JOIGNY, France, July 11 - Norway's Thor Hushovd claimed his first victory of
the year when he clinched the fourth stage of the Tour de France, a 193-km trek
from Villers-Cotterets to Joigny on Wednesday.
The Credit Agricole rider, who won the green jersey in 2005, launched the
bunch sprint 350 metres from the finish line to edge Barloworld's South African
rider Robert Hunter for the win.
Spaniard Oscar Freire was third for the Rabobank team.
Hushovd's fifth victory on the Tour meant the Norwegian leapfrogged German
Andreas Kloeden for second place overall thanks to time bonuses, with Briton
David Millar now out of the top three.
Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who finished safe in the main pack, retained the
leader's yellow jersey.
"It was a pretty cool day because the team did the job even though there was
some wind," Cancellara told a news conference.
Belgian Tom Boonen was a disappointing eighth in the stage but kept the best
sprinter's green jersey.
Hushovd, who won last year's opening prologue and the closing sprint on the
Champs-Elysees, paid tribute to Australian team mate Julian Dean, who piloted
him through the pack in the last km.
"He is the best in the world to launch the sprints," said Hushovd.
Frenchman Matthieu Sprick launched a breakaway after 30 km and was followed
by compatriot Sylvain Chavanel, Spaniards Juan Antonio Flecha and Gorka Verdugo,
and Germany's Christian Knees.
The fugitives built a four-minute gap but were inexorably swallowed by the
peloton with seven km remaining.
The Caisse d'Epargne team were reduced to eight men after Spaniard Xavier
Zandio retired with a fractured collarbone following a crash early in the stage.
"It is a huge loss for the team because he is a rider who can work on any
type of course. It's a pity," said manager Jose-Luis Jaimerena.
Remy di Gregorio of the Francaise des Jeux team was also involved in the
crash but managed to cross the line some eight minutes after Hushovd.
However, the Marseille-born rider, one of his team's hopes in the mountains,
had to later pull out after breaking his right elbow.
Thursday's fifth stage takes the peloton over 182.5 km from Chablis to Autun.