Tour de France Stage 4 Preview

A likely sprint finish and with a long straight road to the line making for a less technical finish, a dragstrip finish albeit with a rise to the line. Expect huge crowds as the race reaches Brittany, one of the hotbeds of French cycling.

Stage 3 Review: a win for BMC Racing, four seconds ahead of Team Sky and seven on Quick Step. Greg Van Avermaet took the yellow jersey and BMC were all smiles on the podium, a rare sight for a team that often looks more serious than cheerful. Quick Step could have been frowning as they blew part at one point, looking like a group ride trying to burn each other up – remember with the noise of the crowds, helicopters and aero helmets, hearing alerts from the team car isn’t easy – and perhaps this brief breakdown cost them the stage win and the yellow jersey Philippe Gilbert. Movistar lost 53 seconds, a few more than had seemed likely but the top-10 were all within a minute, a much closer result than last month’s dress rehearsal at the Critérium du Dauphiné. The surprise was EF Education First-Drapac, 6th on the stage and only losing 35 seconds to BMC which was far ahead of expectations. No surprise UAE-Emirates were the last of the teams with any GC ambitions but it was always a tall order to keep Dan Martin in contention for a jumbled squad that’s still a few signings away from becoming a big squad.

The Route: 195km around Brittany before finishing on the coast at Sarzeau where the local mayor is none other than David Lappartient, the President of the UCI. There’s nothing particular to note along the way, there will be huge crowds as the race goes through Brittany, arguably the hotbed of French cycling, an area that has produced many of France’s champion cyclists from Bobet to Barguil; is home to the Fortuneo team – their kit is a play on Breton stripes – and where the local newspaper Ouest France (France’s biggest selling newspaper, more than nationals like Le Monde, Le Figaro etc) regularly features cycling as the lead story on the back page.

The climb of the day is a real ascent, 800m at 7.5% and with a sharp U-turn before the start to make it harder.

The Finish: big, wide, fast roads. Sunday’s finish in La Roche-sur-Yon hardly showed off the charms of the city but it did flick around tight corners. Today there’s one left hander with 4km to go and it’s not even a 90 degree bend. Then there’s a long finishing straight. The last two kilometres rise, just 2% but we’ll have to wait for Saturday for the first real flat finish of a Tour stage (Friday’s finish in Chartres is uphill to the line too). Still it’s a pure sprint finish and one danger is not the slope but the sight of the finish area, it’s easy to see it from far out, get “finish line fever” and launch a sprint too early.

The Contenders: Fernando Gaviria (Quick Step) lost out because of the crash and Stage 2 and was dropped by his team mates yesterday, a sign of soreness or not? It makes him less than a certain pick. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is going to be in the mix but can he win? The rise to the line might not make it selective enough, ditto Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida). Marcel Kittel will like this big wide finish, less so the slope but he’s won uphill sprints before so this is a good test of fitness for him. The same for Dylan Groenwegen (Lotto-Jumbo), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) with the latter trio having bigger trains in their service which could help for today’s big long finish.

Fernando Gaviria
Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan
Démare, Greipel, Groenewegen, Colbrelli, Cavendish

Weather: hot and sunny again and the wind reaching 20km/h, enough to cause stress in the final hour but not to rip up the race.

TV: live from the start at 13.05pm CEST with the finish forecast for 5.50pm CEST. This is going to be a long day for the TV commentators.

80 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 4 Preview”

  1. ASO really have striven to provide a dull start. The most interesting thing to see today could be D. Brailsford being welcomed by the locals in Sarzeau (depending on how popular the Mayor is).
    I can see no good reason for not adding more stages for puncheurs and more medium mountain stages (where geography permits). Crashes aside – if you can call that ‘entertainment’ – there’s been little or no reason to watch more than the last 10km of each stage (and that’s being generous).
    Pan-flat stages might attract the sprinters, but they’d be here anyway and you don’t need as many as they have this year.

