An audacious Lance Armstrong attack failed to break Andre Greipel's stranglehold on the Tour Down Under on Friday as the German claimed his third stage win in emphatic style.
Armstrong and RadioShack team-mate Tomas Vaitkus broke away with about 16 kilometres (10 miles) to go, but were caught by the pack in hot and windy conditions near the end of the 150-kilometre stage four.
Greipel, the 2008 champion, put on a trademark powerful sprint to close narrowly ahead of Australians Robbie McEwen and Graeme Brown and maintain his overall lead after four stages.
"That was as hard as I can go," said Armstrong, who finished in the main group of riders.
"Tomas went and kept going and kept going. I turned around and it was just the two of us. It was a good effort, maybe not the best outcome."
Armstrong described Greipel as "unbeatable" in a straight sprint after he also pounced for victory in the first and second stages, with Portugal's Manuel Cardoso taking the third in an uphill finish on Thursday.
The American, who will bid for an eighth Tour de France title in July, said Greipel always looked favourite with the whole peloton massed for the dash to the line in the coastal town of Goolwa.
"It would have been better to keep it down to a smaller bunch in that wind and hopefully give everyone a better chance against Greipel," he said. "But Greipel I think we can all see is unbeatable right now."
Greipel, whose title defence ended in a freak crash with a parked police motorbike last year, said it was too early to start celebrating with the race's most challenging climb looming on Saturday.
"Today's race is over, but not tomorrow's," he said, praising his HTC-Columbia team. "Everyone is looking out for us but if the team works we can be successful. We deserve the wins because we always ride from the front."
The German now holds a 20-second advantage over McEwen with Team Sky's Greg Henderson four seconds further back and world road champion Cadel Evans 26 seconds adrift. Armstrong is 29th overall.
The Tour Down Under, the southern hemisphere's biggest race, is held over six stages on 800 kilometres of road around Adelaide and closes on Sunday.
© AFP 2010
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