Stage 4: Huy - Saint-Quentin

McEwen got his second win on a relatively calm day for the peloton. The weather was slightly cooler and the Tour ended its road trip through the classics, leaving Belgium and entering France for good. McEwen made the win look easy, winning by at least five bike lengths. There was a bit of chaos in the final sprint as Hushovd's leadout man crashed, but Hushovd had already grabbed another wheel and the rest of the sprinters made it around on the uphill finish without any problem. Hushovd's arm must be feeling fairly good as he was able to hold the fourth spot ahead of Boonen. Zabel didn't get to compete in this sprint as he got a flat tire in the final kilometers.

As a result of the sprint, McEwen moves into the green jersey and 6th overall at 0.12 back. Boonen gets to hold onto his one second lead in the yellow jersey for at least one more day. The KOM jersey stays on Pineau's shoulders as he won the first KOM sprint on the day over the other KOM contenders.

Discovery put Egoi Martinez into the main breakaway on the day and Martinez was able to rack up 18-seconds worth of time bonuses through the three sprint points, leapfrogging him into fifth overall. Discovery now has the 3rd, 5th, and 7th position overall. So, to update my analysis from last night, Discovery is in a really, really strong position right now. Bruyneel will have a lot of cards to play if his riders do well in the time trial.

It nearly looked like the breakaway might succeed as none of the sprint teams were coming forward in the final kilometers to lead the charge, but with about 4k to go the pace really picked up and the remainder of the break was caught with 2k to go.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Boonen first, McEwen second * Actual: McEwen first, Boonen fifth (will I learn?)

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Prediction: Boonen first, McEwen second. This is the third time I've made this pick, it's got to work one of these days. Boonen hasn't been quite there, but I can't believe he'll be blanked this entire Tour, especially with the yellow jersey on his shoulders and his lead in the green jersey competition as well.

The Tour de France backpacking trip across Europe concludes with this start in Belgium. From here on out it's France all the way. Tom Boonen gets to wear the yellow jersey in his home country. Thunderstorms have rolled through the area, which should at least end the hot weather.

O'Grady will try to start today, which is good news for CSC.

Pineau defended his KOM lead at the first climb. A breakaway went away before the second climb, so it was taken by Lefevre in the break. Pineau will get to keep his KOM jersey through the day.

More crashing today. Unai Extebarria is showing the torn results of his crash.

Wiggins, Mengin, Egoi Martinez, Lefevre, and Coutouly currently are in the breakaway. Egoi Martinez is the biggest threat in this break as he's only 28 seconds down. He just picked up the 6 second sprint bonus and there's two more bonuses if the break can stay away for awhile. Bruyneel is doing a good job of making his entire team look like a GC threat.

The breakaway is 4:07 ahead with 60 miles to go

Horner and O'Grady were both injured shooting the gutter. Horner's description:

All day long we were shooting the gutter to move to the front. We were about 20k, 15k from the finish so you've gotta be at the front at that point. Stuey O'Grady was in front of me I think. He shot the gutter and I shot... the gutter was a like a beautiful spot. All day long it was just perfect. Shooting the gutter, no problem, and we must have just changed districts or they ran out of money or something, because they stopped paving it. You know, with stuey in front of me I couldn't quite see it ahead of time. By the time he was in the dirt, I was in the dirt right after him Doing 50k and hour or 60k an hour, whatever we were doing in the dirt, no cyclocross tires, it's not going to hold up. So, crash number two

53 miles to go and the break is at 4:05. They should make it to the next sprint point easily.

O'Grady is today's toughman on the road, riding with his partially broken vertebrae. O'Grady: "If I can get through, I'll get through... it's like having a knife stuck in the back"

Six more seconds for Egoi Martinez, moving him to 0.16 down (7th place). Discovery now has three riders in the top ten.

Quickstep is slowly bringing the break back: 3.29 with 40 miles to go

This has beena boring stage so far with Martinez picking up some easy time bonuses, but boring is probably what the field wants after losing so many riders yesterday. The temperature has dropped a little, which helps.

OLN is projecting the catch at 14k to go for the break (update: now projecting 21k). The lead is down to 2.38. Lotto, Milram, and QuickStep are doing the pullback.

Sandy Casar is trying to shake out his legs at the back of the peloton. Apparently he got a cellphone in the face yesterday, leading to his crash.

Egoi Martinez takes the last 6-second bonus on the day. He's now a top five rider.

The peloton has slowed their catch of the break. The break is at 1:12 with 18k to go. That should put the catch in the final 7k.

Arrieta is wearing the red numbers of the most aggressive rider.

Mayo was involved in a crash going through a corner. One of Mayo's teammates gave up a bike to him.

Mengin and Wiggins have been dropped from the break. They have a lead of 0.35 with 6 miles to go. The peloton doesn't appear to be charging right now as no team is at the front.

Mengin and Wiggins are being swallowed up. 0.28 lead with 8k to go. According to their estimates, the lead has increased over the last kilometer

CSC is organized at the front protecting Bobby J. Now Liquigas is leading the peloton. Backstedt is cranking the field for teammate Luca Paolini

6k to go and the break is at 0.27. It really looks like the sprint teams are screwing this up -- the break might make it.

Phonak is moving in alongside Liquigas.

5k to go, 0.24

4k to go, 0.20

Now it's really coming down. 0.09 at 3.5k. Discovery has a rider at the front of the peloton to try and slow things down.

Egoi Martinez is at the red line according to his little heart meter.

Zabel is riding with a flat. He won't be in this sprint.

The breakaway has been caught with less than 2k to go.

Everything is really stretched out going through these final bends.

Hushovd has a teammate on his lead out. Hushovd's leadout man fell and Hushovd grabbed a Gerolsteiner wheel.

McEwen has taken it! Boonen couldn't even catch his wheel. (note: Hushovd was relegated for 'irregular sprinting')

related articles: Tour de France 2006
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