    • Agree with J Evans. I guess the race needs a narrative arc, and they also don’t want exhaust everyone, but yes … if you’re watching everyday (as I assume most of us here are) it’s not great.

      • Tomorrow will finally be a day where I watch more than the final few km, but there’s more to come – five of the first eight stages are flat sprints. I’d say that’s at least two more than is at all necessary. Is it an attempt to stop Sagan winning the green jersey so easily? Seems unlikely – and certainly doesn’t seem to be working – but I can’t see any other reason for such a preponderance.

        • Three different yellow jersey wearers, no one team dominating and a GC that nobody would have predicted. I wouldn’t call that completely dull. I’d like to see a breakaway with a few more riders in it giving them a shot at staying away. Will probably need to wait til week 3 for that.

          • I agree Pablo. A race is more than a course. Quintana in the worst GC position of the genuine contenders, Thomas in the best with Dumoulin close behind, a gaggle of favourites around a minute back somewhere between Thomas and Quintana and with lumpy stuff for two days starting tomorrow and still the Roubaix stage to play out. Days 1-9 are about survival on this Tour. The race can be lost here. If that is boring then I call it a failure of the viewer’s imagination.

          • But all of the intrigue has been caused by crashes/mechanicals, which along with the TTT have produced all of the time gaps.
            None of it has been down to the flat stages themselves.
            One’s imagination would have to be truly incredible to sit through ~200km of non-racing on pan-flat roads day after day and not be bored. Me, I’d rather have a parcours which at least has the potential to be interesting instead of at least some of those 5 flat days.

          • Doesn’t that all add to the unfolding drama of the race? The crashes have helped neutralise the advantage that the bigger teams have with the TTT.

            For all that people go on about Mountain Stages they can be just as predictable: all the top riders start out at the bottom of the climb and then the angular guy wins it. You can denigrate the stages, but not ever mountain stage is the road to Bardonecchia.

            I also think that as this is the Tour de France it should representative of country, and not be the Dauphine!

          • +1 My only gripe about LeTour is something that’s not really their fault. Like the NFL Superbowl in the USA the thing is overhyped and overmarketed to the point it’s almost impossible to deliver a race that lives up to it. No matter what they do to the course, someone whines when it doesn’t favor their guy. I always thought the Grand Tours were supposed to reward a true, all-round rider as champion, but these days toothpick guys can spin crazy low gears, then climb on the crono bike splayed out like a cat scratching his a__ on the living room carpet and go as fast as anyone. If/when the organizers put some technical stuff in to challenge bike handling you get whiners like the Schlecks complaining about danger. In the end it’s still a FREE (for the most part) show…if you don’t like it, don’t bother watching. I skip the individual crono stages for that reason. They’re dull, but just because I find them dull doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be part of the challenge. Vive LeTour!

          • I’m going to show my age, as I loved watching the ITTs with Indurain. Plus Lemond winning on the champs. Admittedly Indurain’s wins were a little too incredible. Overtaking riders hand over fist every time. But it’s a discipline I enjoy – the best riders, the most successful riders could always TT because deep down the sort of discipline required to win is reflected in that individual endeavour.

            People wax lyrical about the beauty of watching Pantani climb. He was crazily fast, and I always suspected he doped. But it always seemed staggering to me that he couldn’t impress on the ITT, but I appreciate the visual destruction and clear superiority of racing up a gradient.

          • What does age have to do with this? I’m an old-fart who found BigMig dull, dull, dull. I was there when LeMond won over Fignon, but that was exciting as a special situation with such a small margin separating them (I admit giving LeMond no chance to gain enough time to take the GC)
            As to Pantani, I’ve always thought EPO was what gave him the ability to go fast enough in the crono to stay in contention on GC. He was a great climber pretty much since he started and it’s hard for me to believe he was doped like the Cobra Modenese from his teenage years. He won plenty of mountain stages but wasn’t truly competitive in GTs for GC until hematocritized (is that a word?) to the max with EPO.
            RIP Pirata.

