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Thor Hushovd again defends Tour de France leader's yellow jersey on stage 4

MUR-DE-BRETAGNE, France – Thor Hushovd of Norway was defending his race leader’s yellow jersey as riders set out Tuesday on the fourth stage of the Tour de France through a verdant and rainy Brittany.

During the stage, Jurgen Van de Walle of Belgium became the first rider to pull out of the race — reducing the pack to 197 racers. His Omega Pharma-Lotto team said he quit over lingering groin pain from a crash Saturday.

Hushovd took the race lead after his Garmin-Cervelo won Sunday’s team time trial, and the world champion held on to it Monday when his teammate Tyler Farrar of the United States won the third stage.

Tuesday’s 172.5-kilometre route from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne is mostly flat, but it ends with a sharp climb that could see Hushovd and other pure sprinters struggling.

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal is 57th.

Defending Tour champion Alberto Contador from Spain trails in 69th place. The three-time Tour champion trails his main rival Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, last year’s runner-up, by 1 minute, 38 seconds.

© The Canadian Press, 2011