Stage wins in all three Grand Tours for Elia Viviani
Elia Viviani has now claimed stage victory in all three Grand Tours, finally adding a Tour de France sprint to his palmarès after a long wait.
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Stage four was surprisingly Viviani’s first ever Tour stage win, despite the dominance of the Deceuninck – Quick-Step sprinter in recent seasons.
After missing out on the yellow jersey on stage one by some margin, only managing ninth, Viviani and his Quick-Step train would not be denied in the second sprint opportunity of the Tour de France 2019, with even race leader Julian Alaphilippe chipping in to drive the pace in the final kilometres.
Viviani suffered disastrous Giro d’Italia, leaving the race without a stage win after being stripped of glory for dangerous sprinting, with his confidence taking a major hit in the process.
But the 30-year-old found himself once more at the Tour de Suisse in June, taking two stage wins, which set him up perfectly for only his second time riding the French Grand Tour.
Viviani’s talent for delivering when pressure is high has contributed to his significant number of his 74 careers wins and he proved his ability once more on the biggest stage there is.
Quick-Step uncharacteristically relied on a more complete lead-out train to see out the tight final few kilometres on stage four, with Michal Mørkøv and Max Richeze leading Viviani until the very final moments – a departure from Viviani’s usual style of using his riders to guide him to rival trains and capitalising on their momentum.
It proved to be a perfectly-called tactic by the Belgian team, with Viviani simply the fastest man when the lead-outs were done.
This victory also propels Viviani into second place in the points classification, 23 points behind the favourite Peter Sagan, making that competition a slightly more competitive affair.
Huge confidence boost for Alexander Kristoff
One rider who can take a big boost from stage four is UAE Team Emirates’ towering powerhouse Alexander Kristoff.
Kristoff’s position within the team became uncertain at the start of the 2019 season as the younger star Fernando Gaviria came on board, with Kristoff apparently relegated to lead-out rider.
But with Gaviria missing the Tour due to an ongoing knee injury, the big Norwegian found himself back in the spotlight and made his mark with the stage four sprint.
After a fairly anonymous 14th place on stage one, Kristoff came out swinging on the second sprint opportunity, utilising young Belgian sprinter Jasper Philipsen who expertly delivered him to Viviani’s flank on the final straight.
The 32-year-old’s determination was clear as he wrestled, head down, to get the power out, but he was pipped at the line by a faster Viviani.
Despite the near-miss Kristoff can take huge confidence from this second place, and combined with his 2019 Ghent-Wevelgem victory the signs suggest victory awaits.
As a rider who loves attrition, Kristoff was the strongest sprinter left in Paris last year winning the prestigious Champs-Élysées stage, so we could see another late strong performance this year after three weeks of hard racing.
Chaos in the Jumbo-Visma train as Dylan Groenewegen misses out
Dylan Groenewegen could be the fastest sprinter in the world, but so far at the Tour de France he hasn’t had the opportunity to prove it.
Stage one was a disaster for the Dutchman, after he hit the deck at speed in the final few kilometres in Brussels, and stage four was no improvement owing to a baffling team effort from his train.
Into the final kilometre, Groenewegen and his final lead-out rider Mike Teunissen were a long way back but were by no means out of the race given the sprinter’s phenomenal turn of speed.
After regrouping their next move proved somewhat baffling, as Groenewegen opted to move up on the right hand side of the bunch alone, with Teunissen moving left advancing as well.
Groenewegen then tucked in behind the first wave of sprinters and dashed back out to unleash a monster sprint that would have been enough to fight for victory if he had been better-placed, but instead he was forced to settle for fifth.
Meanwhile Teunissen had slipped through the bunch to get on terms with Groenewegen, with the pair finishing side by side at the line with Teunissen just one place behind his leader.
Whether it was a miscommunication that resulted in the disappointment or if it was a tactical misjudgement, Jumbo-Visma need to get on the same page if they want Groenewegen to deliver his potential.
First of the classic Tour de France breakaways
Stage four marked the first of the classic Tour de France breakaways, with three fairly benign riders being gifted their advantage at the top of the day, with the peloton confident of the catch.
Michael Schar (CCC Team) joined Wanty-Gobert team-mates Frederik Backaert and Yoann Offredo in the day’s escape, as the trio enjoyed their day in front of the Tour cameras.
They were caught with plenty of kilometres left to tick off as a fresh bunch was happy to chase them down.
This was a return to tradition for the Tour, after the stages one and three saw some unexpected hitters sneak their way into the breakaway.
On the opening day, it was one-day specialist Greg Van Avermaet may have got some lead-out pulses racing as he tackled familiar Belgian climbs around Brussels, taking the first polka dot jersey of the race in the process. Fortunately for the sprinters, the CCC Team rider sat up without a chase.
Then on stage three it was Tim Wellens who fired himself off the front on a punchy stage to Épernay, making the peloton suffer more as he attacked solo in the final.
It was a concerted effort from the Lotto-Soudal rider, who climbed with aggression and descended with sheer commitment. Sadly it was a mechanical that put Wellen’s effort to sleep at the exact moment Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) launched his winning solo attack.
Stage four could mark the moment the Tour settles into a more comfortable rhythm for the peloton, with sprint day breakaways posing no major danger.
Peter Sagan still front-running in race for green jersey
The Tour may have opened with disappointment for Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), as he narrowly missed out on the stage win and yellow jersey to Jumbo-Visma’s Mike Teunissen, but the former three-time world champion is still on course to make history.
Sagan’s versatility make him the perfect candidate for the Tour de France green jersey competition, as he has proven by winning the points classification on six previous occasions, and he’s still on course to take a record seventh victory.
Currently Sagan is tied with German sprinter Erik Zabel on six green jerseys, but as he currently leads the standing after stage four he could run away with it.
The Slovakian’s second place finish on stage one was followed by a fifth on the final climb of stage three, and fourth on day four – exactly the kind of consistency needed to secure the win over three weeks.
He currently leads with 104 points, as Elia Viviani sits close behind on 81 and Michael Matthews is third on 75.