Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) took victory on stage four of the 2021 Tour de France, out-sprinting Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samisc) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) to the line in Fougères.
Cavendish came from behind Philipsen who led out the final sprint to the line after being set up perfectly by his Alpecin-Fenix team, with Bouhanni following as well.
The sprint caught lone breakaway rider Brent Van Moer (Lotto-Soudal) in the final 200m with the Belgian drifting back into the line of Cavendish. Incredibly, Cavendish was able to check his sprint and move around Van Moer, sticking to the wheel of Philipsen before coming around him in the final 50m to power across the line and take an emotional victory.
It is Cavendish's 31st stage win at the Tour de France, and his first since 2016. The Manxman hasn't ridden the Tour de France since 2018 and didn't expect to be riding this year but was selected as a late replacement for Sam Bennett.
Cavendish also takes over the lead of the green jersey competition from his team-mate Julian Alaphilippe thanks to his victory and taking 15 points at the intermediate sprint earlier in the day.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) retained the overall lead for a third day after finishing safely in the main peloton.
How it happened
The Tour de France 2021 began Tuesday still in shock from the carnage of the previous day, something which was reflected in the rider protest that took place shortly after kilometre zero on stage four.
It was clear that not all riders were on the same page, and after a brief stop on the road the riders started the 150.4km stage from Redon to Fougères - the final stage in Brittany - in earnest, albeit slowly.
Two riders then went clear up the road, Brent Van Moer (Lotto-Soudal) and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Cofidis). With so many teams invested in the stage finishing in a bunch sprint, there was little rope given to the pair who established a maximum gap of around 2-50 before that began to drop.
Things remained the same throughout much of the stage, with the pair still leading by around 1-19 as they crossed the intermediate sprint with 36.1km to go. Van Moer took the first prize at the intermediate sprint, with a maximum of 15 points remaining for the green jersey contenders behind.
There was an expertly led out sprint for the points behind, with Michael Mørkøv leading Mark Cavendish with ease to take the 15 points. Mørkøv claimed the second place with Nacer Bouhanni taking third.
The calm then resumed for the next 15 kilometres or so with the gap dropping below the minute mark for the first time with 21.5km to go.
Périchon and Van Moer valiantly fought on into the final 20km, holding out a gap of 40 seconds with 15km remaining, but the pair were attacking each other which hampered their pace-setting.
Finally Van Moer was able to shake Périchon with 13.9km to go, the breakaway winner of the opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné hoping for a repeat of that success on the big stage.
Still there was no urgency to make the catch from the peloton, with Van Moer able to stretch the gap back out to 55 seconds riding solo into the final 12km.
The Belgian was not giving up on this solo lead easily, his gap growing beyond a minute into the final 10km with still no one really pushing on from the peloton.
Van Moer’s determination to win appeared unmatched by anyone in the peloton as he held a minute with 6km to go, before Deceuninck-Quick-Step finally started chasing hard with just over 5km left to ride, pegging him back to 42 seconds into the last 4km.
It was touch and go whether the sprinters would make their catch heading towards the final kilometre, but a slight rise ahead of the flamme rouge put Van Moer in difficulty. Still, he held on admirably and it was only in the final 500m that the sprinters closed in on him.
Within 250m to go he was swallowed up as the sprinters fought for the win, with Cavendish able to move around him and then Philipsen to power clear and take a hard-fought, emotional victory at the Tour de France.
The Tour continues on Wednesday with stage five and focus turns to the general classification. Riders face a 29.7km individual time trial that will potentially see big changes in the top-10 overall.
Tour de France 2021, stage four: Redon to Fougères (150.4km)
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, in 3-20-17
2. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Team Arkéa-Samsic
3. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
4. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team BikeExchange
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
6. Cees Bol (Ned) Team DSM
7. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis
8. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
9. Boy van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
10. André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation, all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, in 16-19-10
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 8 seconds
3. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at 31s
4. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
5. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 38s
6. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 39s
7. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 40s
8. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa-Samsic, at same time
9. Pierre Latour (Fra) TotalEnergies, at 45s
10. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 52s
14. Rigoberto Uràn (Col) EF Education First-Nippo, at 52s
16. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 55s
18. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-07
20. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-35
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