Australian cyclist Cadel Evans won the fourth stage of the 2011 Tour de France, edging out defending champion Alberto Contador. As AP reported:

Cadel Evans edged defending champion Alberto Contador in a photo finish Tuesday to win the fourth stage of the Tour de France, and Thor Hushovd retained the overall lead.

Tuesday’s 107-mile route from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne was mostly flat, but ended with a short, sharp climb favoring those who could muster bursts of speed uphill.

The finish was so close that Contador raised a fist to celebrate what he believed was a stage win, but slow-motion video and a photo still showed that Evans, an Australian two-time Tour runner-up, had won.

The stage still showed that Contador, who has faced a series of early setbacks in this Tour already, is in shape to compete.

It was the first in-competition Tour stage win for Evans in seven appearances, though he inherited a stage victory in 2007 after Alexandre Vinokourov was barred from the race in a team doping scandal. It was also the first Tour stage victory for an Australian since Simon Gerrans won Stage 15 finishing at Italy’s Prato Nevoso in 2008.

“I am very very happy,” Evans said. “To win in front of Alberto Contador is really a nice present.”

Hushovd, the Norwegian world champion known mainly as a sprint specialist, narrowly kept the race leader’s yellow jersey by trailing not far behind in a small breakaway group.

“My only goal today was to keep the yellow jersey,” said Hushovd, of Garmin-Cervelo. “I had a great day ... I will do all I can to defend this jersey as long as possible.”

Alberto Contador has been a polarizing figure in the world of cycling and suffered some early setbacks in the race, but he said Monday that he remained confident he could compete. As AP explained:

It will take more than a couple of bad days at the Tour de France to break Alberto Contador’s will. The defending champion has already lost crucial time to rival Andy Schleck, but he remains upbeat.

The Spaniard entered the race in difficult circumstances having tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol late on in last year’s race, only to be cleared by his own cycling federation — a verdict that has been appealed by anti-doping and cycling authorities and will be resolved after the Tour is over.

Contador is now an unpopular figure among racing fans, too, having been jeered before the race even started, and over the first two stages on Saturday and Sunday.

Yet he takes all of this in his stride.

“No matter what, throwing the towel in to ring is the last thing I would do,” Contador said after losing more time to Schleck in Sunday’s team time trial. “Now there are riders who are better positioned than me in terms of winning, but I’ll never give up. I’m looking forward to the mountains.”

Contador’s Tour started badly on Saturday, when he got stuck behind a crash that decimated the field.

Americans continued their strong showing in the 2011 Tour de France, with Tyler Farrar bcoming the first American to win a stage on July 4 and a record-tying ten cyclists remaining in the race. As AP reported:

A record-tying 10 U.S. cyclists spent the Fourth of July on the roads of the Tour de France.

American fans had even more to celebrate Monday when Tyler Farrar raced to his first individual Tour stage victory, becoming the first U.S. rider to win a stage on July 4.

“I certainly would have taken it on any day,” said Farrar, a sprint specialist from Wenatchee, Wash., who rides for Garmin-Cervelo. “But as an American, winning on the Fourth of July, it’s the icing on the cake. ... Lucky me.”

Levi Leipheimer was the last American to win a Tour de France stage, taking an individual time trial in 2007.

Veterans such as BMC’s George Hincapie and RadioShack’s Chris Horner were among the U.S. riders taking stock of the bumper crop from America this year — and looking to some promising young compatriots.

This year’s Tour marks the 30th anniversary since Jonathan Boyer became the first American ‘Giant of the Roads”, and it has been 25 years since Greg Lemond became the first American to win cycling’s greatest race.

Also in 1986, a total of ten American cyclists competed on two teams. This year, just as many riders are competing — but this time there are four U.S. teams: RadioShack, BMC, Garmin-Cervelo and HTC-Highroad.

HTC-Highroad’s Tejay van Garderen, at 22, wasn’t even born when Lemond & Co. jumpstarted Americans’ interest in the Tour, which got a huge boost by the record run of seven Tour victories by Lance Armstrong.

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