Analysis from the fourth stage of the 2018 Tour de France
Gaviria doubles up
Despite Fernando Gaviria dominating the Giro d’Italia with four stage wins in 2017 and winning the points competition, there was still a question mark over whether he could produce the goods in the same manner against the Tour de France’s illustrious line-up of the world’s best sprinters.
The 24-year-old has shown that he’s firing faster than the rest right now though, even world champion Peter Sagan. His Quick-Step team helped deliver him into the maillot jaune with his victory on stage one, and he only missed out on two consecutive stages due to a late crash on stage two, which was eventually won by Sagan.
Gaviria’s second win on Tuesday’s stage four was seriously impressive though. Not only did all the big names make it towards the front, but he had to launch a long range sprint to match the powerful André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and beat a late surging Sagan to the line.
The Colombian never looked like fading as he powered clear in the middle of the road, benefiting from a near perfect lead out from Max Richeze which meant he didn’t have to fight for position.
Gaviria will be the main focus from the rival sprinters heading into the next flat stages of this Tour, but its hard to look past him potentially continuing to dominate the sprints.
Cavendish fails to feature again
It’s been a tough year for Mark Cavendish. With so many crashes and lack of racing time, it never looked like he would hit the ground running at the Tour.
Up until today though, he has, for a variety of reasons, not actually been involved in the business end of a sprint stage. Today changed that though, with his Dimension Data team working hard to pull back the breakaway in the final 5km and then looking set to lead out Cavendish for the finish.
With Gaviria moving up the left side of the rode with Richeze in front and Sagan behind, it looked like the Manxman had chose the wrong wheel as he sat behind a Trek-Segafredo rider in the centre of the road. With the other sprinters now clicking into gear to try and catch Gaviria, he suddenly looked surrounded and unable to get a clear run.
Even so, the 33-year-old looked far from his sharpest as he grimaced behind the chasing sprinters, and eventually sat up and finished down in 21st place.
There’s plenty more opportunities to come for sprints in this Tour, so there’s hope Cavendish can build his way to a bit of form as the race progresses and we can see him back to somewhere near his best once again.
Breakaway goes close
Let’s cut to the chase, today was not a thrilling day at the Tour.
Four men in Cofidis pair Dimitri Claeys and Anthony Perez, as well as Jérome Cousin (Direct Energie) and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) went up the road from the drop of the flag and were left to their own devices for much of the day.
There was an inevitability about the fact they would eventually be caught, but the peloton had some trouble in managing the break’s time gap within the last 100km. After the intermediate sprint with 85km to go the gap fell down from almost 3-30 to just over two minutes as Lotto-Soudal controlled the bunch.
Not wanting to make the catch too early though, the pace from peloton was dropped somewhat and before we knew it, the break had managed to get to 25km to go with 2-30 in hand.
Quick-Step were charged with controlling things, but struggled to peg back the fighting foursome out front, who still had over a minute within the final 10km.
Bora-Hansgrohe and Dimension Data finally began to push the pace in the final 7km or so, but a crash in the middle of the peloton with 5km to go delayed the catch even further.
With the gap down to around 10 seconds inside 2km to go, the three Frenchman in the break left Van Keirsbulck to it, with the Belgian looking strong throughout the stage. He’d been out on his own this time last year on stage four of the Tour, knocking off around 200km by himself before being over shadowed by that Sagan/Cavendish incident.
The Wanty man tried to hold off for as long as he could, but as the race entered the flamme rouge he saw the writing on the wall and sat up to end the day’s break.
A brief moment of excitement in an otherwise strongly dull day of racing.
Zakarin loses out to crash
One GC rider who won’t look at today’s flat stage as another day ticked off will be Ilnur Zakarin.
The Russian was caught up in that crash with 5km to go and eventually lost a minute on the stage, dropping 27 places on GC to 1-51 down.
But while it could be put down to sheer bad luck if he was caught out and then his Katusha-Alpecin team-mates weren’t able to bring him to a rampaging peloton, it can only be put down to disorganisation that he eventually crossed the finish line alone.
Zakarin only seemed to have Robert Kiserlovski around to try to rescue some time, with his other team-mates either trying to lead-out Kittel for a sprint or nowhere to be seen.
Rigoberto Uran, who was also brought down in the same crash, was able to make it back to the main bunch thanks to the work of two or three team-mates.
His EF Education First-Drapac team will be pleased that they were able to rescue their leader from some late drama, while Katusha are going to be hoping they can learn from this quickly.
Tomorrow looks lumpy
After a number of flat stages and a team time trial, tomorrow’s long 204.5km route from Lorient to Quimper looks like a mini Ardennes Classic.
The 3km climb to the finish will bring out the likes of Philippe Gilbert and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Daniel Martin (UAE Team Emirates) in potential bids for a stage win or to make up some lost time on GC.
It’ll be the first day that Greg Van Avermaet will see his yellow jersey come under threat, and his BMC Racing team will need to be attentive if they’re to keep the lead and protect Richie Porte on what should be an exciting day of racing.