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Who was that in the main breakaway at Thursday’s fourth stage at the Tour of the Alps?
None other than Chris Froome.
Froome’s breakaway group was caught coming into the base of the final climb, but Thursday’s action was the first major showing by Froome in a stage race since his harrowing crash in June 2019.
Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) tightened his grip on the overall lead after following attacks over the final climb. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) won after a daring descent, with Yates finishing third, and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) crossing the line second.
“I really wanted this victory. It was a perfect finish for me,” said Bilbao. “Even though I lost some seconds in the top, I was convinced I could get back to the descent. It’s not possible to take these risks every day. I want to dedicate this victory to ‘Scarpa’ [ed: Michele Scarponi, who died on this date], so I gave everything. I love these kinds of stages, it’s not just about the legs, you can play the cards in a different way.
The GC contenders put end to the adventure before the day’s final decisive climb, but Froome’s presence off the front sent a ripple through the peloton.
Once Froome was neutralized, Ineos Grenadiers massed at the front to try to put overnight leader Yates under pressure. The steep ramps of the Cat. 2 Bonipatri summits put the GC on the rivet, but Pavel Sivakov, who started the day in second, struggled.
On a fast descent to the line, Yates and Vlasov drove it home to contest for the victory when Bilbao bridged across to make it a three-up sprint for the win.
“I tried going on the climb. Bilbao was the only guy that I didn’t want to arrive with on the descent, but it was a good GC day,” Yates said. “The team controlled all day. I tried to win for the team, but today I found a faster guy. There is always a threat, anything can happen, so we will try to do our best, and see what happens.”
Chris Froome on the move, Simon Yates in control
Froome was part of nine riders who pulled clear in the mountainous profile in the 168.6km fourth stage from Naturns to Pieve di Bono. After opening a gap north of two minutes, Team BikeExchange pressed to the front of the race over a first-category climb to reel in the break with about 18km to go heading into the day’s final climb.
After losing time in every major mountain stage since returning from injury, the breakaway effort marked an important milestone in Froome’s progression.
The fact of riding into a breakaway is hardly the stuff of headlines, especially if the breakaway doesn’t survive to win the stage.
But when you’re a four-time Tour de France winner coming off a career-threatening injury, just the sight of seeing Froome at the sharp end of the action was noteworthy.
Though he later lost contact and finished off the pace, the ride will give Froome some much-needed encouragement as he continues to prepare for a return to the Tour de France in June.
— Israel Start-Up Nation / Israel Cycling Academy (@TeamIsraelSUN) April 22, 2021
The 45th Tour of the Alps concludes Friday with the 120.9km fifth stage from Valle del Chiese/Idroland to Riva del Garda. The stage features a first-category and second-category in the middle part of the stage before an unrated climb and descent to the line.
Tour of the Alps Stage 4 Results
- Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), 4:39:42
- Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), at s.t.
- Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange), at s.t.
- Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), at 00:58
- Jefferson Alexander Cepeda (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), at 1:06
- Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), at s.t.
- Ruben Guerrreiro (EF Education-Nippo), at 1:16
- Romain Bardet (Team DSM), at s.t.
- Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), at s.t.
- Matteo Fabbro (Bora-Hansgrohe), at s.t.