PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
The citizens of Dahlonega, plus a few thousand fans from out of town, witnessed another gold rush on Friday, 177 years after the town experienced its first, as the riders of the Dodge Tour de Georgia rushed up Main Street to contest victory on stage four. CSC's Brian Vandborg struck lucky after a tough 215km stage, relegating Viatcheslav Ekimov (Discovery Channel) and Prodir's Marco Pinotti to the silver and bronze positions.
Dahlonega may no longer be a gold mining town, but another commodity - water - was in abundance on the stage, which started in Dalton - its claim to fame being 'the carpet capital of the world' - and took in three second-category and two third-category climbs in abysmal weather. Most of the day's starters would agree that the climbs' ratings were somewhat undervalued; on the second-category Fort Mountain, just 24km into the stage, the field splintered apart, coming just after the day's first intermediate sprint.
And then the rain came. Except it was hail - golf-ball-sized blocks of ice which must have made the riders glad of the International Cycling Union's compulsory helmet rule. One of Lance Armstrong's key domestiques, Jose Luis Rubiera, took his leader's comments after Thursday's stage that his team was still lacking in fitness by taking advantage of the tough, 14km-long climb to launch an attack. Andy Schleck of CSC and Gerolsteiner's Sven Krauss went with the Spaniard, building a lead over the ever-depleting field of more than three minutes by Neel's Gap - the third climb of the day.
After having gone on the attack on almost every stage so far, CSC directeur sportif Scott Sunderland must have wondered if the team would ever bag a stage win as it all became too much for Schleck as the three, led by Rubiera, went over the summit. On the descent, Krauss and Rubiera's lead was cut in half, as what was left of the peloton, led by CSC, and including Armstrong and almost all of his Discovery team-mates, as well as race leader Floyd Landis (Phonak), closed in.
The 25-rider group approached Dahlonega all together, with Pinotti's repeated attacks covered by Discovery - including a seemingly still fresh-legged Rubiera, who deservedly took the day's most aggressive rider jersey, as well as that of King of the Mountains.
But it was 23-year-old Danish rider Vandborg who had the best legs of all, getting clear in the final kilometre with Ekimov and Pinotti, and powering home for the win, with Landis and Armstrong finishing safely in the group eight seconds behind.
"I think I was one of those who suffered the most today," Vandborg admitted. "I'd been suffering from jetlag the first couple of days, but now I'm starting to feel better. "We [CSC] were focusing a lot on Discovery, trying to cover their riders, but we were riding both aggressively and defensively, as we're still above them on the general classification."
Armstrong admitted that he was suffering with stomach problems on the day's stage. "But we were aggressive and active. We did everything we could to win the race. Unfortunately Eki just got beat by that guy [Vandborg]. We gave it our best, and we will do it again tomorrow," he said.
That will be another tough stage, 182km finishing on what has become the mythical climb of Brasstown Bald - just 5km long but which at times reaches a gradient of 23 per cent. With a flat, Champs Elysees-style finish to Sunday's final stage to Alpharetta, Atlanta, it will be the key day of this year's race. Whoever finishes the day in yellow is likely to be crowned the new king of Georgia.
Stage four, Dalton - Dahlonga
1 Brian Vandborg (Den) CSC 214.7km in 5.33.02
2 Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) Discovery Channel
3 Marco Pinotti (Ita) Prodir-Saunier Duval
4 Jason McCartney (USA) Discovery Channel 0.08
5 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC
6 Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) LPR
7 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel
8 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak
9 Sven Krauss (Ger) Gerolsteiner
10 Daniele Contrini (Ita) LPR
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 16.47.29
2 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC 0.19
3 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC 0.28
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 0.50
5 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 1.00
6 Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) Discovery Channel 1.13
7 Brian Vandborg (Den) CSC 1.39
8 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 1.42
9 Jose Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel 1.53
10 Danny Pate (USA) Jelly Belly-Pool Gel 2.12