Evans edges past Contador
Mur-de-Bretagne - Cadel Evans edged defending champion Alberto Contador in a photo finish on Tuesday to win the fourth stage of the Tour de France, while Thor Hushovd retained the overall lead.
Tuesday's 172.5-kilometer route from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne was mostly flat, but ended with a short, sharp climb favouring those that could muster bursts of speed uphill.
The finish was so close that Contador raised a fist to celebrate what he believed was a stage win, but slow-motion video and a photo still showed that Evans, an Australian two-time Tour runner-up, had won.
The stage still showed that Contador, who has faced a series of early setbacks in this Tour already, is in shape to compete.
It was the first in-competition Tour stage win for Evans in seven appearances, though he inherited a stage victory in 2007 after Alexandre Vinokourov was barred from the race in a team doping scandal. It was also the first Tour stage victory for an Australian since Simon Gerrans won Stage 15 finishing at Italy's Prato Nevoso in 2008.
"I am very very happy," Evans said. "To win in front of Alberto Contador is really a nice present."
Hushovd, the Norwegian world champion known mainly as a sprint specialist, narrowly kept the race leader's yellow jersey by trailing not far behind in a small breakaway group.
"My only goal today was to keep the yellow jersey," said Hushovd, of Garmin-Cervelo. "I had a great day ... I will do all I can to defend this jersey as long as possible."
The result was sure to be a disappointment for Omega Pharma-Lotto rider Philippe Gilbert, who turned 29 on Tuesday and was a favourite to win because of his prowess on course layouts like the fourth stage.
Earlier, Jurgen Van de Walle of Belgium became the first rider to pull out of the race - reducing the field to 197 racers. The Omega Pharma-Lotto rider quit due to lingering groin pain from a crash on Saturday, the team said.
Five riders who were down in the standings sped ahead of the pack by the 9-kilometer mark, and built a lead of nearly 5 minutes on the main bunch over the next 15 kilometers.
But as is common in flat rides, when the pack accelerates behind constantly changing front men who cut into the wind, the peloton tracked down and overtook the increasingly tired escapees with 4 kilometers left.
That set the stage for a lone rider to scale the Mur-de-Bretagne, known by some as the "Alpe d'Huez of Brittany" - a rare climb in the mostly rolling western region and so-dubbed for the famous peak in the French Alps.