Tour de France Stage 4 Preview

The Tour de France is back in France although it’s kept the Danish weather. Today’s course isn’t easy with several sharp climbs to sap the legs of the pure sprinters.

The Route: Dunkerque to Calais could be a spin along the “opal coast” but instead it’s 171km. First it’s through Bergues, where Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis was filmed, becoming one France’s biggest box office hits. Then it’s onto many roads borrowed from the Four Days of Dunkerque, starting with the cobbled climb to Cassel with its famous arched gateway into the town (see Orpen). The intermediate sprint later is on a wide road in town with no traps.

It’s over to the Aa valley – presumably first in any alphabetical list of rivers – and the hardest climb of the Tour so far, 1.1km at almost 7% before an even harder climb next that twists up a ridge, a descent and an unmarked climb out of Alquines. The next climb to Le Ventus is on a wide road and has a series of hairpin bends on the way up.

The final difficulty of the day is the coastal route along the North Sea, there’s an unmarked climb before getting closer to the coast. The road gradually gets wilder with exposed sections and uphill drags before the Cap du Blanc-Nez, “white nose cape” because of the white cliffs. Listed as 900m at 7.5%, it’s harder than it sounds with some 10% sections to rob momentum. Over the top there’s 10km to go and a false flat then a long gradual descent down to Sangatte at sea level parallel to the coast.

The Finish: along the coast and into Calais which some roundabouts in the final 5km. The first one is just before 3km to go and if it’s open on both sides, the left of the road is much quicker, the next roundabout by a water tower, is closed on the right but a pinchpoint. Then a right turn with 1.5km to go, a left turn with 400m to go.

The Contenders: if Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) can keep finishing second in pure sprint stages, then today’s hillier course should suit more, right? The problem is it’ll require teams to drive the pace up over the climbs in order to sap the pure sprinters and so far his team are in economy mode, they’re not going to smash it today knowing the pavé come tomorrow, plus they’re saving things for the Alps and Pyrenees. So for Van Aert it’s more of a percentage game, that the final climb of Blanc-Nez puts others into the red while he can cope better.

Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) should have a chance but will his team toil to eject the sprinters, they might not have the horsepower and the final in Calais is a big dragstrip finish when he’d like something more intimate.

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) can handle a climb. Today isn’t ruinous for Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step) nor Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) because they can afford to lose ground on the final climb and then get towed back. But it’s just harder for them today.

It’s not quite windy enough for things to turn wild. Still we might see attacks on the final climb from Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën), but how to keep away for the remaining 10km?

Wout van Aert, Jasper Philipsen
Peter Sagan, Caleb Ewan, Fabio Jakobsen
Groenewegen, van der Poel, Pedersen

Weather: a cool 19°C and NW breeze of 15km/h, a crosswind for the coastal cliff roads but not savage to ravage the peloton.

TV: the stage starts at 1.15pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm CEST.

Food and drink: we’ll try to explore local customs from here to Paris. Today is a place to enjoy frites and beer, one third of France’s potato production comes from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais area and much of it goes to make French fries – the biggest buyer is McDonalds – while the region also brews a third of the beer in France. There are many friteries and baraques (literally “shacks”) selling frites by the roadside.

39 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 4 Preview”

  1. MvdP doesn’t get a ring? Looks like his kind of his stage from here, he doesn’t have (stated) green jersey aspirations, and nobody on AD is going to compete for GC.

  2. As a hypothetical, what would happen to the Polka Dot jersey if for some reason Magnus Cort couldn’t take the start today?
    Nobody else has any points in the KoM competition, other than Quinn Simmons on minus 1…presumably the sponsor would want the jersey worn by somebody?

  3. It looks like an Alaphilippe kind of stage but as he is a non-starter I think MVDP simply because he seems to like pouring on the power going uphill.

  4. You mention “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”… the same actor, Kad Merad, also stars in the excellent French series “Baron Noir”, a political drama (like the British version of “House of Cards”) set in Dunkerque and Paris. Worthy of a box set binge – after the Tour, of course.

  5. I know this is a minority position but the sound of Carlton Kirby burbling on whilst the peloton winds its way through the fields and villages of France means its July. I realise some find his blatherings inane and annoying but it is a background soundtrack much like Blowers chuntering on about the number 36 bus on the Harleyford Road (apologies to those for whom this cultural reference means nothing). Much like Test match cricket GT racing supposedly has long boring periods when “nothing” happens, that’s not true the “quieter” periods are as important as the “full gas”ones but the background noise of the commentary adds colour.

    I suspect we are going to see a full bunch sprint today, JV wont try to eject the sprinters and not sure any other team will make the effort.

    • I agree. As much as some love to rag on Kirby, I enjoy him during the long slow periods of races, and appreciate his self-awareness that his jokes are lame dad-jokes. Plus I like the way he gently pokes fun at the camera choices the television team makes. His voice is also much less grating than a few other commentators who, whatever their insights and expertise, can really wear on the ears. Kirby is almost soothing by comparison.

