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Tour de France

Who’s looking hot and who’s not of the Tour de France GC favorites: Stage 4 explosion gives clues

A brief but brutal flurry of action over the Côte du Cap Blanc-Nez gives early indicators ahead of crueller climbs to come.

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Yellow jersey Wout van Aert demolished the final climb of the Tour de France on Tuesday’s fourth stage, but what happened behind?

The short, explosive fourth-category climb saw a first flurry of activity from the Tour de France favorites that could give clues at what’s to come.

Jonas Vingegaard, Primoz Roglič, Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates, and Dani Martínez briefly held the wheel of “half man half motor” Van Aert’s monster acceleration in a who’s who of GC giants.

One key face not seen choking on the fumes was defending champion Tadej Pogačar.

“It was the first really deep dig [of the race] on the climb. I felt good, and the legs are ok. The lungs are clearly working but I was a bit out of position on the last climb and I had to come from far behind,” Pogačar said after the stage.

Pogačar clawed back to finish in the group with the rest of the Tour’s classification captains, and there was no shift in the “virtual GC.”

But for the typically razor-sharp Slovenian to be caught off-guard marks a rare miscue in his ruthless racecraft.

If UAE Emirates missed the savvy and position of COVID-struck classics veteran Matteo Trentin on stage 4 on Tuesday, the cobblestones of stage 5 might bring cold sweats on the team bus Tuesday night.

Yates started at the opposite end from Pogačar of anyone’s GC rankings ahead of the grand départ.

Yet the Brit’s brief resilience to Van Aert’s assault over the Côte du Cap Blanc-Nez suggested his own case of coronavirus hasn’t put a handbrake on his race-health and keeps him as leading prong in the Ineos Grenadiers trident.

“I just about ran out of legs at the top but there was only one guy who was better than me,” Yates said. “Jonas [Vingegaard] was behind me, but he wasn’t going to do a turn with Wout up the road. I asked him if he wanted to come through, but he said no.”

Yates’ teammates Thomas and Martínez were in the final group to fade behind the Belgian rocket that disappeared over the Blanc-Nez summit. For all three to be in the frame indicates Ineos Grenadiers has been training hard in its quest to recapture the yellow jersey it owned through the last decade.

And Roglič and Vingegaard?

Questions over who’s master and who’s apprentice of the two teammates may arise after Roglič popped first in the final-climb fireworks.

But the ever cool Slovenian isn’t reading much into it just yet as Jumbo-Visma relishes a stage-winning plan come good.

“For sure it would have been good but he was just too fast,” he said when asked if he wanted to follow Van Aert’s rocketing move. “I wasn’t in a super position entering the climb and then I made it up and in the end there was a gap.”

The Tour’s “second tier” of Aleksandr Vlasov, David Gaudu, Jack Haig, and Ben O’Connor were out of view when the action escalated Tuesday.

“The boys did a great job again in protecting Aleks [Vlasov] and he was in position when it mattered,” said Bora-Hansgrohe director Rolf Aldag. “Also tactically nothing changed for us, it was just another day where we stayed out of trouble.”

Vlasov, O’Connor and Co. will have to show their faces at some point if they want to crack the top-5.

A true GC climbing crunch on the Planches des Belles Filles summit on Friday will bring proper problems for those not on show.