Nacer Bouhanni put his winning drought behind him with an emphatic victory on stage four of the Saudi Tour.
The rambunctious Arkéa-Samsic Frenchman would not be denied in a chaotic sprint, launched 200 metres from the line, and held off Niccoló Bonifazio (Total Direct Energie) to take his first win since the 2018 Vuelta a España.
A hectic day of general classification racing offered some tense moments as race leader Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-McLaren) was forced to chase down his nearest rival Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) after suffering a puncture, but splits in the peloton didn’t stick and the race came down to a bunch gallop.
Despite a hard-fought stage by Bahrain-McLaren and Bauhaus, Bouhanni now leads the race thanks to bonus seconds at the line.
How it happened
Stage four of the inaugural Saudi Tour was an unusual stage, starting in Wadi Namar in the south of the capital Riyadh and finishing at the Al Muzahimiya King Saud University over 137km.
The course featured three climbs, the first of which came at 33km and was 1.3km at 7.85 per cent, before the peloton tackled two identical ascents of the Qiddiya climb (3.5km at 6.6 per cent) at 92 and 115km.
After tough racing kicked off the stage, seven riders formed the day’s breakaway with riders from all of the smaller teams represented, included Britain’s Jacob Tipper for Ribble-Weldtite.
The breakaway built their advantage to around five minutes with 60km to race, when UAE Team Emirates began to drill the front of the bunch to cause splits with around 40km to the line.
Despite the best efforts of Costa and his team, the peloton came back together and race leader Bauhaus kept the jersey on the road.
But disaster then struck Bauhaus when he suffered a puncture 26km from the line as the pace ramped up towards the last climb of the day.
Bahrain-McLaren sat up and waited for their leader, but it would take a huge effort to get the German back in touch with his nearest rival Costa.
Costa used the climb to extend the gap on the chasing Bahrain squad, gaining more than a minute on the road as part of a nine rider group.
Bauhaus made it back into the bunch, in park thanks to an enormous effort on the climb from Mark Cavendish, who stopped in his tracks at the end of his turn on the front, as Costa caught the breakaway.
The peloton was then reinvigorated on the flat run to the line by the return of the Bahrain riders and set off in pursuit of Costa, who found himself in a two-up time trial with a Circus-Wanty Gobert rider.
But inside 3km the peloton caught the leaders after Bauhaus put in a turn on the front himself, with Costa launching his bidon in anger at the catch.
Attacks then kicked off the front of the peloton at 2km, but nothing stuck as the peloton spread wide across the four-lane road, setting up a hugely chaotic run.
Inside the final kilometre, Total Direct Energie hit the front for Bonifazio but Bouhanni launched his sprint first 200m out.
Head tucked down and rocking over the bike, Bouhanni fired in front and comfortably held off Bonfizio who left his move too late and had to settle for second on the stage .
Bouhanni takes the leader’s jersey from Bauhaus with two seconds over the German.
Costa appears to have had troubles in the final and finished 15 seconds down and slipped back to ninth overall, with Youcef Reguigui (Terngganu Inc-TSG) now third overall at 14 seconds.
Saudi Tour 2020, stage four: Wadi Namar Park to Al Muzahimiya King Saud University (137km)
1. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Arkéa-Samsic, in 3-21-55
2. Niccoló Bonifazio (Ita) Total Direct Energie
3. Yevgeniy Gidich (Kaz) Astana
4. Damiano Cima (Ita) Gazprom-RusVelo
5. Ivo Oliveira (Por) UAE Team Emireates
6. Adrien Garel (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept
7. Orluis Aular (Ven) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
8. Stephen Bassett (USA) Rally Cycling
9. Vladislav Kulikov (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo
10. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-McLaren, all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Arkéa-Samsic, in 14-34-49
2. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-McLaren, at 2s
3. Youcef Reguigui (Iri) Terngganu Inc-TSG, at 14s
4. Carlos Barbero (Esp) NTT Pro Cycling, at 16s
5. Sergei Chernetski (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo, at 17s
6. Andreas Kron (Den) Riwal Readynez, at same time
7. Geoffrey Soupe (Fra) Total Direct Energie, at 18s
8. August jensen (Nor) Riwal Readynez, at same time
9. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 20s
10. Ramūnas Navardauskas (Lit) Nippo Delko One Provence, at 28s