Wout Van Aert used a stunning late attack to solo to victory on stage four of the Tour de France and extend his lead in the yellow jersey.
Van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma team made their move on the final short climb of the 171.5km stage from Dunkerque to Calais and he rode away on the descent, covering the final 10 kilometres alone as a fractured peloton trailed in his wake.
After finishing second in all three opening stages of the Grand Depart in Denmark, Van Aert gave himself time to celebrate on the line as he won by eight seconds, Jasper Philipsen also punching the air as he led the pack home seemingly unaware that Van Aert had been a few hundred metres up the road.
Van Aert had lamented it was “not funny anymore” after being beaten into second in back-to-back sprint finishes over the weekend, so he made sure there was no bunch gallop here.
“I didn’t want to take the risk anymore,” he said with a smile. “These stages most likely end with a sprint in a bigger group, so it’s one of the most difficult things to do to go it alone.
“I could only do it with the help of my team-mates. They did half the work and it was up to me to finish it off.”
Van Aert, whose long-term goal in this Tour is the points classification and the green jersey, extends his lead in yellow to 25 seconds from Yves Lampaert.
Defending champion Tadej Pogacar is third, now 32 seconds down, while the Ineos Grenadiers’ Adam Yates is eighth, 48 seconds back.
Jumbo-Visma’s attack on the Cote du Cap Blanc-Nez, the last of the six category four climbs on the first French stage of the race, seemed to catch unawares a number of the general classification contenders as small gaps appeared.
Only Van Aert’s team-mate Jonas Vingegaard and Yates were able to stay close to the Belgian, with Geraint Thomas, Pogacar and Van Aert’s own team leader Primoz Roglic left behind, though they regrouped before the finish.
Jumbo-Visma appeared to be trying to pull off a repeat of the opening stage of Paris-Nice, when a co-ordinated late attack saw three of their riders go alone to the finish, Van Aert finishing third behind Christopher Laporte and Roglic.
This time Roglic could not keep up, joking afterwards that Van Aert is “half human, half motor”. Van Aert, having seen the splits behind, pushed on alone.
“There was a bit of doubt whether to wait for Jonas and Yates, but by going full I also put Jonas and the others in a good position,” he said. “They didn’t have to ride, so I decided to go alone and the last 10 kilometres was all out suffering.”
With Van Aert not considered a threat for yellow in the long term, Geraint Thomas, 50 seconds down in 12th, played down the gaps that did appear between the main contenders on that final climb.
“I think a lot of it was positioning,” the Welshman said. “Obviously you had to have decent legs, but I think you can read too much into it. It was really only a one or two-minute blast and that doesn’t necessarily win you the Tour.
“But that type of effort at least shows we’re going all right.”
Magnus Cort Nielsen had been part of a two-man breakaway and made Tour history, leading over the first five of the six categorised climbs to make it a record 11 out of 11 to start this race, and ensuring he will wear polka dots until at least Friday, with the feared cobbles to come on Wednesday.
Following Monday’s transfer from Denmark, the day started with riders taking part in a tribute to victims of Sunday’s shooting at a shopping mall in Copenhagen, in which three people were killed.
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