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The GC contenders clicked up a gear at the Tour de France Tuesday.
After a sky-high pace all day, Jumbo-Visma rocketed its way up the summit finish to Orcières-Merlette on stage 4 of the Tour, putting the hammer down on all its rivals.
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Wout van Aert was first to drive the Jumbo-Visma express through the first three-quarters of the climb as the peloton clung desperately to the Belgian’s coattails. Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) was one of the first major names to pop, still nursing injuries he picked up at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Handfuls of support riders from EF Pro Cycling, Bahrain-Merida, and UAE-Team Emirates were to go.
When van Aert finally blew up, young Coloradan Sepp Kuss took up the tempo, and from there to the final, those still in contention were just hanging on for survival.
“The last three to four kilometers was a super-hard pace, especially the last kilometer,” Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) said. “I really had to sprint just to stay in the group and not lose any seconds. I just made it, but I had no good sprint anymore.”
The Dutchman battled on to finish in the lead group along with a bunch of GC contenders including teammate Richie Porte, Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren), Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), and defending champion Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers). Other top favorites including Urán’s teammates Daniel Martínez and Sergio Higuita didn’t last so long as the elastic snapped under Kuss’ crushing climbing.
“It was important to stay in the group of favorites,” Pinot said. “If I’d have been told that on Sunday or Monday, I would have signed for it straight away.”
Pinot was able to stay up at the front end of the group that hung on to Jumbo-Visma through the 7.1 percent ski station climb and was able to kick in a lukewarm attempt to counter the final accelerations by Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) and then Roglic in the final minute.
Given he was left down and disconsolate after a heavy crash on the rain-soaked opening stage Saturday, finishing on par was good enough for the Frenchman.
“It’s a really very, very satisfying result for me,” Pinot said. “It’s a very rolling climb, we went up very quickly … There was not much that could be done when Jumbo-Visma made such a hell of a pace.”
Bora-Hansgrohe’s leader Emanuel Buchmann also went into the stage still nursing a number of injuries picked up in the Dauphiné crash that also ruled Steven Kruikswijk out of the Tour. The young German lost nine seconds and tried to seek the positives as he scrambles for more recovery time ahead of the brutal final week in the Alps.
“I felt quite OK until about 1.5km to go,” he said. “But when they started to go really fast I was a bit too far behind, so when they accelerated I couldn’t follow.”
I don’t have a lot of pain anymore – the injuries are getting better,” he continued. “I’m not at 100 percent now, but I hope the next days it will get better. There’s still a long long way to Paris. A lot of mountain stages… we will see.”
And what of Roglič’s main rival, Egan Bernal?
After he was left isolated when Richard Carapaz and Jonathan Castroviejo crumbled, he was left desperately chasing wheels and unable to kick in response to Roglič’s final sprint for the line. The young Colombian now sits 10 seconds behind Roglič on the GC, but for now, it’s all about the waiting game, with the high-altitude climbs he calls home still two weeks away.
“We need to be really patient, and to know that our best scenario is to arrive in the third week without losing too much time and to try to [recapture] time in the long climbs,” he said. “So, for us, we want to minimize the time [lost] in these early stages.”