Tour de France - Evans claims stage four from Contador
Tue, 05 Jul 16:24:00 2011
The Australian rider from BMC edged out the defending champion by the narrowest of margins at the summit of the 2km category three ascent that completed the 172.5km stage from Lorient.
Norway's Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) was sixth to hang on to the leader's yellow jersey by one second from Evans.
Contador attacked on the first half of the punchy climb – known as the "Breton Alpe d'Huez" due to its 10 per cent early gradient – and managed to gain eight seconds back on GC rival Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) who finished 23rd.
British GC hope Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) finished 11th and lost six seconds to Evans and Contador with only the top 10 awarded the same time as the stage winner.
The quintet broke clear some 9km into the stage, which was hampered by heavy rain in stark contrast with the hot sun that accompanied the race's opening three stages.
The escapees built up a maximum lead of around four minutes, but once Hoogerland picked up maximum points on the fourth-category Cote de Laz and the day's intermediate sprint, the gap was whittled down by the combined efforts of Garmin-Cervelo and Omega Pharma-Lotto.
In a frantic final 40km, during which David Zabriskie (Garmin) and Andre Greipel (Lotto) set a fierce pace, Evans required two wheel changes and needed support from his team-mates to fight back into the peloton.
Contador – languishing 1:42 down in the overall standings after a torrid opening to the Tour – made the first attack on the decisive final climb, but the Spaniard was not able to shrug off both Evans and Gilbert.
Belgian Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), a former team-mate of Evans, put in a large dig in the last kilometre, but he was swept up as both Evans and Contador drew swords for the final dash to the line.
Believing he had done enough to secure the win, three-time Tour champion Contador raised a hand in celebration – but replays showed Evans took the win by a few inches.
Asked about the confusion over the line, Evans said: “It was so close I couldn't see myself. There was a calm start to the stage but the finish was very nervous and dangerous. I had to change my bikes so many times."
Evans paid tribute to his BMC team-mates and admitted his surprise at beating the big favourite for the victory: "My hero today is Marcus Burghardt who made sure I was exactly where I was meant to be. I can't believe I beat Philippe Gilbert going into a headwind like that."
Asked whether he was disappointed at not moving into the race lead, Evans was stoic: "I can wait for yellow. I'm here for the GC but I've worn yellow before and it's still very early in the race."
It was the 34-year-old's first stage win since taking the time trial in the 2007 Tour. Evans also becomes the first Australian in the race's history to wear the polka dot jersey as king of the mountains.
The Tour de France continues on Wednesday with the undulating 164.5km stage five from Carhaix to Cap Frehel, which could offer Britain's Mark Cavendish (HTC) a chance of opening up his account in this year's race.
Tour de France†: Stage 4