Today’s cobbled stage had been tipped as one of the defining stages of this year’s Tour, not least because of what happened last year. Although in the end, nothing changed for the Big Four, Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step) took the race by the scruff of the neck and rode into the yellow jersey from 3km out.
Rider of the day
While the Big Four’s support riders were at the top of their game today, my Rider of the Day has to be the German metronome, Tony Martin. Starting today’s stage just one second behind Chris Froome (or a fraction of that second if you want to get technical), today was possibly the last day for Martin to have a real chance at yellow. Scrolling through my timeline from the start of the stage – and up until about the 3km mark – no one actually thought he would win the stage as well!
By the end of the cobbles, there was a fairly big group, including sprinters Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Bryan Coquard (Europcar) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka), and it seemed the Big Four were just waiting for these guys to sort themselves out. With everyone looking at each other just under the 3km banner, Martin made his signature move during the bunch’s moment of confusion, taking a gap they’d never close for the stage win and a well-deserved yellow jersey. All on a bike that wasn’t even his – he jumped on Matteo Trentin‘s bike when he had a mechanical about 20km from the finish! My favourite wins are the ones where the rider takes the race into his own hands and goes for broke – today, Tony did just that.
Nobody wanted to pull, so I decided to give it a try and go full gas ahead. Somehow I found some power. I don’t know what happened today. I was so nervous. I don’t know how many watts I did — maybe more than I ever did. I’m so happy.
Four things we noticed
1. It’s a team sport won by individuals. I don’t remember a day in which this truism was demonstrated in almost every kilometre as today. Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe, Peter Sagan and Daniele Bennati, Lars Boom and Lieuwe Westra were the key men for Froome, Contador and Nibali respectively throughout the whole of the cobbled sections, instinctively knowing when to drive the group and when to keep their men safe. These were loyal teammates who could have realistically gone for the stage victory themselves but sacrificed their own ambitions for the bigger picture. It’s a shame that Nairo Quintana was on his own, with only Alejandro Valverde to sporadically check on the Colombian over his shoulder once Alex Dowsett crashed midway through the race. Of all the Big Four, Quintana seems to be the most isolated so far.
2. Spit dummy, toys everywhere. On a stage like this, the adrenaline must really be pumping – so many things to watch out for! But there’s adrenaline and then there’s a total and complete meltdown. Thibaut Pinot‘s mechanical in the midst of the penultimate cobbled sector and the agonising wait for a teammate, neutral service or team car caused the Frenchman to throw a temper tantrum that toddlers around the world will hold up as the gold standard. The fit of pique was so uncontrollable that it was still raging as he crossed the finish line three minutes and some down from the main group, dropping to 30th in the overall standings. His teammates didn’t look too pleased to be on the sharp end of his tongue, either.
3. Body checks and kamikaze elbows. You often see a nudge or two between riders in bunch sprint run-ins but today’s stage saw loads of nudges, both subtle and blatant. Andre Greipel stopped Degs from driving him into the gutter during the run-up to the intermediate sprint with a firm shoulder to the body as the Giant drifted into his line. Tony Gallopin didn’t let a shark intimidate him as he gave Nibali a sure clip when the Astana rider tried to pass when there was no room to do so. And Froome nearly took a spill after a Katusha rider took exception to Sky’s leader trying to do the same thing. As far as I could see, none of these nudges were malicious, just a warning that, “hey, I got here first so bugger off”.
4. No DNFs. After yesterday, it’s good to see that there were no abandonments in today’s stage. Although how those guys with dislocated shoulders and broken ribs go over those cobbles in one piece, I’ll never know.
Stage 4 result
1. Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step) 5:28:58
2. John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) +0:03
3. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) same time
4. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) s/t
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) s/t
1. Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step) 12:40:26
2. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:12
3. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) +0:25
4. Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) +0:38
5. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:39
6. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) +0:40
7. Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick Step) +0:46
8. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:48
9. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +1:15
10. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick Step) +1:16
Points leader: Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal).
King of the Mountains leader: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
Best young rider: Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Team classification: BMC.
Link: Official race website
Header image: Tony on the podium (B Baden/ASO)