Evans nips Contador, Hushovd holds yellow on Mur.

Evans by inches.

“It was the hardest 2k climb I’ve ever done.” — Radio Shack’s Chris Horner on the Mur de Bretagne

Ever since the presentation of the 2011 Tour de France, fans have been goose-bumped waiting for the Mur, dubbed the “the Breton Alpe d’Huez.” A short but brutal climb to the finish of stage four.

Horner was dead on and the Mur delivered a fantastic battle.

Nearly everyone wanted to win this stage, from classics strong men like Philippe Gilbert to tough guy sprinters such as Thor Hushovd to climbers like Frank Schleck and Cadel Evans. Euskatel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez had the Mur marked in Orange. Even Alberto Contador, already 1:40 down on his rivals, was expected to attack and regain a few seconds.

That’s one helluva stage and kudos to the Tour for making this first week as thrilling as a week in the Alps.With mere seconds separating the top GC riders, a yellow jersey was up for grabs and everyone still has relatively fresh legs.

The Mur was so hard that Horner called it 2k when it was only 1.7. And it was a war decided by inches. Contador was the first to attack after the first few ramps. It was a show of force from the three-time Tour Champion just to remind everyone he’s still the boss.

Odds on favorite and birthday boy Gilbert responded immediately, latching on to the Spaniards wheel. Then it was Evans, just a second from a maillot jaune, who put in an acceleration. Things came back together but the tension just kept climbing. Defying predictions, Hushovd clung to the front group — he had yellow and wanted more than a day.

The pace was high as everybody looked right, left and back who see the damage and assess tactics. Bang. Contador went again with 300 meters to go, riding like he was in the Pyrenees, ready to kill and embarrass. Evans refused to let him go, two champions already slugging each other a week before the first mountains.

The Australian, who lost a Tour by 23 seconds, isn’t conceding any time on any stage so far. He powered ahead, perhaps a little surprise for Contador, who kicked a final time. The photo was finish with Contador throwing his arm up in a half-sure victory celebration.

The photo disagreed with the Spaniard.

“I didn’t know who had won. I couldn’t see myself,” Evans said after the finish. “It was a particular kind of finish with the wind and so on. I’m really pleasantly surprised to win…but I’m here riding for GC. That’s my main focus. I’ve worn the yellow jersey before and I know the feeling that brings, but I’m happy to wait to get that chance again.”

For Evans it was a powerful display of strength and confidence as he beat everyone up the Mur. The psychological boost of finishing ahead of Contador is small but significant on both sides.

In effect, it was like a the first mountain stage of the Tour. A day that does the sorting and reveals who plans to win, who wants a top ten and who will just be hanging on day by day.

Practically all the top GC men were in the mix today — even Liquigas’ Ivan Basso had a good sensation or two, taking 13th place. Bradley Wiggins, Andreas Kloden, Frank Schleck and Jurgen Van Den Broeck worked their way up to the top eleven. WIth Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer, Radio Shack placed three old men in the top 20.

A Norse chapeau with Viking horns also goes to Thor Hushovd. He likes that yellow jersey and showed how strong and tenacious he can be with the leader’s kit on. Not man expected him to figure in the finale today but finished 6th to keep a one second lead on Evans.

Before the Tour, Evans had the usual plan, stay safe and quiet for the first week. That plan is out the window but the new plan is not looking half bad. There was a message painted on the road to the Mur de Bretagne today — it said “Just say no to Alberto.” Evans handed out a big no.

Top 20 on GC

1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo 13:58:25
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:01
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:00:04
4 David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:08
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack 0:00:10
6 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
7 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:12
8 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
9 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
10 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek
11 Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad 0:00:13
12 Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad
13 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Highroad
14 Christopher Horner (USA) Team RadioShack 0:00:18
15 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioShack
16 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack
17 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:20
18 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana 0:00:32
19 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:33
20 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:39
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  • beth

    I watched the race live and have now read multiple on-line wrap-ups of it: your write-up bears the most resemblance to the race that I watched. Do you notice on-line how many people are happy for Cadel? Care to contrast that with how we would all be reacting if Alberto had won that one after all? Now there's a topic for a column or three.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      Thanks for the compliment, Beth. We do our best and keep reading. Matt

  • http://cynthialou.com Cynthia

    Gotta love when riders have good sensations on stages like this….

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      For me, the good sensations never happen in the legs but a bottle of good French wine and I have the good sensations in the head. Matt