Tour de France Stage 4 Preview

The first summit finish of the Tour de France and in a ski resort with its place in sporting history thanks to the stage in 1971 where Luis Ocaña got the better of Eddy Merckx for once, and by eight minutes. Only that day Ocaña did the damage long before he reached the final climb and today’s stage is likely to be a more controlled race. We’ll get some answers about form and injuries.


Distant Cousin: Jérôme Cousin and Anthony Perez jumped as soon as the stage started. Tied on points for the mountains competition with Perez, Benoît Cosnefroy promplty followed and for a moment had his team mate Oliver Naesen as a chaperone but the Belgian sat up. Perez won the two mountain sprints to secure the jersey and, mission accomplished, sat up leaving Cousin to plough on alone. However instead of collecting the mountains jersey hours later, Perez crashed out of the race.

Caleb Ewan won the stage. The peloton faced a stiff headwind and with 500m to go his leadout man Jasper De Buyst kept looking back to see where his sprinter was, but the Australian had decided to hang back. He launched from far back, he slalomed the slipstreams, he brushed the barriers and he beat Bennett in the final metres.

The Route: 160km into the Dévoluy alps. The intermediate sprint in Veynes after 51km is a finish line of sorts for all the sprinters today, some teams might try to lock down the race until then. The second half sees the race ride the Drac valley like a snowboarder in a half-pipe, climbing up one side of the valley to descend and then climb up the other. It’s all on regular roads. The climb out of Saint-Bonnet reaches the Tour’s KoM point via a long straight road but keeps climbing up for several kilometres after.

The Finish: a ski station summit finish, there’s a long drag up the valley before the turning for the climb and then 7.1km at 6.7%. The Tour de France is a palimpsest, each edition is built on the last and Orcières-Merlette has a legendary name but today is likely to be more prosaic than poetic. Why? Simply because it’s a short and steady climb on a wide road. This isn’t the place for fireworks, instead team’s will deploy their mountain trains and everyone will try to sit tight in the slipstream before late attacks. Boring? It’s only the first Tuesday, there’s no point having the “big reveal” today but we’ll still get some answers about form and injury. The race’s profile makes it look like it’s harder at the start but the final two kilometres have some of the hardest ramps and with 350m to go it flicks left with a final ramp up to the line.


The Contenders: two thirds of the field are now already four or more minutes down on GC and half are over ten minutes down so there’s now space for a breakaway to stick as long as it doesn’t contain any names who’ll threaten Alaphilippe’s yellow jersey. Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Tiesj Benoot (Sunweb) are obvious picks for the breakaway but both are suffering with back pain and hoping for things to clear up in the coming days. One breakaway specialist who is in form is Alessandro de Marchi (CCC) so he’s a safer pick. Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) is at four minutes down, he might not get much room and might prefer the upcoming Pyrenean stages. Outsider picks are Nans Peters (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Ben Hermans (Israel).

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) is good for a short climb like this. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) normally has the best sprint among the GC contenders. Do we include Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) among them or not? Either way his jump on the Col d’Eze impressed and if he wins he takes the yellow jersey. Sergio Higuita (EF) is fast finisher, has he got the nerves and muscle to position himself for the final kick?

De Marchi, Alaphilippe, Higuita, Roglič, Yates
Hermans, Peters, Benoot, De Gendt, Barguil, Pogačar, Herrada

Weather: sunshine and clouds, 21°C in the valleys but it’ll be cooler for much of the day.

TV: live coverage from the start at 1.25pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.30pm Euro time.

54 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 4 Preview”

  1. But for sure, if there’s one guy who’ll want to cling on to the yellow jersey, it’ll be
    Julian Alaphilippe. His enthusiasm will boost him up the mountain.

    • Have to admit I loved just watching Alaphilippe in yellow yesterday – he seemed to zip round the peloton having a chat with everyone – the Tour feels like a better place with him in yellow.

      • Totally agree – he is excellent for cycling. You really hope he continues to find success and to become popular to general sports fans as well!

        He seems to be a very good guy and a strong leader.

  2. A one rider break ploughing a lonely furrow out front, the bunch ambling along at touring speed in the knowledge that they will catch the break before a sprint finish, the endless tourist vistas of the french countryside, discussions of the best way to cook wild boar on Eurosport. It must be the first week of the Tour. I know some find it boring but it is as important a part of the race as any big sprint finish or mountain showdown, these sort of days provide context to the whole event.

    Sam Bennett must hope there is another sprint on Friday and maybe third time lucky.

    Not sure how much is going to happen today. It would probably suit Julian Alaphilippe and others for there to be a break go all the way. Maybe Adam Yates might try to slip away near the end but I doubt it. I am not sure Primoz Roglic is back to top form it could well suit JV to try the smother any attacks from potential GC rivals and live to fight another day.

    • An a-mazing win by Caleb Ewan. One to remember.

      Perhaps the combination of a headwind and an uphill drag favoured him, presenting him with the opportunity he took so brilliantly.

      Or maybe he’s just way quicker than the other sprinters. Or both. I’m looking forward to the next sprint finish now.

        • What i don’t understand is why he’s the least capable of survinging climbs compared to other sprinters.
          His power to weight is right up there, still powerhouse bricks like Sagan/Demare even Kristoff survive better hills then him. To much fast twich?

          • I’ve wondered this too (Coquard to a lesser degree). Like you say, I guess it’s down to fast twitch and any other factor that prevents massive power for more than 10-20 secs. Hence why Ewan isn’t bridging to breaks up the Poggio or wherever?

          • Power to weight is time dependent. Meaning high power to weight for a short time is a powerful sprinter. High power to weight for 1 hour or more is a climber. The climber may not be able to sprint at the end but they can climb quickly and consistently. Sagan’s power curve does not drop off as quickly as Caleb’s does hence he can “hold” his power longer and drag himself over a climb.

