Cadel Evans survived a late charge by Alberto Contador on the climb of Mur-de-Bretagne to win stage four of the Tour de France in a photo finish.
The two kilometre, category three climb looked the perfect platform for Classics specialist Philippe Gilbert, celebrating his 29th birthday, to add to his stage one victory.
But 2009 world champion Evans, second overall, attacked under the flamme rouge and underlined his early-Tour form to earn his second Tour stage win by just half-a-wheel.
Thor Hushovd, in the yellow jersey since Garmin-Cervelo’s stage two team time trial victory, stayed with the lead group to finish seventh and retain the overall lead, while three Brits – Hushovd’s team-mate David Millar and Team Sky duo Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas – occupy top 10 spots.
Gorka Insausti (Euskaltel), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Biel Kadri (AG2R), Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) formed the day’s attack, with breakaway specialist Hoogerland claiming the sole point available from the category four Cote de Laz climb before taking maximum points from the intermediate sprint.
Garmin-Cervelo’s Tyler Farrar continued his green jersey charge by leading the peloton over the intermediate sprint ahead of point classification leader José Joaquín Rojas, Borut Bozic and Mark Cavendish.
The break fought bravely to stay clear of the juggernaut but, with Omega Pharma-Lotto and Leopard-Trek setting the pace, Hoogerland’s last-ditch solo effort was swept up with 5km to go.
Farrar, feeling the effort of Monday’s victory, dropped off the back of the peloton with 4km remaining as BMC’s George Hincapie set the pace alight as the lead group tackled the finale’s first 10 per cent ramp.
Gilbert, paced by Jurgen Van Den Broeck, sat comfortably, waiting for the decisive move and it was Contador who attacked with 1.3km to go, only to be countered by Evans, Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran and Astana’s Alexandre Vinokourov
That prompted Evans to make his own move and the Australian, second overall in 2007 and 2008, timed his sprint for the line to perfection, keeping Contador, who thought he had won as he crossed the line, at bay, while Vinokourov claimed third.
1. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC Racing) – 4:11:39
2. Alberto Contador (SPA/SaxoBank Sungard) – same time
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ/Astana)
4. Rigoberto Uran (COL/Team Sky)
5. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/Omega Pharma-Lotto)
6. Thor Hushovd (NOR/Garmin-Cervelo)
7. Frank Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek)
8. Samuel Sancheck (SPA/Euskaltel-Euskadi)
9. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL/Omega Pharma-Lotto)
10. Andreas Kloden (AUS/Radioshack)
11. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/Team Sky) +6″
29. Geraint Thomas (GBR/Team Sky) +8″
22. David Millar (GBR/Garmin Cervelo) +8″
97. Ben Swift (GBR/Team Sky) +1′ 55″
150. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC-Highroad) +4′ 17″
1. Thor Hushovd (NOR/Garmin-Cervelo) 13h 58m 25s
2. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) +1″
3. Frank Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek) +4″
4. David Millar (GBR/Garmin-Cervelo) +8″
5. Andreas Kloden (AUS/Radioshack) +10″
6. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/Team Sky) same time
7. Geraint Thomas (GBR/Team Sky) +12″
8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR/Team Sky) same time
9. Andy Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek) same time
10. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/Leopard-Trek) same time
49. Ben Swift (GBR/Team Sky) +2′ 06″
94. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC–Highroad) +4′ 22″