97th Tour de France
Stage 4 - Cambrai to Reims - 153.5 km (95.2 mi)
07 July 2010
After all the fireworks of yesterday, the peloton was relieved to be riding a relatively calm route on Stage 4. The cobblestones behind them, every remaining rider could focus now on a shorter stage without any real barriers to riding. Many expected a fast stage to develop, as the flat route and the prevailing winds were all running in speed's favor. But the peloton, it seemed, had a different idea after expending so much energy staying as upright as it could on the pave yesterday.
Instead, a breakaway of five riders -- Dimitri Champion (AG2R), Nicolas Vogondy (BBox-Bouygues), Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Francis de Greef (Omega Pharma) and Iban Mayoz (Footon-Servetto) -- gained a minute on the field before even reaching the sixth kilometer of the stage. The peloton, with yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara and his Saxo Bank teammates riding near the front, was content to let the quintet get up the road to fill the role of rabbit for the teams of the greyhound sprinters to chase later in the stage. Within 25km, the five leaders would reach a gap of 3:15... and then the peloton behind shook out of its doldrums, increasing the pace ever so slightly to keep the gap in check and manageable for what they believed would be an inevitable catch.
By this point, 35km into the stage and just through the town of Aisonville-en-Bernoville, Columbia had sent several riders to the front to assist in the chase alongside Saxo Bank. Protecting the interests of their top-dog sprinter, Mark Cavendish, the Columbia muscle combined with Saxo to really drive down the gap. The danger at this point, of course, was pulling things all together too quickly and allowing a different, more dangerous breakaway to form in the integration. Iban Mayoz made it first over the Cote de Vadencourt, the fourth-category climb that offered the only King of the Mountains points on the day. Jerome Pineau, bedecked in the polka-dots of the leader back in the peloton, would see his lead go unchallenged by anyone in this break, Mayoz earning his first three points of the competition with the summit of the Vadencourt (1.6km at 3.9%) to go with the intermediate sprint he took in Walincourt Selvigny right as the break was first consolidating its early gains.
De Greef took the second sprint in Flavigny-Et-Beaurin just before the 50km point of the stage, beating out Mayoz and Vogondy to the line. The gap back to the main field was now under two minutes, the sprinters licking their chops in anticipation of the finishing run into Reims. On the cracker-flat, bend-free roads beyond the feed zone, the gap stayed between 90 seconds and two minutes. The roads stretched so unhindered toward the horizon that, despite the distance between, the hounds behind could clearly see their prey churning the cranks ahead and praying for the salvation that comes with staying away on a break. With nothing to do but ride, it was all a kite-flying exercise -- let out a little string, increase the distance a little, then wind back on the line and reel it in closer.
As the town of Amifontaine neared, the no-man's land between the leaders and the field measured but one minute with forty kilometers left to race. It was all a matter of timing now, as the peloton pulled inch by inch back on the audacious five at the front. The gap had hovered around the 30-second mark for about ten kilometers when the front group reached the final sprint point of the day in Brienne-Sur-Aisne. Once again De Greef took the six points for the victory, crossing the line ahead of Isasi and Vogondy this time as the quintet kept working together in an effort to inflame its fading hopes of reaching the line together and without hundreds of other riders all around.
But it was not to be. Today was definitely a sprinters' day, and as the two sets of riders coursed into the outskirts of Reims the distance between kept falling and falling. With just three kilometers to go, the catch was completed. Then it was time for teams to start jockeying for position at the front, setting up trains to deliver their missiles to the perfect position to launch toward the line in a bid for glory. Columbia, with Mark Renshaw leading out Cavendish, looked to be in prime position for the victory. Thor Hushovd, bedecked in the green jersey of the points leader, was right on his wheel and waiting to slingshot out to steal the win...
... and then they looked over their left shoulder to see, on the opposite side of the road, a blur streaking past in blue and pink Lycra. Alessandro Petacchi, winner of Stage 1, came by with Robbie McEwen and Julian Dean and Robbie Hunter and the rest of the contenders for the stage win in his tow. They swept up the left side, drowning out the chances of Hushovd and Cavendish (who would finish 9th and 12th respectively), everyone trying to get on Petacchi's wheel for that last surge in the slipstream before unleashing that last kick for the win.
No one, though, was getting around Ale-Jet this time. Petacchi, fending off all challengers, brought Lampre its second stage win of the still-young Tour and positioned himself as the primary challenger to Hushovd's defense of the green jersey. Julian Dean, usually the lead-out man for Tyler Farrar but after the American's crash the prime hope in these situations for Garmin, muscled past McEwen and Hunter and Edvald Boasson Hagen to finish as the runner-up. And the biggest winner, despite missing out on a chance for a second straight sprint victory, was undoubtedly Hushovd. Already being tabbed as the likely green jersey winner for the second straight year, Hushovd limited his losses against guys like Petacchi (now ten points behind) and put even more space (65 points) between himself and Cavendish. The young Brit, as Erik Zabel said even before this stage began, was already damn near an insurmountable deficit. By allowing the gap to increase by even just three more points today, it looks more and more like the Manx Missile is hardly in the same form as the rider who took six stage wins in 2009. The sprints are still ferocious, and we get the added benefit of a quieted ego. Instead, the old guard remains as strong as ever, Petacchi showing that experience still counts for something when duking it out at 70+ kilometers an hour...
RESULTS - STAGE 4
- Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 4:49:38
- Julian Dean (Garmin)
- Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)
- Robbie McEwen (Katusha)
- Robbie Hunter (Garmin)
- Sebastien Turgot (Bbox-Bouygues)
- Jose Joaquin Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne)
- Daniel Oss (Liquigas)
- Thor Hushovd (Cervelo)
- Oscar Freire (Rabobank) all s.t.
- Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 18:28:55
- Geraint Thomas (Sky) +0:23
- Cadel Evans (BMC) +0:39
- Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) +0:46
- Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) +1:01
- Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) +1:09
- Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) +1:19
- Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) +1:31
- Alberto Contador (Astana) +1:40
- Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega) +1:42
Nicolas Roche (AG2R)
- Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 80
- Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 70
- Robbie McEwen (Katusha) 62
- Geraint Thomas (Sky) 56
- Jose Joaquin Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne) 49
- Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 44
- Daniel Oss (Liquigas) 40
- Sebastien Turgot (Bbox-Bouygues) 39
- Cadel Evans (BMC) 38
- Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 38
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- Jerome Pineau (Quick Step) 13
- Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 8
- Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) 8
- Maxime Monfort (Columbia) 5
- Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4
- Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) 3
- Iban Mayoz (Footon-Servetto) 3
- Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 3
- Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) 2
Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) 2
Marcus Burghardt (BMC) 2
Steven Cummings (Sky) 2
Francis De Greef (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 2
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Geraint Thomas (Sky) 18:29:18
- Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) +0:46
- Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) +2:01
- Jose Joaquin Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne) +2:12
- Tony Martin (Columbia)
- Arkaitz Duran (Footon-Servetto) +2:26
- Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) +2:35
- Kristjan Koren (Liquigas) +2:44
- Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +2:47
- Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Caisse d'Ep) +2:51
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