Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) won stage four of the 2019 Tour de France in a tight sprint finish where lead out trains negotiated narrow and furniture-littered streets following a traditional breakaway chase for much of the stage.
The Italian proved himself to be the smartest and the fastest in the final metres, edging Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) into second with Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) third.
Points jersey leader Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) just missed out on the podium in fourth, whilst arguably disorganisation in the Team Jumbo-Visma camp meant Dylan Groenewegen came fifth and Mike Teunissen sixth.
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It was a good day for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, with Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe maintaining his place at the top of the general classification, which saw no change from the previous day.
How it happened
The 213.5 kilometre stage from Reims to Nancy opened with a relatively flat first 100 kilometres, with wide roads almost designed to lure a breakaway. However, two categorised climbs, including the Côte de Maron 15 km ahead of the finish waited, keen to disrupt their rhythm, before a flat 1.5km to the finish.
The three escapees played their hand early on, with Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team fielding Yoann Offredo and Frederik Backaert into the break, to be joined by Michael Schär (CCC).
The trio had built up an impressive gap of three minutes with 201 kilometres remaining to race, however, this distance held steady for some time as teams controlled the pace.
The gap hovered at a consistent three minutes with little alarm emerging in the peloton.
With 118km to go, a crash took down Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale), plus Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe), Serge Pauwels (CCC), Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale), Joey Rosskopf (CCC), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal) and Christophe Laporte (Confidis).
All of the fallen riders remounted to continue, the peloton trailing its escapees by 3-10 with 100km to go.
Summiting the Côte des Rosieres with 92km left to the line, Schär accelerated to hoover up the mountain points, whilst behind Lotto-Soudal, Deceuninck-Quick-Step and Jumbo-Visma pulled the peloton along. The gap had increased marginally, though, to 3-26.
Reaching the intermediate sprint with 65 kilometres to go, it was the CCC rider who won the lions share of the points, ahead of Offredo and Backaert. However, the peloton had begun to gather steam, the gap dropping into the region of two minutes with 70km left, and 1-19 come the 56km mark, where Backaert won the next intermediate sprint, though Peter Sagan still topped the tables in the green jersey competition.
In the peloton, a crash brought down EF Education First’s Michael Woods, but he sustained minimal damage and was soon back chasing at the 52km mark. With the distance left to race down to 45km, the break’s advantage had sunk below the minute mark, to 54s whilst the average speed of the peloton hovered at 40.5kph.
With around 15 km to go before the final climb of the day – the Côte de Maron – Schär attacked his breakaway companions, having remained largely the dominant force of the three from the start. His surge in pace distanced Offredo whilst Backaert hung tight to Schär’s wheel.
The flurry of activity increased the sinking gap by nine seconds, but the clock still sat at 47s with 27km left, reducing to 26s come the 20km mark as Jumbo-Visma drove the pace behind.
Onto the slopes of the Côte de Maron, a 2.9km ascent at 5.1 per cent, Schär accelerated again, leaving Backaert behind to drift back to the peloton like his Wanty team mate. It wasn’t far to go, though, with the bunch only 15s adrift. The final catch was made soon after, at the 16km mark – a train of red and black Sunweb riders completing the junction.
Taking his chances, Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Energie) put in a surge to escape from the bunch, but it wasn’t to be his day on the top spot. He was allowed to pedal out front alone for 4km, until the 6km to go mark.
A large roundabout with 2km to go forced lead out trains to work hard, but the peloton made it safely around. Coming into the finish, all of the fast men had well organised trains, and it was Viviani who crossed the line first, with Kristoff second and Ewan taking the third place.
Bizarrely, Dylan Groenewegen became detached from expected lead out man, Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma), with the pair taking fifth and sixth behind Peter Sagan.
Tour de France 2019, stage four: Reims to Nancy (213.5km)
1 Elia Viviani (Ita) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 5-09-20
2 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
3 Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto-Soudal
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
5 Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma
6 Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma
7 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Dimension Data
8 Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
9 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
10 Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis Solutions Credits, at same time
General Classification after stage four
1 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 14-41-39
2 Wout Van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma at 20s
3 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma at 25s
4 George Bennett (NZl) Team Jumbo-Visma, at same time
5 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb at 40s
6 Egan Bernal (Col) Team Ineos, at same time
7 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Ineos at 45s
8 Enric Mas (Esp) Deceuninck-Quick-Step at 46s
9 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team at 51s
10 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb, at same time