Wout van Aert out-sprinted Julian Alaphilippe to the line on the Great Orme climb after a spectacular fourth stage of the Tour of Britain.
The Jumbo-Visma leader was almost distanced by the world champion from Deceuninck - Quick-Step on the steepest gradients but managed to re-find the power needed to sprint to the line.
Race leader Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) was gapped twice on the climb, but most importantly in the final sprint which meant Van Aert re-took the overall blue leader's jersey.
There were multiple attacks through the second half of the day with various big names chancing their arm including Marc Soler (Movistar), but it was down to the GC hopefuls to go for the stage win.
How it happened
The fourth stage of the 2021 Tour of Britain started in the Welsh seaside town of Aberaeron before taking on another challenging day in the harsh heat over 210km, with a six-man breakaway getting away right from the flag drop.
The flag drop came, unusually, from a standing start as the race organisers stopped the peloton at the official start line so a rider could get back on, making the start a rather frantic one.
The six riders who got up the road were Jokin Murguialday (Caja Rural), Jacob Scott (Canyon-dbh-SunGod), Ollie Peckover (SwiftCarbon), Nicolas Sessler (Global 6), Bob Donaldson (Great Britain) and local boy Gruff Lewis (Ribble-Weldtite).
Ineos Grenadiers were happy with the break taking a large gap of almost 10 minutes until Jumbo-Visma, Deceuninck - Quick-Step and Israel Start-Up Nation all added a rider to the chase for their leaders, swiftly bringing the gap back down to around two minutes.
On the second climb of the day, Eidda’s Well, which was 9.5km at an average of 4.6 per cent gradient, there was a kick on out of the peloton by Spanish Grand Tour stage winner, Marc Soler (Movistar) who was followed by Trinity Racing duo Tom Gloag and Irish champion Ben Healy.
They made it across to the breakaway just over the top of the climb with 60km to go but the peloton’s gap to the break had also plummeted to 37 seconds. Deceuninck - Quick-Step, Jumbo-Visma and Israel Start-Up Nation all absolutely hammered the pace to try and bring the now nine-man break.
The speed did seem to slacken a touch on the next uncategorised climb with 50 seconds, however, as Swiss champion and former runner up at Paris-Roubaix, Silvan Dillier (Alpecin-Fenix) went on an attack with 45km to go. Dillier’s move didn’t last long as he was quickly brought back.
Rory Townsend (Canyon-dhb-SunGod), Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), James Shaw (Ribble-Weldtite) and Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma) all went on the attack with 43km to go and they made it across to the break almost immediately.
It all came back together four kilometres later on a very technical descent as they headed to the final intermediate sprint in Dolgarrog as the pace was briefly knocked off. Another move then went away with Townsend kicking again but second overall, Rohan Dennis (Ineos Grenadiers) neutralised it.
Townsend kept punching with Dario Cataldo (Movistar) and Sean Bennett (Qhubeka-NextHash) but it was stopped by Deceuninck - Quick-Step with 34km to go as the pace dropped yet again.
Finally, a new trio was allowed to escape, with Mauro Schmid (Qhubeka-NextHash), Max Kanter (DSM) and David González (Caja Rural) getting away with 31km to go.
All of the three main favourites for the Tour of Britain, race leader Hayter, Alaphilippe and Van Aert were all close to the front of the race before heading to the coastal town of Conwy with 24km to go.
Oddly, Rally Cycling and Alpecin-Fenix moved to the front with 24km to go and a gap of 22 seconds up to the new breakaway. Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers also started their own trains with 21km to go as they protected their leaders.
Kanter went pop with 20km to go and backed into the peloton. The rest of the break was brought back with 16km to go as the race speed upped yet again. Davide Ballerini dragged Alaphilippe to the front as they built up for the penultimate climb of Marine Drive, 1.2km at an average gradient of six per cent with a maximum of almost 10 per cent.
Ineos Grenadiers hit the front as they came around the headland in Llandudno with 10km to go with Hayter position well for the Marine Drive climb. Owain Doull made sure that the pace was rapid but Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) attacked hard as Ineos’ numbers dropped with 6km to go, taking a 10-second gap over the top.
Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck - Quick-Step took over from Ineos as they hit the base of the Great Orme with 2km to go.
Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) was the first to dig on the steep slopes followed by Van Aert, Alaphilippe, Mikkel Honoré, and a Caja Rural rider, with Hayter setting his pace just behind.
Woods kicked again as Van Aert looked to be turning himself inside out. Alaphilippe attacked hard putting Van Aert into difficulty but Woods and Van Aert made it onto the world champion as Hayter continued to chase with 900 metres to go.
The race leader was chasing with Honoré sitting on his wheel as Van Aert started pushing the pace. Hayter made it back with 400 metres to go as Honoré hit the front hard.
This was perfect for his leader Alaphilippe and Van Aert as it gapped Hayter again. Alaphilippe and Van Aert launched their sprint with the Belgian champion managing to pip the world champion on the line, taking his second stage win and retaking the leader's jersey.
Stage five moves back into England with a start in Alderley Park before heading over a few climbs in the first half of the day before it flattens out with a likely sprint finish in Warrington after 152.2km.
Tour of Britain 2021, stage four: Aberaeron to Llandudno, The Great Orme (210km)
1. Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma, in 5-04-22
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at the same time
3. Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-Up Nation, at one second
4. Mikkel Honoré (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 4s
5. Ethan Hayter (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 8s
6. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 13s
7. Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Alpecin-Fenix, at 16s
8. Simon Clarke (Aus) Team Qhubeka-NextHash, at same time
9. Sergio Martín (Esp) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, at 27s
10. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team DSM, at 29s.
General classification after stage four
1. Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma, in 14-44-49
2. Ethan Hayter (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 2s
3. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 11s
4. Mikkel Honoré (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 21s
5. Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 40s
6. Rohan Dennis (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers, at 44s
7. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 56s
8. Kristian Sbragli (Ita) Alpecin-Fenix, at 1-13
9. Mark Donovan (GBr) Team DSM, at 1-34
10. Xandro Meurisse (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, at 1-38.
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