Primož Roglič secured his position as the favourite for the yellow jersey in the 2020 Tour de France, with an effortless victory on the first summit finish of the race.
The final climb to Orciéres-Merlette was the first real mountain test of this year’s edition, but all the overall contenders were equal to the task with no major time splits by the line.
But it was Jumbo-Visma’s Roglič who proved himself the strongest on the day, as he comfortably held a high pace for the entire climb and launched a powerful sprint for the line in the final 200 metres.
Roglič took his first stage of the 2020 Tour, with UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogačar close behind in second to make it a Slovenian one-two, and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) closing out the podium.
Despite being isolated on the final climb, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) kept pace with the general classification favourites, finishing fifth and holding onto the yellow jersey for another day.
How it happened
Stage four of the Tour de France 2020 marked a new phase of the race, as it was the first mountain finish of this edition and the first chance for the general classification contenders to show their strength.
The 160.5km day ran from Sisteron to Orciéres-Merlette, a legendary Tour de France climb which has not featured in the race since 1989.
But before the peloton could face the final test, riders had to tackle four other categorised climbs.
The first was the Col du Festre (8.4km at 5.2 per cent), which crested 67km into the stage, which was followed by the Côte-de-Corpes (2.3km at 6.4 per cent) at 97km.
Then it was onto the Côte de L’Aullagnier (2.7km at 6.4 per cent) and penultimate climb, Côte de Saint-Lèger-les-Mélèzes, which both came between the 123 and 140km marks.
Finally it was onto Orcières – 7.1km-long with an average gradient of 6.7 per cent and a finish altitude of 1,800 metres.
The fight for the day’s breakaway started immediately and a group formed very quickly, with six riders being allowed a short leash.
Made up of Nils Politt, Krists Neilands (Israel Start-Up Nation), Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R La Mondiale), Tiesj Benoot (Sunweb), Quentin Pacher (B&B Hotels) and Mathieu Burgaudeau (Total Direct Energie), the group built their advantage to the four-minute mark while Deceuninck – Quick-Step were more than happy to control the proceedings for their race leader Alaphilippe.
With Rémi Cavagna and Tim Declerq pulling on the front all day, Deceuninck gradually reeled the break back in over the day’s climbs, with the gap down to under two minutes with 25km to race.
Drama hit the race on the descent from the Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes when Benoot ran wide on a gentle left and turn and hit the barrier, destroying his bike in the process.
The Belgian was unhurt and able to get back on a new bike, but unsurprisingly slipped back from the breakaway and joined the peloton.
Finally the escapees began to fall back as the final climb approached, with Nielands the last rider standing but finally being caught at the very foot ascent.
The next four kilometres were tense but uneventful, as Quick-Step continued to ride with purpose while Jumbo-Visma, Mitchelton-Scott and Ineos Grenadiers all quietly made their way to the front to show their intention.
With 3km left to race Alaphilippe was left alone, outmanned by the GC favourites as the main group gradually thinned out under the high pace set by Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
But despite the strong trains at the front, none of the favourites would be dropped or tempted into an attack and with 2km left the GC race appeared to be coming to a stalemate.
Into the last 1,500 metres Sep Kuss from Jumbo took up the charge with Primož Roglič on his tail and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) third wheel, the front group finally strung out under the pressure.
At 500m Guillame Martin (Cofidis) gave his best attack but Roglič glued himself to the Frenchman’s wheel, all the favourites still in tow.
Roglič fired his sprint from Martin’s wheel inside the final 200m and powered past, with Tadej Pogačar the only rider close.
But it was Roglič who got clear and raised his arms to win his third career Tour de France stage.
Julian Alaphilippe keeps his race lead with a four-second advantage over Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates, while Roglič now jumps 12 places into third overall.
The Tour de France 2020 route continues with a 183km mostly downhill stage on day five, running from Gap to Privas and likely to end in a sprint finish.
Tour de France 2020, stage four: Sisteron to Orcières-Merlette (160.5km)
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, 4-07-47
2. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
3. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis
4. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa-Samsic
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
6. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana
7. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers
8. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
9. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain-McLaren
10. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 18-07-04
2. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 4 seconds
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 7s
4. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 11s
5. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 13s
6. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 17s
7. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
8. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott
9. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa-Samsic
10. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, all at same time