(CNN) -- Australian Cadel Evans edged out defending champion Alberto Contador in a thrilling finish to Tuesday's 172.5km fourth stage of the Tour de France from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne.
Evans, twice a Tour runner-up, and Spaniard Contador were separated by the narrowest of margins at the summit of the steep 2km ascent to the line which ended a relatively uneventful stage, with Alexandre Vinokourov back in third.
Pre-stage favorite Philippe Gilbert, who had won Saturday's opening stage, which featured a similar uphill drag to the line, was unable to repeat that performance, finishing fifth in the sprint to the line, as the top 10 riders all received the same time as Evans.
Evans started the day just one second behind overall leader Thor Hushovd, who was expected to relinquish the yellow jersey as Tuesday's uphill finish did not appear to suit the Garmin sprinter.
However, the Norwegian dug deep to come home in the leading group in sixth place, retaining his one-second overall advantage over Evans, with Frank Schleck, who finished seventh on the day, up to third position overall just four seconds behind Hushovd.
The result lifts Contador, who is bidding for his fourth victory in the race, up the general classification to 41st position, as he attempts to make up the ground he lost on Saturday, after getting caught up in a crash towards the end of the stage.
Contador remains one minute, 42 seconds behind Hushovd, but he did claw back eight seconds on main rival Andy Schleck, Frank's younger brother, who failed to finish in the leading group, crossing the line in 23rd position to leave him in ninth place overall -- 12 seconds off the lead.
Tuesday's stage followed the same pattern as the other road stages in this year's Tour, with the peloton allowing an early break to go up the road.
This time five riders, Gorka Izagirre, Imanol Ervitti, Blel Kadri, Jeremy Roy and Johnny Hoggerland went away after nine kilometers and retained that advantage until the final 4km, when they were finally swallowed up by the fast-moving main bunch.
Former world champion Evans has never won a Tour stage before, and he told the race's official website: "In the final sprint I was committed but I didn't want to launch too hard because I knew the others could have come around me.
"I saw Contador closing in on me but I just had to hold him off. It came down to the throw to the line and right at the finish I couldn't even see who crossed the line first."
He added: "To win a stage here in the first week is a real bonus and I owe it all to my team. I lost ground with 20km to go because I had to change my bike but it was (BMC teammate) Marcus Burghardt who took me to the front and thanks to him I could deliver the win."