        • Ewan was literally spinning his back wheel when starting sprints a couple of years ago, losing vital traction. Is he on a grippier tyre now (and would that be stickier on the slopes?). Or has he just improved his technique dramatically?

          • I think Ewan isn’t using such an exaggerated aero position anymore. His head used to stick way out in front of his front tire, which really unweights the rear tire, making spinning out easier. His sprint position now looks more normal.

      • I think it’s both. In that kind of headwind you need to start your sprint late. That’s why Sagan’s sprint was so perplexingly dismal: he launched waaaay too early.

    • In some shots I saw he wasn’t even grimacing, hell, he looked like he was smiling in the last 20m, reminded me of the days of Cav or Kittel, and he came from way back in that sprint.

      • Ewan is tiny compared to the others, it was into a block headwind and as each one hit the front the wind stopped them dead – Ewan was hiding behind a lot of bodies and as they slowed he speeded up and was less impeded by the wind because he punches a smaller hole through it?

  3. I think Yates might go for yellow today, but reckon Alaphilippe can match him. If Ala doesn’t try, we know he’s going for the GC – same could probably be said of Yates.

    • If Alaphilippe doesn’t try to hold on to his jersey, he’ll go from being wooed to being booed. Tactically it makes sense for him to lose time as soon as possible, but a good part of the public doesn’t like a jersey undefended, they find it disrespectful, even if it was done for him to try and win another stage further on.
      Debatable in my opinion, but in a sport that is funded by sponsorship, it is the way it is.

  4. This kind of racing flat stages has got to finish. It is beyond boring. It is depressing and stupidly damaging to our sport. The chances of breakaways against sprinters must be rebalanced, more teams nx riders have to be interested in the success of breakaways and less in sprint chances.

    • We have these sorts of comments every year. Dissatisfaction that the TdF doesn’t live up to previous expectations. I just wish people had the perspective to realise that their anticipation outweighs the actuality. This is a 3 week race and the race always takes time to take form. Appraise it once it’s done rather than whining about how the last sprint stage didn’t meet your cycling needs.

      • I’m fine with flat stages. But there should be 3 teams working for a sprint finish and 12 working on breaking away. That would be normal. I can’t understand attitudes like yesterday’s.

  5. Also, was it just me, but at one point it looked like Yates’ jersey was ripped and bloodied, and he was riding at the back. Did he have a fall yesterday? The shot was fleeting and it’s hard to get detail from TV stills

  6. The guys sprinting yesterday must have nerves of steel on that narrow road.

    I am expecting the most exiting part of the race to occur before our coverage starts. This looks like a big breakaway chance. I am expecting some breakaway big guns.
    I will throw in Innur Zakarin as a chance. I think this suits him if his form is good. CCC seem to be stage hunting and he is 4:40 down. No massive downhill to survive either. His decending makes riche porte look like peter sagan.

    • Good pick for Zakarin, he almost went on the list above but it was getting long already. CCC can play the Trentin card for the intermediate sprint and then switch to “Zaka” for the climb. The climb at the end though is a hard one to just ride away on, it’ll pay being on a wheel and he seems a long way from the Tour de Romandie days when he could even ride Quintana off his wheel.

  7. I feel really sad for Perez. I don’t know much about him but i suspect getting the jersey even for one day would have been the highlight of his year. And he worked really hard for it across 2 days. I hope its a fast healing injury at least.

  8. It’s a shame none of the teams of sprinters who climb better exploited any of the earlier hilly terrain yesterday. Caleb Ewan doesn’t seem to be climbing very well (relatively speaking) just now e.g dropped early on the Cipressa in Milan-San Remo so it could be a tactic in some later hilly sprint stages. It’s a while ago now but I remember Peter Sagan’s team doing just that in 2013 to great effect to get rid of the likes of Cavendish & Kittel while Quickstep later used crosswinds to get rid of Kittel after Cav had been passed at the line the day before. The stage to Colmar last year also works as an example although the climbs were closer to the finish so the pace had naturally accelerated anyway.

    • On his best form (and he’s not far off, judging by his performance yesterday) Ewan can climb pretty well. He’s been up there on Milan-Sanremo before.

      You could have tried to drop him, but the climbs weren’t really steep, everyone is still pretty fresh, and the long false-flats in the second part would always have allowed a committed peloton to come back on a group of 30-odd riders anyway, unless the wind did its thing.

      • I also think he can climb very well. I remenber him winning in Hatta Dam this year ahead Bennett, Demare and Ulissi, or his second position on stage 4 of last year Giro, just behind Carapaz and over a good number of good climbers and puncheurs like Ulissi.

  9. Anyone else get the feeling that yesterday’s “gentlemen’s pace” procession might have been a peloton-wide display of, if not disgust, maybe exasperation at the series of events that transpired over the first couple days?

  10. Roglic and Pogacar finished 1, 2, both from Slovenia a small country. It reminded me of the years when most Italian riders were great, then Belgiums, then France, then Spain, then Britain etc. always because of new doping.
    I like these 2 guys, I hope I’m wrong. The third week will be telling.

    • I’d be more concerned about e.g. domestiques who may be struggling to hold on to their careers. And I think the cycling teams and wider community should have a more compassionate discussion about that, I bet it’s a tough career, mentally as well as physically… a happier community will be a cleaner one.

      • How? For all the arguments about pecking order Froome didn’t really work for Wiggins in 2012. Watch the two mins before he attacked for an example. Kuss seems dedicated to his leader and a first victory for the team but also precocious.

  11. Was a little surprised when I noticed Chavez finishing the lead group and in the top 10 on GC. Don’t think I’ve seen his name in any of the previews so far. Good to see him going well again.

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