Tour de France 2020
Primoz Roglic underlined his yellow jersey credentials with victory in Stage 4 at Orcières-Merlette as a tiring Julian Alaphilippe saw his race lead slashed on the first summit finish of the Tour de France.
Roglic led home a Slovenian one-two ahead of compatriot Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates) after an ominous performance of collective dominance from his Jumbo-Visma team at the end of the 160.5km stage into the Alps.
Giullaume Martin (Cofidis) zipped past fellow Frenchman Alaphilippe in the closing metres to deny the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider third place and the final bonus seconds, with Colombia’s Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) also edging out the yellow jersey to take fourth.
Alaphilippe, the Stage 2 winner, retains his four-second lead over Britain’s Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) but the in-form Roglic moves up into third place just seven seconds back after securing the 10 bonus seconds on the line.
In what was essentially an uphill drag race on the final 7.1km climb, Jumbo-Visma showed their strength in depth as Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss both put in huge, bullying stints on the front to reduce the main field before Roglic reacted to Martin’s acceleration to win the third Tour stage in his career.
Colombians Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) took sixth and seventh ahead of Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Spaniard Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren), with Yates completing the top 10.
The fast finish on the otherwise gentle gradient saw many GC contenders lose precious seconds to the main group, most notably Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and EF Pro Cycling duo Dani Martinez and Sergio Higuita.
Earlier in the day, a six-man move animated proceedings until Tiesj Benoot (Team Sunweb) acrobatically crashed over a barrier, while Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) retained the green jersey by the skin of his teeth after Ireland’s Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) piled on the pressure in the intermediate sprint.
On a warm and sunny day that may well have played into hands of the right break, a six-man move formed pretty much from the gun featuring Krists Neilands and Nils Politt (Israel Start-Up Nation), Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Quentin Pacher (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept), Mathieu Burgaudeau (Total Direct Energie) and Benoot.
Frenchman Vuillermoz, a stage winner from the 2015 Tour, enjoyed a fleeting moment in the virtual yellow jersey as the gap increased above the 3’53” by which he trailed compatriot Alaphilippe going into the stage.
But constant pacing on the front by Deceuninck-QuickStep duo Remi Cavagna and Tim Declercq ensured that the gap rarely edged above the three-minute mark as the race skirted the apron of the Alps and headed up into the hills with the help of a kindly tailwind.
The intermediate sprint after 50km added a little bit of spice as Bennett kicked clear of the pack and took advantage of a weary-looking Sagan to snap up the nine points on offer for seventh place and draw level with the Slovakian in the green jersey standings. By virtue of his position on GC, Sagan retains the green jersey going into Stage 5 but never has he experienced so tight a battle in the competition he has won in seven of his previous eight Tours.
Four lower-category climbs sapped the legs ahead of the final first-category rise to the finish, with Frenchman Pacher picking up maximum points over the first two either side of a Politt cameo off the front of the break.
Pacher was at it again on the third climb – but his tally of five points on the day was never going to trouble compatriot Benoit Cosnefroy of Ag2R-La Mondiale, who retained the polka dot jersey.
On the penultimate climb, Latvia’s Neilands kicked clear of his fellow escapees before Benoot overcooked a corner and dramatically crashed over the barriers on the subsequent descent – a heart-in-mouth moment thankfully assuaged by the sight of the Belgian getting back on a replacement bike.
The incident proved the death-knell to the break, with Neilands the last man to be swept up just ahead of the final climb to Orcières-Merlette, the scene of Luis Ocaña’s victory in 1971 when the Spaniard took eight minutes from the great Eddy Merckx and snared the yellow jersey he may have kept all the way to Paris were it not for a race-ending crash two days later.
It was the first time the climb had been used since 1989 when the Dutchman Steven Rooks won a mountain time trial – and French veteran Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) clearly had a similar idea in mind when he tried his luck going solo with 5km remaining.
But the one-time winner on Alpe d’Huez’s effort was a mere blip in comparison to the hefty pacing by the Jumbo-Visma train which, despite a small dig from Yates, had total control on proceedings.
Van Aert, the recent winner of Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo, pulled for two long kilometres as Ineos duo Michal Kwiatowski and Jonathan Castroviejo were unable to make any in-roads for their leader, Bernal. When the Belgian swung off the front, Kuss took over pacing duties to whittle down the pack and pave the way for the rampant Roglic.
Roglic and Alaphilippe had the best positions coming onto the home straight from the final bend, with Lopez boxed out by the barriers and losing momentum. And with the Frenchman tiring, only Pogacar, the 23-year-old Slovenian riding his maiden Tour, had the pace to keep vaguely in touch with his compatriot.
The victory not only confirmed Roglic’s fine form, it wiped out any anxiety concerning the injuries he sustained in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné while emphasising the strength in depth of his Jumbo-Visma team. Indeed, what really stood out on the day was not simply the Dutch team’s expansive armoury, but the absence of any weapon whatsoever within the Ineos camp that has won seven of the previous eight Tours.
We certainly have a battle on our hands for the yellow jersey this year in this most peculiar and unprecedented of Tours – one that boasted a first summit finish on day four of the race which took place on September 1.
The race continues tomorrow with the 183km ride from Gap to Privas, which concludes with a punchy uphill spring after a couple of lower-category climbs.