The thrilling first week of the Tour de France will be cranked up a notch Wednesday when the race prepares for the first serious climbs.
But ahead of Thursday's potentially hazardous racing terrain hosts an appetizer to the Pyreneean stages this weekend, Robbie McEwen and Company will be more determined than ever to finally dispute a bunch sprint.
Since the start of the race, McEwen - a 12-time stage winner - and his fellow fast men have picked up crumbs where they would normally have hoped to be dining on the main prize of a stage win.
The first stage was an uphill finish and ruled most of the sprinters out, the second stage was won by sprinter Thor Hushovd after he was led to the line past all his rivals, and the third stage saw Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin win a sprint against American William Krischkorn after a successful four-man breakaway.
Coming after Tuesday's fourth stage time trial, the fifth stage, at 232 km, is the longest of the race and will take the peloton over mainly flat terrain from Cholet to Chateauroux.
Breakaways are a certainty, but the main bunch is unlikely to keep a tighter leash on the frontrunners than they did on Monday.
Changeable wind conditions, the determination of the breakaway and a rather lax attitude from the sprinters' teams combined to make sure Hushovd and McEwen were left without a chance of victory.
American Christian Vande Velde admitted the lack of cohesion among the sprinters teams, who normally work together to bring back the escapees, had been doomed because of the weather - and lack of cooperation.
"It's a case of cat and mouse and who's going to put their guys up there first," he told AFP. "They left it too late and there wasn't enough cohesion left in the peloton to bring it back. If you don't bring it back before (the break benefits from) the tailwind, you're not going to bring it back."
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008