    • France doesn’t have the geography for all these medium mountain stages, but things change tomorrow. Expect lots of “wow, these roads are more narrow/hilly/twisty than expected” comments when the media discover the route for real tomorrow.

      • Maybe it depends how you define ‘medium mountain’ but I would disagree. Lots of interesting routes to be found in Alsace, Jura, Massif Centrale, Aveyron, Chartreuse/Vercors, Préalps etc: all have plenty of climbs between 500-1000m.

      • ‘more medium mountain stages (where geography permits)’ – plenty of opportunity for medium mountain stages in parts of France.

    • Agree, it’s not the most dynamic start to a GT. I do enjoy a sprint finish but perhaps not quite so many in a row. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that ASO have seen fit to flex their corporate muscles on my go to distraction when things are slow, Velogames. For shame…

      • Yes normally velogames fills a good bit of time in the early days, a shame ASO have spiked it. We cobbled together a league at the last minute but I’ve not even logged back in to it yet, seems a bit too faffy for my liking.

        Of course that may be because my team aren’t doing too well at the moment, maybe Groenwegen can change that today.

        • I’ve made the decision to avoid it and any officially endorsed product going forward. Velogames has only added to the interest in their product over many years. To go after it so aggressively, after belatedly launching their own product, seems particularly distasteful.
          Anyway, I digress, here’s hoping for an exciting, crash free, sprint finish today.

        • The loss of Velogames has really dulled my enthusiasm for the first week of the tour. I’ve only watched a few km of the first three stages, and then waiting until evening to read the stage summaries.

    • If you’re bored, do as I do and watch something else at the same time on a second screen – at the moment, Wimbledon. No one watches one thing at a time these days!

    • ABSOLUTELY! Mixing it up, early on in the event, could really throw the proverbial cat among the pigeons and make for some super-tactical decisions and efforts in weeks two and three…

    • Likely dull today, but I reckon stages 5 and 6 will be worth the wait. Real tough classics style stages with GC shake up and Quickstep battling with GVA/BMC for yellow. More drama than an early cat 1 finish with everyone keeping powder dry until the final 500m

      • The Vendée is notorious for its coastal winds. ASO have just got unlucky that it’s been calm all week. But then I guess some people would moan if the race educated had been watching anticipated and evolving echelons on and off for the whole Vendée depart.

  2. I was more surprised to see Sagan dropped in the TTT than Gaviria. Did not notice him taking any exceptional pulls, so seems like his post-stage commentary was honest that he didn’t have it.

    • Both Gaviria and Sagan may have worn the Yellow (in fact wearing) but neither has any serious pretentious for GC. For Bora it was about maintaining Majka’s GC position (and the higher he is the better the team car position to support Sagan) and for QST, well they probably wanted to win the stage plus Alaphilippe and perhaps Jungles are more likely to keep good GC positions. It was inevitable that the sprinters would be out the back.

      The biggest looser must have been Quintana who is 30 seconds down now on even Dan Martin (and over 2 mins off the GC)… #FreeLanda anyone??

      • …which goes to the heart of Mr Brailsford’s complaint. Mr Lappartient has been playing to the crowd since his election and his interventions in Froome’s case have been in line with those of a populist politician. Surely part of his job, even the biggest part, is to provide reassurance & leadership to the riders under his jurisdiction, not currying favour with people who dislike Sky, for whatever reason.

        • I agree, Lappartient hasn’t learned what his predecessor also consistently failed to do (Kreuziger, Astana) – don’t talk about ongoing cases. Firstly, you’re supposed to be neutral, secondly, you look an idiot when your own organisation finds the people involved not guilty.

  3. The top 5 were remarkably close together, there was an element of luck in the finish order. The team issues at BMC did not seem to affect the riders’ motivation.

