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World Champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin) won the fourth stage of the Tour of Britain on the roads of Wales, after a stage-long three man breakaway containing Pieter Ghyllebert, Jack Bauer and Kristian House was caught at the foot of the final climb of the day, just kilometres before the finish. Race Leader Lars Boom, finishing in the same group as Hushovd, retained his Gold leader's jersey.
Stage 4 saw the 2011 ToB entourage head west from the previous stage finish in Stoke across the border into Wales for a tough 183km stage from Welshpool in Mid Wales to Caerphilly, south of the Brecon Beacons.
It didn't take long for the early attacks to begin, with Preben Van Hecke (TSV) and Zak Dempster (RCS) both attempting to shake things up early doors - however neither rider could make it stick. The first significant move came when Jack Bauer (EDR) and Pieter Ghyllebert (SKT) attacked and Kristian House (RCS) gave chase, quickly gaining 29 seconds with the race less than an hour old. Within minutes the gap had gone up to around 2 minutes as the race approached Newtown and the stage's first Yodel sprint.
With Yodel sprint jersey sitter Ghyllebert (SKT) in the break it came as no surprise to see the Belgian rider extend his lead at Newtown, with Bauer and House taking second and third respectively, the gap back to the chasing peloton hovering around the 2 minute mark.
As the race passed the hour mark, the trio of Ghyllebert, Bauer and House had extended their lead to 2 minutes 45 seconds, as the route climbed out of the Severn valley toward Llandrindod Wells. Heading south on the A483 toward the Welsh spa town, the trio continued to press home their advantage, the lead extending to 3 minutes 40 seconds at the 50km mark.
Heading into Llandrindod Wells and the lead was up to 4 minutes, with Pieter Ghyllebert taking the second Yodel sprint, further strengthening his grasp on the Yodel jersey, with Bauer again following the Belgian in. Kristian House came in third, mopping up more sprint points and edging towards overall leader on the road with every turn of the pedals.
The race continued south toward the Wye Valley and as the peloton passed through Builth Wells, the leaders and stretched their advantage to 4 minutes 35 seconds. However, signs of organisation began to emerge in the peloton, as race leader Lars Boom's Rabobank team formed-up at the head of the pack and the first of the categorised climbs at Llyswern Hill loomed large just a few kms up the road.
Over the top of the 3rd category climb it was Endura's Jack Bauer who took maximum KoM points, followed by House and Ghyllebert. Riders had a short descent before heading through Brecon and onto the first big test of the day, the 1st category Brecon Beacons climb. The lead continued to stretch, swelling to over 5 minutes before the big hitters in the peloton took charge. With Sky at the helm, the breakaway lead was immediately cut to 4 minutes 40 as the group hit the bottom of the Brecons climb. Rabobank were also working hard at the front and the lead began to tumble at an astonishing rate - with the lead slashed to 2 mins 50 at the top.
At the top it was a carbon copy of the first climb in terms of placings - Bauer, House, then Ghyllebert. Despite the ferocious pace set by Sky and Rabobank, Russ Hampton (SGS) managed to attack off the front of the peloton at the top of Brecon, with Rapha Condor Sharp's Tiernan-Locke in tow, the former attempting to hang onto his KoM jersey and grabbing a valuable 4th place. Now in the windy and exposed uplands of the Beacons, Sky and Rabobank's concerted efforts continued to eat into the breakaway lead, which dropped to 1 minute 25 seconds, the pressure threatening to fragment the peloton.
The ferocious pace was not only looking ominous for the breakaway group of Ghyllebert, Bauer and House - Theo Bos (Rabobank) and Garmin-Cervelo's Martijn Maaskant both abandoned the race as it headed towards its final stages, down the long descent to Mountain Ash and then onto the Caerphilly Mountain and beyond the finish in Caerphilly town centre, the latter already thronged with an eager crowd.
As the leaders approached the third and final Yodel sprint of the day in Mountain Ash, their lead had stretched back out to over 2 minutes, the trio handling the descent better than the bunch. After taking a back seat over the two categorised climbs, Pieter Ghyllebert once again came to the fore, taking another maximum five points.
With just 25km to go until the finish, the peloton wasn't keen on letting the break stay away and after a brief stay of execution through Mountain Ash, Sky were once again in ruthless mood, quickly cutting the lead back below the 2 minute mark. Ahead of the final climb of the day, cracks began to appear in the break, with Rapha Condor Sharp's Kristian House looking like he was beginning to struggle to stay in touch. With the lead dropping to 1 minute 20 seconds it began to look like House and his companions would soon be swept up.
At 10km to go the peloton continued to pile pressure on the tiring trio, the lead now just 30 seconds and closing fast. Rapha Condor Sharp's Kristian House made a final attempt to jump away on his own as the tide of the peloton engulfed the breakaway, but resistence was futile. With just the final, nasty climb of Caerphilly Mountain ahead (and the descent into town) to go, the race was all back together again.
The race streamed through Caerphilly town centre onto the final climb and first to attack was Sky's Steve Cummings, powering away on the lower slopes. It looked as if teammate Geraint Thomas and race leader Lars Boom would follow but it was Rapha Condor Sharp's Jon Tiernan Locke who danced across to join and then pass Cummings to take 10 points at the summit of Caerphilly Mountain. On the descent, the duo was caught by Camano of Endura and Koenig of Team Net App. A few others bridged across before a larger group of around 20 riders swamped them, including Geraint Thomas, Ian Bibby, Thor Hushovd and race leader Lars Boom.
The 25 riders managed to gain 20 seconds on the main field before re-entering Caerphilly town centre for the finish. Into the final corner and World Champion Thor Hushovd showed his hand, led into the final bend by teammate Julian Dean, springing clear of the bunch to comfortably take the stage win. Race leader Lars Boom came in second, retaining his leader's jersey, with Benedetti third and an impressive Ian Bibby finishing 4th, the highest placed British rider on the stage. Geraint Thomas, wrong footed on the final turn, finished 11th in the same time as Hushovd, while Mark Cavendish, who suffered on the final climb lost 31 seconds on a tough fourth stage in Wales.
The main contenders were pretty quiet on Twitter following a gruelling Welsh stage. However, Mark Cavendish was his usual forthright self:
"Well there were definitely fireworks today. But not from @geraintthomas86 like I predicted. Rather, from me. OUT MY A*%E HOLE #hardlastclimb"
Ian Bibby's teammate Toby Horton had this to say about his part in Bibby's excellent 4th place (which also elevated Bibby to 4th on GC):
"Real good legs today, climbing well and felt good! Led Bibbs into bottom of last climb and he got 4th!"
Geraint Thomas, riding on home soil, was right in the mix until the final bend and was dissappointed not to finish the job:
"Team was great, fans incredible, unfortunately I couldn't finish it off... Thanks for all the support guys!!"
Results Summary - Full Results
1 Thor Hushovd Team Garmin - Cervelo
2 Lars Boom Rabobank
3 Cesare Benedetti Team NetApp
1 Lars Boom Rabobank
2 Geraint Thomas Sky ProCycling
3 Boy Van Poppel UnitedHealthcare
1 Lars Boom Rabobank
2 Geraint Thomas Sky ProCycling
3 Mark Cavendish HTC Highroad
1 Russell Hampton Sigma Sport-Specialized
2 Jonathan Tiernan Locke Rapha Condor - Sharp
3 Stephen Cummings Sky ProCycling
1 Pieter Ghyllebert An Post - Sean Kelly
2 Russell Hampton Sigma Sport-Specialized
3 Andrew Fenn An Post - Sean Kelly