Mur de Bretagne: Australian Cadel Evans made it clear he was one of the riders to reckon with in this Tour de France when he won the 172.5-km fourth stage in the fist serious climb of this edition in Mur de Bretagne on Tuesday.
The Australian, runner-up in the first two stages in Vendee, finally made it to the top of the podium and even though he failed to snatch the race leader`s yellow jersey, he earned the consolation of beating three-times champion Alberto Contador on the line.
The final sprint was so close that Contador was the one who punched the air in joy, thinking he had won. Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov was third.
Norway`s Thor Hushovd went "over his limits" to finish sixth in the same time and retain his one-second lead over Evans in the overall standings.
Cadel and Contador both had something to celebrate on the line.
"I`m really very happy. I don`t know how many times I finished second, third or fourth on the Tour. To win my first stage outside of time trials ahead of Alberto is a great morale boost for me and the team," said Evans, twice the Tour runner-up in 2007 - behind Contador - and in 2008.
Evans had won one previous stage on the Tour de France, an individual time trial in 2007, but only after initial winner Vinokourov was disqualified for failing a dope test for blood transfusion.
Yet the 2009 world champion had his share of scares on the slippery roads of rain-soaked Brittany when he suffered a mechanical shortly before the last climb.
But he was brought back into the peloton by Germany`s Marcus Burghardt.
"Marcus is my hero today," he said.
As for Contador, he proved his wellbeing after losing a precious 1:42 in the first two stages and proved it had been far too early to write him off.
The Spaniard was the first on the move on the final climb, raising on his pedals to blow the bunch to pieces with only Evans, Vinokourov, first stage winner Philippe Gilbert of Belgium and yellow jersey holder Hushovd managing to keep apace.
Even if stage laurels narrowly eluded him, the defending champion set the record straight about his condition.
"It was a good day today. It`s good for my morale and for the team confidence.”
"I missed victory by very little but I received a great support from the whole team," Contador said.
Even though the last climb was too short to make big gaps, Evans and Contador managed to drop other favourites like Briton Bradley Wiggins and Luxembourg`s Andy Schleck, who lost six and eight seconds respectively.
"I don`t have the punch for this kind of climbs. I`m better on longer ascents. I never thought Alberto had lost the Tour. He was just unlucky in the first stage and he didn`t have the team for the team time trial," Schleck said.