    The losers from the day Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet (AG2R hampered by injuries), Dan Martin and Vincenzo Nibali. Nothing fatal yet but not helpful for their ambitions. Geraint Thomas and Tom Dumoulin look handily placed especially as the rest of the week could well be their sort of territory. I would think there will be more “issues” for some of the leading riders even before the excursion across the cobbles.

    • Yes, Stage 9 and the cobbles are the obvious danger but the game of “snakes and ladders” continues tomorrow where there’s a high chance some of the leaders are caught out in a split in the field later in the stage: one of those self-reinforcing scenarios where the roads are difficult so teams know they need to be at the front so they fight for position which makes things faster and more dangerous etc.

      • I really wonder how Dumoulin will do on stage 9. He’s a big strong rider who can handle himself in a positioning juggle but he doesn’t usually target any cobbled classics so it’ a bit of an unknown.

        • He’ll be fine if he avoids punctures, and crashes on the frenetic approaches. Much is made of who is most gifted on cobbles, but I think a bit of luck is ultimately most important. I recall Quintana looking good on the cobbles a few years back, simply by avoiding trouble.

          • Nibali and Valverde raced some of the Flemish classics. Both were running at the pointy end at times. Valverde had at least one good finish (11th in Dwars door Vlaanderen, 5th in Amstel Gold). Nibali was even attacking over the top of one of the cobbled climbs in (IIRC) the Ronde van Vlaanderen – ended up helping Nikki Terpstra to win, cause Nikki was able to bridge across to him. Nibali did very well on the cobbles in ’14 too, of course.

            And wasn’t Bardet in one or two of the ‘hard’ classics/one days? He was definitely there in Strada Bianche – 2nd, but he also did the Dwars door Vlaanderen.

            Not cobbles, but still racing over difficult terrain. Interesting to see how they do in the cobbled Tour stages. 😉

  4. The Movistar tridente seems to be becoming a little deformed. Quintana is at the back of the GC field and is 2.05 off Thomas but, perhaps more pertinently, 1.57 behind Dumoulin and over a minute behind Porte, Froome, Nibali and the two other prongs of the Movistar trident. In only 3 days. And thats before the lumpy roads of Brittany and the cobbles around Roubaix. This is interesting because what do Movistar do about it if Quintana has more bike trouble or gets caught up in other incidents? It was noticeable that when he had the wheel trouble on stage 1 no one dropped back to help him that I could see. (Compare Froome who had guys drop back immediately to assist and pace him.) Is this Movistar’s version of “survival of the fittest” or last man standing gets team support? Think back to the Dutch crosswinds of 2015 where he lost 2 minutes plus and, in the end, the general view was that he lost the Tour there. Is he doing it again?

    • jj rojas was tasked with shepherding quintana, but he crashed himself and was even further back when the incident happened. bad luck, but so others chrashed too (froome).
      valverde and landa probably had their own guys looking after them.

      but well see. if hes in form he will challenge the odds if not, then ho wouldnt anyway not have won.

  5. Quintana’s finished for GC, he hasn’t the nouse to get out of the hole he is in now! if he can’t follow wheels back up to the head of GC he’s knackered. Stage 9 will not throw up any unexpected movements in GC. These stages that are continually egged up often fall flat and I am expecting “Roubaix” to just do the same. So hopefully somewhere in the route there will be opportunity(s) for some excitement, long live Alberto the animator.

    • I think Quick Step will go all out to win on the cobbles. In doing so they will put Alaphilippe and Jungels in good positions. Not everyone will be able to follow and someone will lose time. Whether or not we class it as a classic/race changing stage depends on if its say Mollema or someone on the edges of the potential final top 10 who loses the time, or if its one of the genuine big guns. I’d fear for Quintana, but he may be out of it by then anyway, and Landa. Bardet’s doll like build would suggest he might struggle, but he did well in Strade Bianche and has Naesen and Dillier to look after him.