      • His destruction of the English language and, particularly its grammar, grates more than anything (for he, for goodness sake).

    • ITV: Ned Boulting, David Millar, Peter Kennaugh, Chris Boardman, Daniel Friebe, Matt Rendell. Yes there are adverts, but it’s a small price to pay to avoid Kirby.

      • I find David Millar great at explaining tactical nuances towards the end of stages when the big GC players are making their choices…. So much better than Kelly on GCN, as their ‘expert’ all he seems to offer is “yes, well, they’ll have to go hard now“ or something similar that’s totally obvious.

  6. I had this stage down as one where a small attack could turn into something bigger, like Ala into Epernay or Nibali into Sheffield. It’s always windy over the Cap and if a group can get away with maybe a chute dans le peloton…

  7. Day before a big GC day, normally means it’s a breakaway (or sprint) day. As Groenewegen got his win, Lotto must be getting anxious to go home empty handed. Ewan with some support on the last climb to try for the win … or maybe someone not involved tomorrow has penciled this in as “give it a go” day. As the Yellow Jersey team (JV) will probably not lead the peloton/chase then Cort plus a couple of guys could push things to near to the finish. I’m keep wondering what Bahrain are going to do – maybe it’s too early for them, but they’re back on French soil and might want to “make a statement” 🙂

  8. As you Brits whinge about Carlton Kirby’s commentary, spare a thought for us late-night Aussies. We had a wonderful commentary team, Matt Keenan and Robbie McEwan, — whose call of Mathew Hayman’s 2016 Paris-Roubaix is the stuff of legend.
    Until some faceless committee decided to replace Robbie’s brilliant insights with a new ‘refreshed’ colour team, Bridie McDonnell and Simon Gerrans. Ok, they’re experienced bike riders: she’s held the world one hour record, he famously ‘sat’ on Cancellara to win San Remo. But above all they’re champions of banalities, repeated night after night in the slack periods. I’m thinking of moving to the UK, at least via VPN…

    • Robbie McEwan is excellent on GCN , I assumed he must have left his previous job for a better offer , if they actually chose to replace him that seems a bit strange

      • No, they unceremoniously dumped him, stated aim to ‘refresh’ the coverage. Obviously not prompted by need to increase ethnic minority quotas onscreen (O’Donnell and Gerrans are not prominent first-nation surnames!). We haven’t just lost Robbie’s incisive insights; he and Matt Keenan, of the encyclopaedic knowledge and sharpest of eyes, had developed a fantastic rapport. Lucky at least they didn’t both go.

    • Tough job. The broadcaster needs a cycling expert, but one who is (or learns fast) also an expert at being a TV commentator or someone folks like enough not to care. They found the perfect spot for Wiggo on the back of the moto. Bernie Eisel is getting the hang of it as is Moreno Moser on the Italian squad. Luca Gregorio and Riccardo Magrini are old pros who get on well. Pretty much anyone else in English has me hitting MUTE if I can’t find an alternative. There’s a guy they have on-stage at races here in Italy who I think is just awful…but someone must like him? Same with the guy on Cycling Tips…Shorty…Sheddy?..I wish they’d put subtitles on so I could mute him and still watch, otherwise I’m outta there as soon as he starts talking.

      • Italy’s best was Davide Cassani…his on-air reaction to discovering that he’d accidentally ‘outed’ Rasmussen on-air the day before (he’d seen him training in Italy and was commenting on his commitment — just that it was on a date Rasmussen’s biological passport had him supposedly elsewhere) showed a human side we don’t see often enough. Not surprising he went on to become a very successful Italian national commissario tecnico.

  9. I like the ITV crew (helpful to be able to record, which I can’t do via Eurosport player), but do find that Ned and David make a lot of incorrect calls – getting the wrong rider in a crash etc.

    I could probably switch back to Eurosport now that Contador has retired, even the memory of Kirby calling him ‘Berite’ gets me irritated.

  10. “the next roundabout by a water town, is closed on the right but a pinchpoint”

    Unless the tour is passing Waterford assume there’s a Water Tower nearby? Keep up the excellent work.

  11. Chapeau – the chainrings are always the product of some acute observations but today you seem even more perspicacious than usual!

    • Got the winner right but didn’t see Jumbo-Visma attacking like that, thought Van Aert would win the sprint among tired riders. Delighted to be wrong and see riders scattered to the wind over the final climb though

      • Apropos that attack: was it strategy or legs for Roglic, do you think, not to have stayed with van Aert? I could see him leaving Vingegaard to dog Yates and then staying back so the GC guys would not chase as heartily…

    • Imagine the feeling of thinking you’ve won your first TdF stage after multiple second places, only to see another rider a little further past the finish line while you’re in the middle of your long-awaited celebration! Poor Jasper.

  12. The more I watch, the more I am in awe. Jumbo are fantastic. But they have been on the front all day long for 4 days and today must have been hard.

    Is it too much? Barely seen UAE at the wheels, out of the wind. Lord knows which will be best in the long run, but Jumbo have my heart.

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