Tour de France 2019
Viviani even enjoyed the services of teammate Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey, with the Frenchman pulling for the QuickStep train as the race entered the final kilometre one day after his sensational solo win at Epernay.
Alaphilippe finished safely in the main pack to retain his 20-second lead over Belgium’s Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), with two more Jumbo riders – the Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk and New Zealander George Bennett – a further five seconds back.
Viviani, who slumped to a fruitless campaign on his home Giro in May, put that slump behind him to join the select group of riders who have notched wins in all three of cycling’s major tours.
“It means a lot,” said the 30-year-old former Sky rider. “I can’t believe it still. It was a big goal of the year. We missed the first chance to put the yellow on. But I think after Julian’s phenomenal ride yesterday, it’s a moment when you switch on the team.
“Today we did a perfect job, you saw how the lead-out did. I just need to thank the team, they were really unbelievable, I just had to in my job in the last one hundred and eight metres, it’s what I can do better if they launch me like that.
“I’m pretty happy. I was missing this win: I won in the Giro and the Vuelta and now in the Tour de France, that means a lot to me.”
Viviani’s win saw the Italian move up to second place in the green jersey standings, 23 points behind early pace-setter Sagan, who is targeting a record seventh win in Paris.
A break of three riders formed from the outset as Frenchman Yoann Offredo made it two from two, darting clear with his Belgian Wanty-Gobert teammate Frederik Backaert and the Swiss veteran Michael Schar (CCC Team).
On a long, flat stage always destined for a bunch sprint, the trio went about their thankless task with admirable professionalism and understandable resignation, quickly building up a lead which hovered around the three-minute mark for much of the afternoon.
With very little going on, man of the moment Alaphilippe even had time to quiz defending champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) for some yellow jersey tips.
Momentary lapses of concentration accounted for a couple of needless crashes in the peloton, most notably when Frenchman Tony Gallopin (Ag2R-La Mondiale) went down hard on the grass verge along with around half a dozen others.
Schar took the single polka dot point over summit of the Cote de Rosieres before Belgium’s Backaert won the intermediate sprint at Lerouville.
When the peloton came through 1’30” in arrears it was the former Italian champion Viviani who won the sprint for fourth place ahead of compatriot Sonny Colbrelli and the green jersey of Sagan.
The trio’s lead continued to tumble before Offredo called it a day with 30km remaining – leaving his fellow escapees to battle it out for the combativity prize and the right to wear a red number in Stage 5.
And it was the experienced Schar, riding his ninth Tour, who dropped Backaert on the second and final climb of the day, the Cote de Maron – although the CCC Team rider was caught by the Sunweb-led pack before he could add a second KOM point to his name.
Frenchman Lilian Calmejane (Total-Direct Energie) tried his luck with a plucky attack in the final 10km but the 2017 stage winner was swept up without much ado once the sprint trains formed in earnest.
Deceuninck-QuickStep kept their powder dry, however, and it wasn’t until the glowing yellow jersey of Alaphilippe surged to the front with one kilometre remaining that the Belgian team really showed their hand.
With Viviani sitting in the wheel of the experienced Morkov and Richeze, Kristoff made his move and opened up with an early surge to the line. But Viviani had enough zip to power past the Norwegian veteran and hold Ewan and Sagan at bay.
Groenewegen, a double stage winner in 2018, showed signs of his high-speed crash on Saturday, the Dutchman sitting up and almost being caught by his teammate Mike Teunissen, the surprise winner of the opening stage, before the line.
Tomorrow’s stage 5 takes the riders from Saint-Die-des-Vosges to Colmar The race hits the mountains of the Vosges with this undulating 175.5km ride which features four categorised climbs ahead of a flat finish in Colmar. It’s a treat for the breakaway specialists and will keep the GC riders on red alert – although you sense the terrain will be a touch too tricky for the pure sprinters like Viviani.