      • Heard an interview with Bardet on the Cycling Podcast where he said that he likes riding the cobbles and is looking forward to that stage… surprised me

      • I really wonder who is going to target stg 9 — will we get all the classics guys: Sagan, Van Avermaet, theentirequickstepsquad, valverde, nibali, naesen, vanmarke, valgren, stuyven, degenkolb contesting… will we get a mini roubaix race? Or will it be a GC stage?

        I have to imagine it would be very attractive to these guys on an individual level, and for some of the teams, but a lot of these riders are on GC shepherding duties, or long-term support roles.

        Very excited to hear the analysis on that stage later on!

  6. It seems that already on stage 4 BMC are planning on having GVA on a yellow bike. Am I the only one who thinks this is a bit previous? If you are going to win the race, fair enough. We are now used to bikes in the winner’s jersey colours on the last day. But having a yellow bike on stage 4 just seems unnecessarily self-aggrandizing. Leaves a sour taste with me anyway.

    • It’s a publicity stunt but then so is the Tour de France. Expect the usual cycling news websites to have photo galleries, just as they usually do of Peter Sagan’s last custom paint job on his frame. I find it a bit boring, literally a superficial coat of paint, but maybe others like this?

      Talking of BMC, today’s L’Equipe says the Swiss company could sponsor/supply Dimension Data next year and possibly take Van Avermaet with them, he has a big bike shop selling BMC so is keen to stay with the brand.

      • Not a big fan of the custom paint jobs, agree with you on that one. Happy for instagram posts to see the colours, not so much about websites dedicating stories, but then i find a lot of the cycling websites are a bit fluffy, self agenda’s, repetition, etc… (could descend into a rant!!)

        INRNG Keep up the good work, consistently the best.

      • I thought DD were struggling for points and thus in danger of falling out of the “world tour”, perhaps I am not keeping up. If they are would it make sense for GVA to move there?

  7. Many thanks (again) for the fine and subtle analysis and preview. Knowing little things like the exact grade at the finish line, and the fact that the finish line is in view for quite a ways, allows me to watch the race live and appreciate everything that’s happening in these stages that could otherwise be fairly boring.

    Of course, the TdF so far has been anything but boring, as Pablo noted above, and I’m so burned out on reading about Foome and Sky that I’m enjoying some time seeing the sprint battles (esp. after last years expulsion of Sagan, and the resulting lack of drama in the fast finish stages).

    It’ll be interesting to see if Sagan dropped off the back yesterday after realizing he wasn’t going to finish with the team, and decided to save his legs for today. Perhaps the wide finish will give him plenty of room for creative wheel surfing, and the slight uphill grade an additional edge. Of course, all that could be said about Gaviria, too.

  8. Why does convention dictate that these stage profile diagrams must be laid out along the horizontal axis, so as you have to cock your head over sideways like an eedjit to read the town names? One of life’s mysteries.

  9. I never understand how fans can not like a bike race, there is always so much going on, the races within the race, crashes, mechanicals, chasing back on. Margins are so tight GC guys attack sprint seconds, the fight for position is relentless, all the time trying to conserve as much energy as possible over 200km at 45kph, these stages are important for the overall in many many ways not just time. Tactics are constantly being assessed and changed as fortunes do the same, I don’t watch every second but the way a stage plays out is never dull or boring to me.
    This is for better or worse the biggest race in our sport, what’s not to love?

    • +1 I couldn’t agree more.

      I always take at least 2 weeks of work to watch the Tour. I head out on the bike for 3-4 hrs in the early morning & get back to watch each stage in its entirety with a glass (bottle) of red.

      I find the whole thing fascinating.

  10. big wide finish, only 2%… sounds like plenty of scope for Kittel to wind it up today even if he is badly placed etc etc…

    Come on Cav, give us some hope you are at least going to compete this time… (similarly Kristoff)

    Gaviria seems to like the early jump, so maybe he’ll get tempted to go too early by the long straight today…

    and I hope they have an actual fight to get in the break first thing – just watching 3 guys roll off the front in the first km is very disappointing – come on folks, it’s the TdF!

