we go - the breakaway is over.
The field is as disorganised as it was in Strasbourg. No train gets organised.
Last kilometre! Boonen in about 10th,
behind Paolini and Bennati...
Crash! A Crédit Agricole rider! Julian
Dean. But there's no mass crash.
And McEwen wins!
Dean is still lying on the ground,
the race doctor is with him. Nobody crashed over him though.
Galvez, third Freire, fourth Hushovd, fifth Boonen.
Steegmans led out McEwen perfectly.
And Boonen just didn't have enough strength, but he retains the Yellow jersey.
That's all from us in Saint Quentin
today. Join us again tomorrow, for another 219 kms between Beauvais and Caen
- a lumpy stage which could end up in another "sprint royal". Boonen will want
revenge... but McEwen got his today.
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 4.59.50
2 Isaac Galvez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears
3 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
4 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole (later relegated to 148th)
5 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic
6 David Kopp (Ger) Gerolsteiner
7 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
8 Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval
9 Michael Albasini (Ita) Liquigas
10 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise Des Jeux
General classification after stage 4
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic 19.52.13
2 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 0.01
3 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 0.05
4 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole 0.07
5 Egoi Martinez (Spa) Discovery Channel 0.10
6 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.12
7 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.15
8 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
9 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 0.16
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