By Jonny Long
Geraint Thomas crashed in the finale of stage four of the Tour de Romandie, forfeiting the chance of a first win since Alpe d'Huez at the 2018 Tour de France as well as the race lead.
Michael Woods instead took the stage victory in the uphill sprint for the line, Ag2r's Ben O'Connor then second, 17 seconds behind the Canadian, while Thomas picked himself up and crossed the line in third, 21 seconds down.
Movistar's Marc Soler tumbled out of the race lead on the climb to the summit finish, with Woods assuming the race lead, Thomas now 11 seconds behind heading into tomorrow's final time trial.
Ghastly conditions plagued the race once again on stage four, the start pushed forward two hours to avoid the forecasted snow, before the first 3km of the descent of the Suen was neutralised mid-race due to the wet roads and poor visibility.
As time gaps were supposedly frozen as race cars shepherded the breakaway and bunch down the climb, it came as a surprise when the escapees had pushed their three-and-a-half-minute gap out another minute or so when racing resumed.
Regardless, Magnus Cort's bid for stage glory and the race lead came apart on the summit finish climb, Michael Woods attacking from the peloton in the final kilometres and bridging up and past the Dane, followed by Thomas, as Soler was left shivering and unable to follow, having spent his final reserves of energy a few moments before as he accelerated, shedding riders from the group but not quite unhitching himself.
Thomas and Woods powered away, the Ineos rider often ramping up the pace as they raced towards the finish, before the Canadian had a little dig as the line came into view. The sprint then started to unfurl. Tired, cold legs gave all they had left before Thomas slipped, crashing to the floor as Woods sailed across the line.
The Welshman picked himself up gingerly, he'd have had the race lead even if he'd finished second on the same time as Woods, but now that opportunity was gone. The final 16km TT tomorrow should give him a decent chance to wrench back the race lead from the Israel Start-Up Nation rider.
How it happened
The penultimate stage would prove a firm test to Marc Soler's hold on the leader's jersey, with the Thyon summit finish being up at 2,000m.
Soon after the flag drop a move of seven went away, but not before Joel Suter (Switzerland) added to his lead in the KOM competition over the first categorised climb of the day, the escape group including Lotto-Soudal's Matt Holmes and Kobe Goossens, Magnus Cort (EF-Nippo), Mads Würtz Schmidt (Israel Start-Up Nation), Josef Cerny (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), and, of course, Simon Pellaud (Switzerland).
Next up was the first of three category one climbs, the Anzère, 12km-long and the break taking an advantage of six minutes as they started the ascent.
Pellaud was the first over this summit, defending his team-mates lead in the classification before the break began a descent lacking both visibility and dry roads.
Onto the next Lenz climb and 30 seconds had been lopped off the break's gap, Movistar patrolling the front of the bunch, Pellaud again first to the summit, and after the peloton had also finished the climb Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma) and Gorka Izagirre (Astana - Premier Tech) were involved in a crash but were soon back up on their bikes.
Onto the 40km flat transfer back through the start town for a loop before the mountainous finale, the rain wasn't abating and Ineos were lurking ominously behind the Movistar train, Geraint Thomas only 14 seconds off the overall lead at the start of the day.
Magnus Cort took the intermediate sprint, the Dane the virtual leader on the road, only 59 seconds behind Soler.
At the start of the penultimate Suen climb, 13.7km in length with an average gradient of 6.7 per cent, the escapees still had six minutes over the bunch, with 55km to the finish line.
Bizzarely, the Swiss national team then started riding on the front despite their rider Simon Pellaud having set up his usual shop off the front in the breakaway, Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) soon spotted going backwards yet again.
Mads Wurtz Schmidt was then soon dropped from the escapees with 50km remaining, as Holmes set the pace up the climb in aid of team-mate Goossens, the gap now at five and a half minutes.
Suter was soon also distanced in the peloton, making Switzerland's tactics even more perplexing, the national team soon dropping from the front and Movistar reassuming their position, the bunch really thinning out now.
Word then came through that the first 3km of the descent of the Suen, the steepest part, would be neutralised due to the wet roads and poor visibility.
Over the top of the climb and the breakaway's advantage was around 3-45, Goossens pipping Pellaud to maximum KOM points and taking the lead in that classification.