    • If Richeze and Lampaert sheperd Gaviria as well as they did on the first sprint finish (assuming he’s still on their wheels of course) then he won’t jump too early and on paper only Kittel may be faster but he’ll have to be on Gaviria’s wheel in order to win it. It looks like a promising sprint finish. Let’s hope the wind blows and also provides for some entertaining action before we get to the finishing straight.

      • Rather than Gaviria jumping early I think it’s more Sagan leaving it late, taking a draft then rushing for the line with his extra kick. Sagan only seems to lead out when it’s selective steep, like last year when he pulled his foot out. Otherwise he tends to follow the surge from the ‘faster’ Gaviria/Démare then kick over them with his speed endurance.

      • it’s true the QS train seems to be delivering Gaviria in the last km, Bora are in evidence also, but Katusha and DD have melted away so far….

  11. Not boring at all, love it all even with “nothing” happening. My frustration is having to go to work at 2pm, missing the live action! grrrr.

  12. One for the siesta lovers I think today! While France may not have the geography of Spain or Italy they could at least play around with the order of the race instead of the usual start in the north, work your way down, pop into the Pyrenees, over to the Alps then back to Paris, it just makes the race too formulaic! Why not start in the Pyrenees one year? Or keep the whole race in the hillier parts of the country (not too familiar with France’s geography but assume its in the south)? Yes the Tour is by far the most prestigious bike race, but I think the Vuelta and Giro are much more interesting to watch, for several reasons, but one reason is they vary the route more. 3 flat stages and a TTT is really dull even for me who will happily sit and watch an entire stage on TV.

    • I hate the fact that the Vuelta is effectively the Tour of Asturias. A Grand Tour should reach as much of the country as possible within reason. Also flat stages are as much a part of grand tours as the mountains, and many of the sports biggest and brightest stars have been sprinters. Every stage finishing in a 1-2km 10% wall is just as dull and repetitive in my eyes. But I do agree that they could maybe mix it up and start in the south one year or something, and throw in more of the awkward finishes the Giro specialises in. Maybe the French would object to this crime against tradition?!

      • Yeah you’re right, the Vuelta is right on the limit in terms of amount of “goat track” finishes. And I don’t mind flat stages just not a full week of them together, a week of hilltop finishes would be equally as dull. Just wish TDF would mix it up a bit.

  13. Would “and the yellow jersey Philippe Gilbert” make more sense as “and Philippe Gilbert the yellow jersey”?

    Unless, of course, you meant that the jersey itself missed out by not having Gilbert wear it?

    Presumably the fact that it was a former BMC rider who just missed out on yellow made BMC’s win a little sweeter…

    • “and the yellow jersey *for* Philippe Gilbert”. Quick Step will hope to win it back tomorrow or the day after, not easy to get back from GVA but the uphill sprints could suit Alaphilippe more with the time bonuses waiting.

  14. I think Degenkolb can surprise today. He’s been consistently showing on final sprints on this tour, but lacking top finishing speed [he never was praised for being the fastest on flat finishes, however he’s more fitted for gentle rise finishes and hard conditions]. Another sprinter with the same Degenkolb’s record on this Tdf, and I believe can win today, is Kristoff.

    About dullness on flat stages from first week could be tweaked with more category 4 climbs and more points for them (for example, 3-2-1 pts for the first riders). That could incentive more people to get in breakaways and better cooperation between those riders.

  15. I think the organisers have been done no favours by the weather. It’s very warm and relatively still. We’re currently 4 days in and no great wind to speak of. Most unusual to say the least for this part of the world. If the wind was ripping the race to pieces and we were watching echelons form all over the place, no one would be bemoaning the ‘excitement’ level.
    Try and catch it on France 2 and the pre tour build up, usually cooking a local dish, with an extravagantly coiffed 80s crooner singing ‘if I ‘ad an ‘ammer’, will have you itching for the racing to start.

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