The Ineos strategy for flat days like stage four into Nancy is simple and well-tested – try to stay out of trouble, gather at the front of bunch when it threatens, then let the sprinters scrap for the spoils once inside the final three kilometres.
Almost the only time Ineos’s burgundy jerseys were very apparent at the sharp end of the peloton was in the final half dozen kilometres, when Michał Kwiatkowski hammered along for the best part of two kilometres with a line of team-mates on his wheel. Once the Pole pulled aside, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal stayed out of trouble, another stage completed, another day closer to the first significant mountain test at La Planche des Belles Filles on Thursday.
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“It was a nice day until 50k to go and then it went crazy. It got a bit manic and stressful, so I’m happy to get that day ticked off,” said Thomas. “I feel like I’m getting in the groove now, that I’m ready [for the mountains] and I’m looking forward to it.”
Like his rivals, the defending champion regularly stresses that he takes each day at a time and will be looking to negotiate what could be a tricky stage five that skirts the edge of the Vosges massif before the finish in Colmar. After his Tour preparations were complicated by the crash that put him out of the Tour de Suisse, he looks increasingly confident.
“I think the fact that the majority of the big days are on stage 13 and beyond, with the exception of La Planche des Belles Filles, does suit me given the lack of racing I’ve had,” he said. “That stage will be a nice test, but so far, so good.”
While Ineos boss Dave Brailsford acknowledges it’s still too early to judge how his two leaders will shape up against their rivals, he too is pleased with what he’s seen so far.
“We’ve only seen little glimpses of how the riders in the GC battle might fare. We’ve not seen a climb long enough yet to see any significant action,” he said at the finish in Nancy.
“But the team time trial was interesting. Geraint rode very well in that time trial and Egan didn’t have any trouble. In fact I think he was better in this team time trial than the last one he rode.”
Brailsford also played down Thomas’s lack of racing on big climbs in recent weeks. “He might be lacking mountain racing but he’s been doing a lot of mountain training. If you look at the Giro, for instance, I think that lasted about 90 hours and our guys put in 118 hours in training. They weren’t sitting on their arses,” he said.