Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) took his second stage win of the 2018 Tour de France as he out-sprinted Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) on stage four.
After the breakaway made the peloton work hard to catch them with just one kilometre to go, Dimension Data showed strong support for Mark Cavendish as the South African team put two men in front of Cavendish from the flamme rouge.
However didn't seem to have the power to follow the Quick-Step lead-out train which came past Dimension Data on the left-hand side of the road with Fernando Gaviria tucked into the wheel of Macximiliano Richeze with Peter Sagan immediately behind him.
With a small gap to the rest of the sprinters the win seemed destined to go to Gaviria or Sagan, but André Greipel put in a huge effort to come from a long way back and briefly pass Gaviria.
Greipel looked strong but paid for his efforts in the final 80m as Gaviria came past to take the stage win, while Sagan also came around the German on the right-hand side of the road to maintain his lead in the points classification.
Meanwhile the yellow jersey of Greg Van Avermaet finished safely in the bunch to maintain his lead, as did all of the general classification contenders with the exception of Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) who was caught behind a crash with 5.5km to go and lost 56 seconds.
How it happened
After the exertions of Monday's team time trial, the peloton would have been grateful for a long neutralised section rolling away from the glamorous surroundings outside the local Lidl in the middle of La Baule, before the early break escaped straight from the gun.
Having missed out on the break in the first two days, Cofidis put two men in the break on stage four with Dimitri Claeys and Anthony Perez, who were joined by Jérome Cousin (Direct Energie), enjoying his second day in the break after also going up the road on stage one, and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), who will have been grateful of some company after embarking on a massive 190km solo break on stage four of last year's Tour.
With the break safely away, the peloton took a while to do any sort of chasing and the gap to the front of the race quickly went up to nearly eight minutes after 30km. Eventually the peloton decided that the gap was getting a little too big with BMC Racing, protecting the lead of Greg Van Avermaet, moving to the front to stabilise the gap at around seven minutes.
That gap remained steady for much of the first half of the stage, but as they approached the stage's intermediate sprint with 97.5km to go the gap tumbled to just 3-30.
While Van Keirsbulck led the break through the intermediate sprint, the peloton was headed by Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) ahead of André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and the green jersey of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), a result that saw Sagan's lead at the top of the points classification trimmed by two points.
Surprisingly the gap continued to fall after the intermediate sprint, crashing down to just 2-15 with 85km to go as Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) controlled the front of the bunch.
From there the gap steadied for the next 40km as the peloton and break both ticked along, before the pace went up both in the peloton and at the front of the race with 40km to go.
Tim De Clercq (Quick-Step Floors) was responsible for doing much of the chasing in the peloton which also saw a couple of minor crashes. However the breakaway was putting up a serious fight as De Clercq failed to make in-roads and the gap remained at 2-30 with 25km to go.
Quick-Step Floors were getting no help at the front of the bunch and the gap wasn't coming down as quickly as the sprinters' teams would have liked with the break still holding a lead of 1-10 as they entered the final 10km.
With the gap still over a minute with nine kilometres to go Dimension Data lent Quick-Step a hand on the front, but the pace still looked easy as Lawson Craddock, nursing a fractured vertebrae and stitches above his eye after a crash on stage one, was able to free wheel in the wheels at the back of the bunch.
Bora-Hansgrohe also joined the chase with seven kilometres to go to bring the gap down to 45 seconds with Lukas Pöstlberger and Marcus Burghardt contributing, but still leaving some of the work to Quick-Step's Niki Terpstra who had already worked hard in the previous 20km.
With five kilometres to go the break's lead was still at 40 seconds, before the bunch's chase was disrupted by a large crash which brought down around 10 riders with Rigobert Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) getting caught behind and having to chase with his team-mates before making it back on. However there was not such good news for Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) who was also caught up but unable to regain contact.
The gap to the leaders was down to 15 seconds with 2.5km to go as Team Sky showed their faces on the front of the bunch, before the catch was finally made under the flamme rouge thanks to an input of pace from UAE Team Emirates.
However it was Dimension Data who led from the kilometre-to-go marker, before Maximiliano Richeze (Quick-Step) moved up quickly on the left-hand side of the road to put Gaviria in a perfect position.
Sprinting from a long way back, André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) briefly passed the Colombian before running out of gas and fading to third place as Gaviria took the win by a wheel ahead of Sagan.
The yellow jersey of Greg Van Avermaet finished in 16th place to hold on to the yellow jersey ahead of Wednesday's hilly 204.5 stage between Lorient and Quimper.
Tour de France 2018, stage four: La Baule to Sarzeau (195km)
1. Fernando Gaviria (Col) Quick-Step Floors, in 4-25-01
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal
4. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
5. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin
6. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
7. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
8. John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
9. Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
10. Timothy Dupont (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert, all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, in 13-33-56
2. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing, at same time
3. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at 3s
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors, at 5s
5. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors, at 7s
6. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, st
7. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 11s
8. Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb
9. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb, all same time
10. Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education-First Drapac, at 34s
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Henry Robertshaw began his time at Cycling Weekly working with the tech team, writing reviews, buying guides and appearing in videos advising on how to dress for the seasons. He later moved over to the news team, where his work focused on the professional peloton as well as legislation and provision for cycling. He's since moved his career in a new direction, with a role at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
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