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Alessandro Petacchi must have been feeling pretty wistful if he managed to see any of today's Giro stage from Wanze to Hotton. After Monday's deluge played a significant part in the Italian spending most of the stage struggling to finish with what turned out to be a broken kneecap, Tuesday turned fair as the rain disappeared and the temperature touched 20øC. The finish would have suited him too - a long, straight, wide and very fast run down into Hotton where pure sprinting speed was at a premium.
So, in Petacchi's absence, it was no surprise that Robbie McEwen came out on top, the Davitamon hitting the line at almost 70kph and just ahead of Paolo Bettini and Alberto Loddo. Petacchi's Milram train played a significant role in the closing kilometres as they attempted to set up Mirco Lorenzetto for the stage win.
As on stage two in Marcinelle, disruption to their plans came in the shape of T-Mobile's Olaf Pollack, who was led through on the right-hand side of the road as Milram charged down the left. This time McEwen stuck with Milram's lead-out and once again it paid off for him. It's hard to believe that two weeks ago his Davitamon squad was in crisis - during that period they have taken six wins in ProTour events.
"I waited for the 200 metres from home mark and then launched my sprint down the left without worrying about the others," said McEwen. "I am delighted by the win but saddened that Petacchi was not here. He will be sorely missed. I would also like to dedicate this victory to my Davitamon team-mate Christophe Brandt." Brandt pulled out of the race today with a fractured elbow.
Runner-up Paolo Bettini was left frustrated for the second day running having complained of being blocked by a motorbike in Monday's finish. "It is a pity because McEwen was there for the taking today," said Bettini. "The crucial moment in the sprint was when I touched another rider and lost several fractions of a second which cost me victory. These stages in Belgium I have finished second, third and fourth. However, you haven't heard the last of me."
As well as Brandt, the race lost another notable name as Cofidis's Leonardo Bertagnolli pulled out with allergy problems.
Stage 4, Wanze-Hotton
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 193km in 4.38.51 (41.53kph)
2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
3 Alberto Loddo (Ita) Selle Italia
4 Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) Panaria
5 Olaf Pollack (Ger) T-Mobile
6 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Milram
7 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Franaise des Jeux
8 Tomas Vaitkus (Lit) Ag2r
9 Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel
10 Sbastien Chavanel (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
1 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner 14.52.55
2 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.13
3 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.23
4 Jos Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0.29
5 Jos Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel 0.31
6 Serhiy Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile
7 Brad McGee (Aus) Franaise des Jeux
8 Francisco Perez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0.32
9 Jos Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) Phonak 0.33
10 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step 0.35
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