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Hushvod Nips Hunter for Stage Win

Stage Four
Villers Cotterets-Joigny
193 kilometers/119.9 miles
Stage: Thor Hushvod (Credit Agricole) 4:37:47
Maillot Jaune: Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
Green: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
Polka-dot: Stéphane Augé (Cofidis)

Every sprint is different. Monday lead man Gert Steegmans snatched victory from his own sprinter, Tom Boonen, who couldn’t put down the hammer at the end. Tuesday Fabian Cancellara took off with a full kilometer to go and improbably smoked the field.

Today it was Credit Agricole’s Julian Dean’s great effort that gave Thor Hushvod his first 2007 stage victory. This came once again at the expense of Robbie Hunter, who was accelerating at the finish line and who has been desperately close each of the last three stages.

A breakaway that included one of favorite riders, Rabobank’s Juan Antonio Flecha, stayed away to the seven-kilometer mark. Flecha, who we have watched win and lose against the field after breakaways over the years, didn’t have the gas left to try it this time.

Unlike in past sprint days, when the finish came after negotiating tricky turns, cobblestones and narrow lanes, this one was “the first true sprinter’s race and a free-for-all,” as Liggett remarked as the teams barreled down the wide streets to the line.

The free-for-all comment pointed to the fact that no team could take control as the peleton cracked into pieces with the acceleration of the leaders. So the fastest guys lined up in the last couple hundred yards, and lead-outs were searching for their sprinters and vice-versa.

But soon there was Julian Dean in third place, with Hushvod directly on his wheel. They took off at the same moment and passed the others. Dean ran himself into the ground and gave way to Hushvod.

Hunter broke from the pack a half second too late, and you could feel his rising frustration as he shook his head and shook his fists right next to Hushvod, who leaned back with his hands raised in victory. Neither Tom Boonen nor Robbie McEwen made an appearance at the end of this one. I’m guessing McEwen’s wrist injury the other day is worse than he let on. Oscar Freire and Erik Zabel came in third and fourth, respectively.

There were a few scrapes. ESP’s Zandio Xabier crashed early in the race and quit with a broken collarbone, and Staf Scheirlinckx of Cofidis looked to have hit a car and fallen late in the race. Another rider, couldn’t find his name, was nursing a badly bruised arm to the finish line. But for many after Monday’s pile-up, another day of healing.

Otherwise, don’t miss Martin Dugard’s behind-the-scenes account of the press’s impatience with le Tour for not including a time trial in the first week to give them something more to write about than the sprints. Funny stuff.

Tomorrow’s stage is the most hilly of the non-mountain stages, with seven climbs, including the first category two at Haute Falin, in weather expected to be cold and rainy. CSC will be hard pressed to keep Cancellara in the yellow jersey.