Kittel gets his stage win
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Those opening stage wins saw him wear the leader’s yellow jersey both times, and many expected him to repeat that feat on stage one of this year’s Grand Boucle.
He managed second behind stage one winner Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), the first time he’s lost to the Manxman in a straight sprint, and could only manage seventh on stage three – again won by Cavendish.
On paper, stage four may have suited him less than stages one and three due to the slightly steeper incline up to the finish line.
As the peloton went under the flamme rouge, Etixx-Quick Step were nowhere and it looked like Kittel would not be competing for the win.
However, they reformed fast and took their man towards the finish where he proved too strong for Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).
Positioning stops Cavendish from making it three out of four
Green jersey holder, winner of two of the three opening stages and now up to second in the record books for stage wins, Cavendish would certainly have had his eye on another win.
The amount of road furniture in the closing kilometres disrupted the leadouts and Cavendish found himself without any teammates in the closing several hundred metres.
Forced across to the barrier and then unable to find a way through the riders who’d thought they had a chance in the stage but soon found themselves losing speed, Cavendish could not find a way through.
Coming over in eighth, with Sagan pushing for third, means that it’s the Slovak who takes over the lead in the green jersey competition.
Cavendish will still wear the jersey on stage five, as a result of Sagan retaining the overall lead, but the he’ll only be the caretaker rather than the owner.
Watch: Tour de France 2016 stage four highlights
Huge differences between Kittel’s and Coquard’s sprints
Kittel is one of the bigger riders in the peloton with his broad shoulders and powerful frame. Coquard is much smaller and so should have had an aerodynamic advantage.
While Kittel powered his way to the finish, with almost a static upper body over the bike, Coquard was rocking all over the place and throwing his bike around.
The Direct Energie sprinter was coming up fast but could not throw his wayward bike over the line in time to pass the big German.
Dan McLay is having a great debut
British rider Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) is riding his first Tour de France, and has been in the mix with the world’s best sprinters so far.
With growing confidence and increased experience expect to see him challenging for top five and higher on future stages.
Seventh on stage four, one place ahead of Cavendish, and ninth on both stages one and three, the wildcard sprinter has been there or thereabouts when it matters.
Taking on his own advice and learning as he goes will bode well for the 24-year-old in the coming two and a half weeks of racing.
We can all look forward to a hilly day on stage five
Stage four was nowhere near as dull as stage three, but nor was it particularly thrilling. A fairly formulaic day with a breakaway out the front, left to dangle and then swallowed up as the leadout trains thundered towards the finish.
The closing kilometres were a bit more entertaining as there was a lot of road furniture slowing the progress of some teams more than others.
Then there was the inevitable, if scrappy, sprint finish. But now we can all look forward to what we hope will be a more exciting day on stage five.
The route of the fifth stage includes six categorised climbs and should bring the GC contenders out of the bunch for the first time this year.
The stage win could go to someone like Julian Alaphilippe or his Etixx teammate Dan Martin rather than an out and out overall contender, but we’re sure to see the likes of Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana towards the front at the end of the stage.