Fri, Jul 13, 2007 - Page 22 News List

Hushovd claims stage four win

SPRINT FINISH Team-mate Julian Dean peeled off with 150m to go, allowing Thor Hushovd to emerge from his slipstream and beat Robert Hunter to the finish

AFP, JOIGNY, France

Swiss cyclist Fabian Cancellara of the CSC team in the yellow jersey for the overall leader rides during the fourth stage of the Tour de France from Villers-Cotterets to Joigny, France, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd ended this season's famine by claiming the Tour de France's fourth stage, his career fifth, on Wednesday.

And like many of his big wins on the professional circuit, it was in large part thanks to his main lead-out man, Kiwi team-mate Julian Dean.

"I have total faith in Julian Dean. All I do is stay in his wheel, that's the only thing I'm focused on," said Hushovd, who moved up to second overall 29 seconds behind Fabian Cancellara.

Like many top cyclists, New Zealand rider Dean is one of the unsung heroes of the peloton.

His job is to lead Hushovd in towards the finish on his wheel from anywhere between the last 1,000m to the last 200m -- as fast as possible -- before peeling off and allowing Hushovd to hit full gas.

It doesn't always work. Sprints, especially on the Tour de France, are notoriously hectic, and riders will steal a good wheel whenever they can.

On this occasion, Dean's drive worked to perfection, the Kiwi finishing off the good work of French teammates William Bonnet and Sebastien Hinault leading into the finale.

"Dean launched a really fast sprint at 450m, and then he pulled off with about 150m to go. Then I finished it off with a good sprint myself," Hushovd said.

Dean, wearing his national champion's jersey, might not be the man standing on the top step of the Tour podium.

But he will be getting plenty of recognition from Hushovd and the rest of the team after giving the French outfit their first stage win on this year's race.

Dean admitted it was a huge morale boost for the team following Monday's crash.

"It restores our confidence -- and hopefully we can get another one along the way," he said, while already looking ahead to today's stage, which precedes the first of three days in the Alps.

Dean, who in recent seasons had endured a series of injury setbacks, put the memory of Monday's pile-up -- in which Hushovd was involved -- well behind him by pulling the Norwegian in at an impressive estimated speed of 75kph.

The Kiwi then peeled off just as he was losing power, allowing Hushovd to emerge from his slipstream and beat South African Robert Hunter at the finish.

"I just opened it over the little climb and kept going as long as I could," Dean said, explaining how the sprint panned out.

"It was quite a mixed up sprint, with most of the T-Mobile and Quick Step riding, and it was quite strung out. It was very, very fast going to the finish," he said. "We got to 400m to go, and Kim Kirchen started to open up the sprint, and then I went on the left hand side with Thor on my wheel and I just kept on going as long as I could. Thor came off at 150m, and rode to the victory."

Dean admitted they had no specific plans for the day, except to win on what -- apart from today's sixth stage -- was one of the last chances for the sprinters to shine.

"You've got to take these decisions in the middle of the race. It was very, very fast and I was just waiting because I knew the speed was high," he said.

"I knew I could wait a little longer, so I did. When I was 400m out I knew I could go to 150m, and let Thor go from 150m and that would be perfect. Maybe I could have gone another 50m, but I was starting to slow," said Dean, who reckoned he hit 75kph top speed.

"It certainly would have been pretty fast coming off that little downhill, maybe 74 to 75," he said.

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