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July 05, 2006

Stage 4 on the road

It's a fairly conventional sprinter's stage today, with two minor climbs in the first 60 kilometers (of 207), then a general, if slight descent, for the rest of the stage, punctuated by the occasional roller.

Stuart O'Grady made the start this morning. It turns out he and Chris Horner took an unexpected off-road detour late in yesterday's stage. O'Grady fractured a vertebra, while Horner dislocated a finger. Both are riding, but O'Grady is in pretty serious pain, and will be taking it day-to-day.

Current polka-dot jersey Jerome Pineau led the field over the first climb, ahead of David de la Fuente and Fabian Wegmann. By the second and last climb of the day, a successful break formed.

Once again, a 5-man break is up the road. Today's it's Laurent Lefevre from Bouyges Telecom, alongside Discovery Channel's Egoi Martinez, Brad Wiggins of Cofidis, Christophe Mengin of Française des Jeux, and Cedric Coutouly of AG2RAgritubel.

Martinez sits 22nd overall, 28 seconds behind Boonen, so right now, with 4:00 in hand and about 70 kilometers to ride, he's yellow jersey on the road, but I doubt they'll stay away. He's taken 1st place points at the two intermediate sprints so far, for 12 seconds in all, which will move him up to about 16 seconds back of Boonen at the end of the day.

The peloton is closing this one down a little faster than previous breaks. QuickStep and Davitamon-Lotto are leading the field. With 60 kilometers to ride, it's down to a 3 minute lead. If they let the break stay away to the last sprint, Martinez could move up around the top 5 on the overall.

OLN projects a capture at 14k to ride; if that's true, Martinez will get another sprint bonus before getting caught. In the breakaway, Christophe Mengin was the first rider down on last year's Stage 6 demolition derby; he also won a stage in the 1997 Tour.

Gap is at 1:49 and falling fast with just under 30 kilometers to ride. The last sprint is less than 10 kilometers ahead of the breakaway now.

Martinez gets his time bonus, while the gap continues to fall; its 1:06 and dropping quickly at about 15 k to ride.

In a 90-degree right-hander, the field slows, and there was a touch of wheels. Iban Mayo again finds himself behind the 8-ball. He had a flat earlier, and was on the wrong side of a crash yesterday. Euskaltel is pacing him back to the field. It didn't look like anybody was hurt, but there may be a break in the field, as the sprinters' teams are sharing the load at the front to try to get a sprint finish.

Martinez, Coutouly and Lefevre have attacked out of the breakaway. Wiggins and Mengin are being caught. With 8 k to ride, the three leaders have less than 30 seconds on the field. Magnus Bakstedt is on the front, providing a draft for the whole peloton, along with a couple of Liquigas teammates. The breakaway still has 27 seconds with less than 6 k to ride.

Four k to ride, down under 15 seconds. Lefevre attacks, and only Martinez can match him. Coutouly will go back into the field. They're dangling a few seconds in front of the field, and with less than 2 k, they're caught.

Erik Zabel flats; he'll miss this sprint. As they come to the flamme rouge, everybody's got a couple of guys on the front -- Credit Agricole, Lampre, Rabobank, QuickStep, Gerolsteiner. A CA rider is down at 500 meters. It's Julian Dean, and that's going to disrupt the sprint.

Here comes Robbie McEwen, Boonen's on his wheel, but he just can't match Robbie's finishing speed, McEwen takes another stage win, and will be back in green tonight.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 5, 2006 | Permalink

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