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ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) – Andre Greipel of Germany won the fourth and longest stage of the Tour Down Under on Friday, increasing his overall lead and trumping a bold play by Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong and Radioshack teammate Tomas Vaitkus made a move for a victory with less than nine miles remaining in the 93.5-mile stage. However, they were slowed by strong wind and absorbed by the peleton.
Armstrong finished 50th in the stage, 17 seconds behind Greipel’s winning time of 3 hours, 30 minutes, 29 seconds and was 29th after four of six stages. That was 47 seconds behind Greipel’s accumulated time of 13:23:57.
“The last (3Â½ miles) we always rode from the front and no one could pass us – it’s a sign of strength,” Greipel said of his U.S.-based team HTC Columbia. “We deserved the win because we always ride from the front.”
Robbie McEwan was second, fellow Australian Graeme Brown third while Armstrong’s Radioshack teammate Gert Steegmans was fourth.
United States road champion George Hincapie came in 12th and was 13th overall.
Greipel held a 20-second lead on accumulated time over McEwen, with New Zealander Greg Henderson in third and Steegmans in fourth.
Friday’s stage began in the Adelaide suburb of Norwood, then wound into the hills above the city until it flattened out on the sun-parched plains between the city and the seaside town of Goolwa. At the small community of Milang, residents lined the verandah of the town’s only pub to cheer riders by.
Armstrong tried to win the stage as it swept toward the finish in the crowded main street in Goolwa. But with only two men in his desperate breakaway, he was forced to battle into a gusting sea breeze and couldn’t defend a margin that peaked at 15 seconds.
“That was as hard as I could go,” said Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner. “We knew very obviously it was windy. This stage last year was very, very windy.
“You knew the last 10 miles or so were going to be most likely crosswinds so we tried to stay in the front just before that. Then Tomas just went and then we kept going and kept going and when we turned around, there was only two of us.”
Armstrong said more riders were needed in the final break to allow it to stay away from the chasing peleton and to have any chance of denying Greipel – who won the race in 2008 – his third win in four stages.
“It was a good effort but maybe not the best outcome,” Armstrong said.
“He (Vaitkus) was going so fast that I was having trouble staying on the wheel. So I figured either we had the (Radioshack) team there, which would have been the best outcome, or two other guys with us.
“When we turned back the gap was already so big that we didn’t have a choice but to keep going and we looked at each other and said ‘Well, all right’.”
Armstrong and Vaitkus were caught within 2Â½ miles of the finish and gradually pushed back through the peleton.
Greipel forced his way to the front in the sprint to the finish and drove clear of his rivals over the last 100 meters, claiming the eighth Tour Down Under stage win of his career.
World road racing champion and two-time Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans of Australia was 21st in Friday’s stage and seventh overall.