PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
While most of the attention coming into Tour, for the sprints at least, was on world champion Tom Boonen, the Quick Step team leader has been thoroughly upstaged by his biggest rival on Belgium's other leading team, Robbie McEwen. The Australian may be 34, but in Saint Quentin this afternoon he showed for the second time in three days that his finishing kick is still as potent as ever as he cruised home a couple of bike lengths clear of Caisse d'Epargne's Isaac Galvez, with another Spaniard, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) third.
McEwen took immediate advantage of the confusion that was caused at the front of the bunch when Thor Hushovd's lead-out man Julian Dean as the road bent slightly to the left with just a couple of hundred metres left. Dean had just completed his brief but exhausting stint on the front of the peloton when his bars were clipped by an Ag2r rider, who had race leader Boonen alongside him.
In truth, Boonen was already too far back to do anything to respond as McEwen opened his sprint on the false flat with 150 metres remaining. In the blink of an eye, the Australian surged clear for a 10th Tour stage win, and another that underlined his ability as a bike-handler and tactician. Boonen's fifth place behind Hushovd was enough to keep him in the yellow jersey he'd worn across Belgium from the start in Huy, but McEwen got his hands on the green points jersey, which is his and Boonen's ultimate goal.
The stage featured another long break that was snuffed out late on by the sprinters' teams. It was started after 18km by Discovery Channel's Egoi Martinez, who was joined by Bouygues' Laurent Lefvre, Ag2r's Cdric Coutoly, Francaise des Jeux's Christophe Mengin and Cofidis's Bradley Wiggins. Although their lead never quite reached five minutes, it was almost enough as Lefvre and Martinez stayed clear until inside the last two kilometres.
There was to be no denying McEwen, though, who quickly dedicated his victory to team-mate Freddy Rodriguez, who crashed out yesterday. "This is the type of sprint that suits me. It's also good for Freire and Boonen but I just had a better position when it mattered. This wasn't a coincidence because I usually like to have an understanding of the conclusion of sprint stages," McEwen explained.
"I studied the road book and knew what to expect but I also got a call from a friend this morning to tell me what it looked like. I knew there was a rise in the last kilometre and that I should be ready for the left turn just before the line. Once again I felt really good and I had perfect support from my team. This win is for Fred Rodriguez who crashed out of the Tour yesterday. it's a big shame that he can't be here for this, but it's important that he knows how much I appreciated his help.
"I was going so hard at the finish that I could barely see. But I knew that there was no one near me when I got close to the line. It's nice to win that way."
Despite missing out on the stage, Boonen also professed himself happy. "It really was a great day for me with the yellow jersey on my shoulders. I had to know what the sensation was like to lead the Tour de France and now I've done that for one day at least," said the world champion, who may well get another chance for that elusive stage win in Beauvais tomorrow.
Stage 4, Huy-St Quentin
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 207km in 4.59.50 (41.42kph)
2 Isaac Galvez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
3 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
4 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole
5 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
6 David Kopp (Ger) Gerolsteiner
7 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre
8 Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval
9 Michael Albasini (Ita) Liquigas
10 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise des Jeux
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic 19.52.13
2 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 0.01
3 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 0.05
4 Hushovd 0.07
5 Egoi Martinez (Spa) Discovery Channel 0.10
6 McEwen 0.12
7 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.15
9 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 0.16
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne 0.17
13 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.20
15 David Millar (GB) Saunier Duval 0.21
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 100
2 Boonen 89
3 Hushovd 86
4 Bennati 85
5 Freire 80
1 Jrme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 21
2 David De La Fuente (Spa) Saunier Duval 17
3 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner 14
Best Young Rider: Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner
Team: Discovery Channel
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM