Belgian Philippe Gilbert admitted he found the going just too tough on the climb to Mur-de-Bretagne, where Australian Cadel Evans won the Tour de France fourth stage on Tuesday. Hilly classics specialist Gilbert stuck to the form book on Saturday’s stage one when he finished ahead of Evans on the Mont des Alouettes to take the victory and the race’s yellow jersey. But on the straight two-kilometer climb which capped the 172.5 km ride from Lorient to Mur de Bretagne, the Belgian just didn’t have the legs to match Evans and could only finish fifth.
“Normally it’s a perfect finish for me, but I wasn’t having a great day,” said Gilbert, who earlier this season swept the hilly ‘Ardennes Classics’ – Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. “When Contador attacked coming out of the steepest section, I was already going into the red. If I had the same legs I had on Saturday, I could have countered.”
After his mediocre start to the Tour reigning champion Contador kept at the front in a bid to avoid losing any more time to key rivals. Despite the Saxo Bank climber taking things in hand when he moved to the front of a rapidly dwindling group 1.3km from the finish, Evans and Gilbert never looked threatened by the Spaniard. Inside the final few hundred metres Evans edged just a bike length in front of the group as the climb petered out, with Contador on his wheel and Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov just behind.
Gilbert added: “Evans’s sprint was quite impressive. He is able to start from far out, as he did on his way to a stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico in March. Contador did really well to move level with him at the end.”
As Evans drove for the finish line, Contador made a bid to pass the Australian, who won by a few centimetres to claim his first win of this year’s race.