After a hard-fought finish, which came at the end of the race’s longest stage, Peter Sagan came from behind to power past rivals and take third on the fourth stage of the Tour de France. This enabled him to extend his lead in the yellow jersey and snatch back the green jersey of points leader.
The race’s longest day – 237.5km was gently undulating for the first 130km, and the route gradually gained altitude before the descent to the finish in Limoges.
After receiving another set of yellow and green jerseys for his collection, Sagan said: “It was a long day, not flat always up and down. I’m very happy to still be in yellow and to take third. I’m back in green also and until now all’s going very well.”
When asked about what it meant to his Slovakian fans, he added: “I think the Slovakians here are very happy and it makes me happy to see lots of Slovakian flags on the side of the road and to hear them cheering.”
Starting his second day in the yellow jersey of race leader, Sagan and the Tinkoff riders were again working to control the stage and protect the jersey. After yesterday’s slower-paced stage, the expectation was that in spite of a longer distance, the day would see higher average speeds.
Unlike the previous days, in spite of several attempts to break away, none of the initial breaks stuck until nearly an hour of racing had passed, when a group of four attacked as another breakaway was reeled back in. Soon building up an advantage of 2’30”, it seemed that this was to be the day’s breakaway – which was confirmed as the break were soon five minutes ahead of the peloton.
After a slow start to the stage, where the attacks were failing to stick, it could have been a much slower day, as Directeur Sportif, Steven De Jongh, observed. “In the beginning it looked like it would be a long day but then the attacks came and we had the final situation of the break without the sprinters teams. The guys had to stay attentive when a dangerous move went but Bodi was there to control it, and then the situation settled with four away.”
At 100km to go, the gap was down to a more manageable 3’30”, then with 30km to go, the gap was down to below a minute, and by the time the race was reaching the 15km to go mark, the gap was hovering around twenty seconds. The predicted bunch sprint was sure to happen as the bunch closed in on the break.
With a slight uphill drag to the finish, this wasn’t to be a straightforward sprint. All of the sprint teams’ riders were capable of contesting it, but it was likely to come down to the right sprint strategy and the strongest sprinter being able to sustain their effort.
At 10km to go the pace was rising as the teams started to jostle for position, but on the urban roads there were a series of tight turns and road furniture that consistently forced the peloton to slow and then accelerate – treacherous at the best of times, but with more than 200km raced it was going to be all the more difficult.
With the breakaway shedding riders, it was down to two up front with 7km to go, until finally the catch was made and it was all on for the sprint. Vying for position and battering his way through the sprinters after being boxed in in the last 500m, the UCI World Champion contested the finish, passing many of his rivals, finishing the day in third and extending his lead in the GC and re-taking the green jersey.
Happy with his third place, Sagan was already looking at his performance and working out where he could improve – the mark of a true champion. “It was a good finish for me, I just started my sprint too early. The sprint is sometimes a lottery and I think I have to wait a little bit more. I started at the same time as Kittel and it was a long sprint from there. Coquard came later and he almost won. I’m happy with the result and the points, and I still have the yellow jersey – it’s going well. Tomorrow is another day, I don’t want to think about tomorrow yet.”