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93rd Tour de France - ProT

France, July 1-23, 2006

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Stage 4 - Wednesday, July 5: Huy (Belgium) - Saint-Quentin, 207 km

Complete live report

12:17 CEST   
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.

The weather 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.

12:21 CEST   
The riders have just started to roll through town to proceed to the "Départ réel" - the real start just outside of town.

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 for sure.

12:29 CEST   
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.

12:32 CEST   
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"...

12:34 CEST   
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...

12:41 CEST   
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.

12:49 CEST   
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 yell, though.

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).

12:55 CEST   
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?

13:20 CEST   
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!

13:24 CEST   
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 it?

13:36 CEST   
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.

Rodriguez injured his shoulder and suffered a severe concussion.

13:44 CEST   
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.

Behind, Quick.Step 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.

13:56 CEST   
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!

14:01 CEST   
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?

Best answer wins our almost-dead ventilator, which has really got on our nerves these last few days.

14:18 CEST   
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.

14:23 CEST   
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 Vuelta."

The break, meanwhile, has extended its advance to 4.30 minutes. They will be at the feed zone soon.

14:27 CEST   
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 morning that
nothing could stop him! It was all heart!!!!"

Jay 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...

14:31 CEST   
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.

14:36 CEST   
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.

14:48 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 welcome!

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 jersey.

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.

15:04 CEST   
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.

15:13 CEST   
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.

15:18 CEST   
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.

15:25 CEST   
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.

15:31 CEST   
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 the chasers.

15:49 CEST   
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.

15:57 CEST   
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.

16:01 CEST   
They're back on. No worries.

Now the whole Quick.Step and Davitamon teams are driving the peloton, with Garate in front.

16:06 CEST    150km/57km to go
Michael Rasmussen (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...

16:21 CEST   
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!

16:23 CEST   
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.

16:32 CEST   
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 had fun!

16:37 CEST   
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!

16:38 CEST   
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.

16:44 CEST   
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, looks tired.

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 Cretskens diary

16:53 CEST   
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 Matteo Tosatto.

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.

17:05 CEST   
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.

17:10 CEST   
The Euskaltels are back on. There was also Isaac Galvez involved in the crash, but he, too, is back inside the peloton.

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 well, too.

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 the break...

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.

17:17 CEST   
Coutouly can't follow anymore. Lefèvre leads, followed by Martinez. Coutouly is gooone.

17:18 CEST   
Zabel flattened! He won't be able to sprint here today - pity.

17:19 CEST   
here we go - the breakaway is over. The field is as disorganised as it was in Strasbourg. No train gets organised.

17:20 CEST   
Last kilometre! Boonen in about 10th, behind Paolini and Bennati...

17:21 CEST   
Crash! A Crédit Agricole rider! Julian Dean. But there's no mass crash.
And McEwen wins!

17:23 CEST   
Dean is still lying on the ground, the race doctor is with him. Nobody crashed over him though.

Second Galvez, third Freire, fourth Hushovd, fifth Boonen.

17:24 CEST   
Steegmans led out McEwen perfectly. And Boonen just didn't have enough strength, but he retains the Yellow jersey.

17:29 CEST   
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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