Belgium’s Gianni Meersman made the best of his current form to surge in the finale of the 4th stage from Brive-la-Gaillarde and win his most prestigious victory to date in Rodez. Third in the previous stage, the Lotto-Belisol rider was obviously not affected by the bug which sent two his team-mates home at the start, adding a Paris-Nice stage to his victory in the Tour de l’Algarve opener. On the line, the rider from Tielt, who overcame the back and leg problems which hampered his health last season, overtook Slovenia’s Grega Bole (LAM) and Dutchman Lieuwe Westra (VCD).Briton Bradley Wiggins (SKY), very active in the last climb in the wheel of Alejandro Valverde, retained his yellow jersey and his six seconds lead over Levi Leipheimer (OPQ). American Tejay Van Garderen is still in white and in third place, 11 seconds adrift.
Five riders did not start: Joost Posthuma and Jan Bakelants (both RadioShack),Taylor Phinney (BMC), Olivier Kaisen and Adam Hansen (both Lotto-Belisol), suffering from stomach bugs or bronchitis.
At kilometer six, five men surged from the bunch. They were Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ), Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R), Leigh Howard (GEC), Luis Angel Mate (COF) and Bart De Clercq (LTB). With De Clercq the best placed overall, 11:24 behind Bradley Wiggins, the bunch let them go and their lead reached 5:20 at kilometer 29.
Mate goes for the polka-dot
Rabobank, working for Luis Leon Sanchez, took the reins of the bunch and reduced he gap, which remained stable at around three minutes. Luis Angel Mate finished first on each of the first three climbs of the day to go for the polka-dot jersey. The only bonus sprint of the stage (km 142) went to Leigh Howard. As Lampre-ISD helped Rabobank with the chase, the gap went down and Mate, suffering from pains in the knee, was caught with 24 kms to go. His four companions were reined in four kilometers later.
On the penultimate climb, Cote d’Aubret Le Cres (3rd cat, km 163.5), polka-dot jersey holder Thomas De Gendt attacked on his own. The Belgian was caught with seven kilometers to go just as Simon Gerrans (GEC) hit a curb and crashed.
Alejandro Valverde’s Movistar team-mates took over, hoping for a repeat of yesterday’s stage win in Lac de Vassiviere. Joaquin Rojas led the way for the green jersey holder, with Wiggins on their heels.
On the last climb, two kilometers from the line, Andreas Kloeden (RNT) tried his luck but was caught with 500 metres to go when Grega Bole launched the sprint. The Slovenian did not have any gear left when Meersman passed him on the line for victory.
Plagued by health problems last season, Gianni Meersman is back in form this year and proving it.
"There was a little roundabout at the finish and I was fifth or sixth. I thought I was too far but the finish was uphill. I waited, waited and waited until the last moment and I sprinted. I had a really good winter, the problems with my back and my left leg are over. I’m healthy now and I feel good in this team. They worked hard today and I dedicate my victory to them all."
Top five placings:
1. Gianni Meersman (LTB)
2. Grega Bole (LAM)
3. Lieuwe Westra (VCD)
4. Xavier Florencio (KAT)
5. Jonathan Ivert (SAU)
Belgium’s Gianni Meersman (LTB) wins the 178-kms fourth stage between Brive-la-Gaillarde and Rodez.
500 metres to go and Kloeden has been caught.
and Kloeden is still in the lead!
Kloeden (RNT) attacks on the last hill. He reaches the top in first place, ahead or Rojas and Valverde.
Everyday before the start, Bernard Hinault gives his views about the stage ahead and the riders to watch.
We had a good finale yesterday, and we realised Valverde is still there. I found Team Sky’s tactics a little odd because by riding like they did at the front, almost on the full width of the road, they protected the other riders, not only their leader. After a few days, it could wear them out and they might end up paying the price. On the other hand, Valverde played it just right as we only saw his team-mates in the final 30 kilometres. The rest of the day, they stayed safely in the peloton. Now he’s only 20 seconds down, he jumped up five places, and he does not have a jersey to defend.