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Hunter pipped in fourth stage

By Mark Etheridge

Robbie Hunter was right up there at the death in Wednesday’s fourth stage of what is turning out to be a gruelling Tour de France.

The South African rider was in contention till the last few metres as the sprinters battled for line honours on the easiest stage of the tour thus far.

It was a shortish 153.5-kilometre ride, between Cambrai and Reims, with no killer hills and more importantly, no killer cobbles to put a spoke in the wheel.

As matters turned out veteran Italian Petacchi got his nose ahead to take his second stage win of the tour.

He clocked 3hr 34min 55sec for the stage with Hunter and his Garmin-Transitions teammate Julien Dean fifth and second respectively.

After the testing and bone-jarring joust with the cobble-ridden stage on Tuesday, most of the leading contenders for the yellow jersey were content to give their bodies something of a rest on Wednesday.

But it was still the turn of the seasoned riders to get their place in the sun. Of the first five riders, only Edvald Boasson of Norway was under 30, with

Hunter next youngest (33) and Lampre-Farneses Vini’s Petacchi top of the pile at a ripe old 36.

Such was the bunch finish of the stage that the first 163 of the 189 who finished the stage, were given the same time as Petacchi.

Despite missing out on the stage victory, Hunter and Dean can take solace from the fact that Garmin-Transitions now head the team standings.

There wasn’t much change in the General Classification (GC) with Team Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara still holding a 23sec advantage over Geraint Thomas and a further 13sec over Cadel Evans.

Defending champion Alberto Contador is ninth (+1:40), seven-time winner Lance Armstrong (+2:30).

For all his efforts yesterday, Hunter moved just one spot up the GC to 107th, 8:57 off the pace.

Hunter said on his Twitter feed after the race: “Disappointed a bit today… really felt I had the legs to win. Lost Jd (Julian Dean) 1km to go when he went forward. So I had to come from far back. “Thanks to Ty (Tyler Farrar) & Jd for trying to help me. Think if I was on Jd’s wheel I would have won.. oh well we fight another day!!!!!!!”

Hunter was involved in an altercation with Tour debutant Jakob Fuglsang of Team Saxo Bank in Tuesday’s cobbled-stage but defended his actions on Wednesday. “We’re all here to race. Just because they’re on the front trying to get on the cobbles first doesn’t mean we can’t try either. That’s the way it is. And, he’s got no right to put his hands on me,” he told AFP agency.

Thursday’s fifth stage is a 187.5km ride from Epernay to Montargis, the first time the tour has visited the town in five years and it with no huge hills lurking looks set to end in another sprint finish.


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