Thor storms home to reel in Hunter

NORWEGIAN Thor Hushovd edged a tight finish to win the fourth stage of the Tour de France on the 193km route between Villers-Cotterets and Joigny.

The 29-year-old had Credit Agricole team-mate Julian Dean to thank as he guided him expertly into contention with 300 metres to go, from which point Hushovd got the perfect run in to beat second-placed South African Robbie Hunter of Barloworld to the line by less than a bike-length.

It was Hushovd’s first victory of the season and it took him up to second in the overall standings behind leader Fabian Cancellara, who finished safely in the peloton to keep his yellow jersey.

Spain’s Oscar Freire was third, while Britain’s Mark Cavendish finished 10th for his second successive top-10 finish.

Earlier in the race there had been a blow for the Caisse d’Epargne team after the retirement of Xabier Zandio, who suffered his second crash of the tour when he collided with Remy Di Gregorio.

In a close race, the escape was made by five riders after just 34km as Juan Antonio Flecha, Gorka Verdugo, Matthieu Sprick, Sylvain Chavanel and Christian Knees formed a leading pack which would stay together for almost the entire race.

Flecha reached the first intermediate sprint mark at 69km and collected six points, Chavanel picking up four and Sprick two.

The efforts of first the Liquigas team and then the CSC team helped the peloton close the gap to just 1:25 at one point, but the leaders extended their advantage again approaching the halfway stage, stabilising at around 3:40.

At the 120km sprint gate in Soligny-les-Etangs, Flecha again took the six points, with Chavanel once more following him with four points and Knees this time grabbing two points.

These time bonuses allowed Flecha to reduce his arrears in the overall standings on Cancellara to one minute, with Chavanel just 44 seconds back.

With around 22km to go, Knees tried to take the initiative, racing ahead of Sprick, Chavanel, Flecha and Verdugo, but they soon caught him up, while the peloton closed to just 1:05 behind.

At 10km shy of the finish the gap was down to 30 seconds and temporary breakaway duo Knees and Flecha shared a handshake to acknowledge their valiant attempt shortly before the whole quintet were swallowed up by the peloton.

With 1km to go the Quickstep riders dominated the head of the peloton but green jersey-wearer Tom Boonen was nowhere to be seen when team-mate Gert Steegmans moved aside, allowing Dean to provide Hushovd the cover needed to take his fifth-ever stage victory at the Tour de France.

* Ciaran Power (Navigators Insurance) put his national road race championship disappointment him with back to back wins at the weekend when he won the national criterium championship in Killarney and then the Cappoquin Criterium, for the J. J. Foley Memorial Trophy the following evening. The Waterford Olympic cyclist swept to victory in atrocious weather conditions in Killarney, edging out his training partner, Brian Kenneally (Dan Morrissey Carrick Wheelers) and the Midleton crit specialist, Aidan Crowley.

On Saturday in Cappoquin Power, who will ride for the Navigators team in next month’s revival of the Tour of Ireland, snatched victory again.

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