Although the time gaps were supposedly frozen for the neutralised descent, the breakaway had taken 45 seconds back off the peloton as racing got underway once more.
Cort and Cerny then tried to jump away from their breakaway companions, but only momentarily, as Schmidt found himself being reeled back in by the bunch.
Cort then took another three bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint, towards the end of the flat section, his deficit to Soler now only 53 seconds, and the gap now above five minutes.
With 25km remaining Movistar were still directing the peloton, although the gap wasn't budging for the moment as the break started the final climb to the summit finish.
Thyon 2000 was 20.7km long with an average gradient of 7.6 per cent. Holmes was soon dropped, paying for his efforts earlier in the day, before Cerny also followed suit.
As the gap crept out to six minutes, Owain Doull took over on the front for Ineos Grenadiers. Cort and Pelitti then decided to dispense with Goossens and Pellaud, setting off alone as the visibility began to reduce once more.
Soler still had Villella, Cataldo and Miguel Ángel López for company as only around 30 riders remained in the reduced peloton. Under 15km to go and the gap was now five and a half minutes to the front of the race.
Ineos then took it up once more, Eddie Dunbar leading with Rohan Dennis slotted in behind, taking half a minute off the gap.
11km to the summit, Cort and Pelitti now 4-30 ahead, Pellaud trying to chase back, a minute and half behind in no man's land for the timebeing.
Cort soon dropped his final breakaway companion as it ticked under 10km to go, the Dane going off in search of the stage win and race lead, with 8.5km to go the gap was now 3-45.
Michael Woods went for a bit of off-roading, not as part of the latest EF Gone Racing installment, but just losing control for a brief moment as he took his rain jacket off, quickly regaining contact with the tarmac.
As Cort's advantage began to thin, Marc Soler went off the front with 6.6km to go, looking to protect his yellow jersey, riding away from the Ineos train. The Spaniard couldn't get away but had shaken things up.
Richie Porte had now been dropped, third overall at the start of the day, Dennis leading the much-reduced peloton now, who soon caught Pellaud.
Inside the final 5km, Cort only three minutes ahead now, and BikeExchange's Lucas Hamilton attacked, the Aussie only 35 seconds in arrears of the GC lead.
The time gaps then disappeared from the live coverage, given the visibility it was a minor miracle live race pictures had stayed intact up to this point.
Michael Woods was the next to test his legs, going off the front, Sepp Kuss found going backwards, as riders tried to get on Woods' wheel.
Cort took on a gel with 4km to go, holding out the wrapper while the moto took an age to take it from his hand, the EF-Nippo rider clearly starting to hurt.
Obscured in the limited view of the road, Pelitti had been lurking just behind Cort, overtaking the Dane, but then TV cameras snapped to Michael Woods who had bridged the gap first to Cort and then on to Pelitti's wheel, soon dropping him too.
Woods was only 30 seconds behind Soler, in the GC and with 10 seconds for the first across the line it was going to be close.
But then with 3km to go, Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos) clipped off the front of the GC group.
Thomas soon left Masnada and Ben O'Connor behind, though, going off in search of Woods, who could just be spotted ahead in the distance.
With little over 2km to go, Thomas had joined Woods. Behind, Soler was losing touch with Izagirre, as the rest of the GC group splintered up the final section of the ascent.
Under the flamme rouge and Thomas and Woods had 50 seconds over Soler, the Spaniard out of the running for the GC now.
Woods put in a little dig in the lead up to the sprint for the line, Thomas matching him for now, but the Welshman came tumbling down in a bizarre-looking crash, leaving Woods to comfortably take both the stage win and race lead.
Tour de Romandie 2021, stage four: Sion to Thyon 2000 (161.3km)
1. Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-Up Nation, in 4-58-35
2. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën, at 17 seconds
3. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 21s
4. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) BikeExchange, at 34s
5. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 37s
6. Richie Porte (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers, at 42s
7. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana - Premier Tech, at same time
8. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, at 52s
9. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 53s
10. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Team DSM, at 1-57
General classification after stage four
1. Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-Up Nation, in 17-37-35
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 11 seconds
3. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën, at 21s
4. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 33s
5. Richie Porte (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers, at 36s
6. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 45s
7. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana - Premier Tech, at 48s
8. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) BikeExchange, at 49s
9. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1-04
10. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-58
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