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Britons Mark Cavendish, riding as a stagiaire for T-Mobile, and Paul Manning, riding for Landbouwkrediet, were denied a prestigious victory in their home tour by a mixture of bad luck and Belgian cunning as Frederik Willems (Chocolade Jacques) hung on to win the fourth stage in Birmingham. All three were part of an eight-man break that went away soon after the start in the Wolverhampton and were never seen again by the main peloton.
Having worked together all stage to get clear of the bunch, the aim for Cavendish's seven rivals coming into the finish was to put some distance between themselves and the fast-finishing British youngster. The 21-year-old Manxman countered numerous attacks, but was still off the pace when Manning and Willems went clear going into the final kilometre.
But, unfortunately for British track stalwart Manning, his chances were scuppered when he was misdirected around a roundabout coming into the final kilometre and Willems took the shorter route towards the line. Cavendish gave all he had left to get on terms with the Belgian, but ultimately fell short and had to settle for second place as Manning came in a disgruntled third.
"It was going well. I knew I would be working against all the Belgian teams in the finale," said Cavendish. "Willems had a gap on the final 500 metres and I just couldn't get onto his wheel to set up a sprint."
There were plaudits for the young sprinter, though, from T-Mobile directeur Brian Holm. "Mark was the strongest rider in the group, so I knew that every sporting director would be giving their men instructions to attack and lose him. But he responded brilliantly when the attacks started, countering attack after attack in never-say-die style and keeping himself in contention," said Holm. "He didn't nail the stage win today. But he's young and strong and there will be wins to celebrate in the future."
Manning, who comes from Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham, was happy with his ride despite his late mishap. "I really wanted to do well today as I knew I was in front of a home crowd. It's great to know your family are out on the road supporting you. Unfortunately, I'm more of a pursuit rider than a sprinter and Willems broke away, but I really enjoyed the stage. It was a great experience."
The overall lead stayed with CSC's Martin Pedersen, who now only has to negotiate Saturday's testing stage through Kent's rolling countryside to head into Sunday's final stage in London as the likely winner of the event.
"We were in control and didn't really have to work that hard for it either, because there were others who were interested in reeling in the break," said CSC directeur Tristan Hoffman. "They didn't succeed though, so we moved to the front and set the pace in the final part of the route. Tomorrow the terrain will be fairly difficult and it looks like it might be the last serious obstacle, which we have to overcome in order for Martin to finish on the podium as the winner in London on Sunday."
Stage 4, Wolverhampton-Birmingham
1 Frederik Willems (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport 130km in 2.54.12
2 Mark Cavendish (GB) T-Mobile 0.02
3 Paul Manning (GB) Landbouwkrediet 0.06
4 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Quick Step 0.13
5 Geraint Thomas (GB) Great Britain 0.15
6 Cameron Jennings (Aus) DFL 0.19
7 Rob Partridge (GB) Recycling.co.uk 0.28
8 Johan van Summeren (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 0.31
9 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Quick Step 5.20
10 Kenny Lisabeth (Bel) Chocolade Jacques
1 Martin Pedersen (Den) Team CSC 15.25.56
2 Luis Pasamontes (Spa) Unibet.com 0.51
3 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step 2.11
4 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 2.46
5 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Quick Step 2.47
6 Johann Tschopp (Swi) Phonak 2.55
7 Andy Schleck (Lux) CSC 3.02
8 Russell Downing (GB) DFL 3.21
9 Iljo Keisse (Bel) Chocolade Jacques 3.23
10 Maarten Tjallingii (Hol) Skil-Shimano 3.25
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM