A day after Mark Cavendish pipped Andre Greipel in a photo finish, Bryan Coquard almost did the same at the finish line. A tense downhill run-in to Limoges left the sprinters’ groups disorganized at the end, and Marcel Kittel took advantage of the indecisiveness to lead out the sprint in the final 250 meters. The move left a big gap between Kittel and the rest of the sprint favorites, but Coquard bolted out of the pack and managed to pull himself alongside the German. The video at the line showed the two crossing simultaneously, mere millimeters separating the men at the front. But Coquard, despite his powerful move, was forced to settle for second as he ran out of space at the line.
The ride out of Saumur provided a mellow start to the day, and the first breakaway attempts didn’t start coalescing until around a half hour into the stage. The four men who would stay away most of the day — Oliver Naesen, Alexis Gougerard, Markel Irizar, and Andreas Schillinger — finally pulled clear just before the first hour came to an end. 60 kilometers into the stage, the quartet had built up a five-minute lead on the peloton.
At the 75-kilometer mark, we got to see one of the most endearing traditions of the Tour de France. French veteran Sylvain Chavanel was allowed to ride off the front and led the main field into his birthplace, Chatellerault, soaking up the adulation of friends and family as the cyclists passed through. He reintegrated back into the bunch on the other side of town, and only after the feed zone at Paizay-le-Sec did the peloton really begin to think about reeling back the day’s breakaway.
In the second half of the stage, the roads started pitching upward and the four leaders started bleeding time. By the time they reached the intermediate sprint at Le Dorat, the peloton’s deficit was down under two minutes and there was still plenty of climbing left on the stage profile. None of the hills were particularly steep, but the elevation was enough to keep the gap manageable as the sprinters’ teams bided their time and waited for the right opportunity to pounce.
Inside of 40 kilometers, Gougeard was the first of the breakaway riders to fall off the pace and drift back toward the pack. Around 10 kilometers from the finish line, Schillinger also lost position and reintegrated into the field. With seven kilometers left in the stage, Naesen and Irizar finally gave up their quest and were swept up by the peloton.
That left space for the sprinters and their lead-out trains to jockey for position in a technical run into Limoges, with several roundabouts causing everyone to seek the front. A downhill run brought everyone to the finishing straight, and on the slight uphill finish Kittel made his move to accelerate out of a fast-charging bunch. Only Coquard had the reserves to come close, but in the end the photo review revealed the German as the winner.
It was the last opportunity for the sprinters to seek out a win for the next few days, as Stage 5 on Tuesday takes the riders on their first medium-mountain stage with a finish at the ski resort of Le Lioran. While yellow (and green) jersey leader Peter Sagan is the type of all-around rider who could stick with the lead group and retain his jerseys for another day, it is unlikely that any of the other sprinters will manage to finish at the front. They will have a final opportunity on Stage 6 before the peloton enters the Pyrenees in earnest.
Stage Results and Standings after Stage 4
|1||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step||5:28:30|
|2||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie|
|3||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team|
|4||Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|5||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha|
|6||Sondre Holst Enger (Nor) IAM Cycling|
|7||Daniel Mclay (GBr) Fortuneo – Vital Concept|
|8||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data|
|9||Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|10||Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange|
General Classification (yellow jersey)
|1||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team||20:03:02|
|2||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step||+0:00:12|
|3||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||+0:00:14|
|4||Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange||+0:00:18|
|5||Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange|
|6||Lawson Craddock (USA) Cannondale-Drapac||+0:00:35|
|7||Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||+0:00:59|
|8||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie||+0:01:15|
|9||Sondre Holst Enger (Nor) IAM Cycling||+0:01:40|
|10||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data||+0:01:43|
Points Classification (green jersey)
|1||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team||147|
|2||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data||142|
|3||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step||137|
|4||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal||87|
|5||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie||83|
|6||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha||56|
|7||Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo||45|
|8||Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange||38|
|9||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step||37|
|10||Sondre Holst Enger (Nor) IAM Cycling||34|
King of the Mountains (polka-dot jersey)
|1||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo||4|
|2||Paul Voss (Ger) Bora-Argon 18||2|
|3||Armindo Fonseca (Fra) Fortuneo – Vital Concept||1|
|4||Markel Irizar (Spa) Trek-Segafredo||1|
|5||Vegard Breen (Nor) Fortuneo – Vital Concept||1|
|6||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff Team||1|
Best Young Rider (white jersey)
|1||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step||20:03:14|
|2||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin||+0:00:06|
|3||Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|4||Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange|
|5||Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre – Merida||+0:00:17|
|6||Lawson Craddock (USA) Cannondale-Drapac||+0:00:23|
|7||Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Fortuneo – Vital Concept|
|8||Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Argon 18|
|9||Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Argon 18|
|10||Jan Polanc (Slo) Lampre – Merida||+0:00:41|