Marcel Kittel claims his third stage as Vincenzo Nibali defends yellow
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) has claimed his third victory in four stages at the 2014 Tour de France, sprinting to victory in Lille on the first French stage of this year’s race. Vincenzo Nibali once again finished safely in the main field to maintain his lead in the general classification ahead of his third day in yellow.
After the first three stages of this year’s Tour were contested in front of huge crowds in the UK, the Tour de France circus packed up and moved over to northern France for stage 4. The big news at the start in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage was that 2010 winner Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) had abandoned the race, succumbing to a knee injury he sustained in a crash on stage 3.
Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler was the first to attack on stage 4, the showman starting the stage at the front of the field and breaking clear soon after the flag was waved. He was joined by Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and the pair got to work, trying to build a meaningful lead on a stage that was always going to be about the sprinters.
Winner of last year’s Tour, Chris Froome (Sky) crashed mere minutes after the start, getting caught behind a touch of wheels and having nowhere to go. He crashed hard, taking skin off his wrist, knee, hip and shoulder. His wrist seemed to be presenting the greatest problem and after some time spent at the doctor’s car, he returned to the peloton wearing a wrist brace. It wasn’t the best start for the defending champion ahead of tomorrow’s stage which features more than 15km of cobbled roads.
— Team Sky (@TeamSky) July 8, 2014
While Froome was receiving treatment for his injuries, the Astana-lead peloton was taking it slow to allow the Sky rider to get back on. This allowed Mate and Voeckler to forge on, building their lead to beyond three minutes after 25km of racing.
The first of two fourth category climbs awaited Mate and Voeckler after 34km and it was Mate that took the solitary point on the Cote de Campagnette. With Astana, Giant-Shimano and Lotto-Belisol patrolling the front of the main field, the leaders’ advantage was held steady in the vicinity of 3:30.
After 64km of racing and with 100km remaining in the stage, the gap was down to 2:45 thanks largely to the efforts of Giant-Shimano’s Cheng Ji. With 87km to the finish Voeckler and Mate’s lead was down below two minutes and looked be disappearing fast.
The day’s intermediate sprint was rather oddly positioned, at the top of the unclassified climb up to Mont Cassel. Mate’s chain fell off on the climb and while Voeckler initially looked as if he might continue on alone, he eventually sat up and waited for Mate. The pair crossed the intermediate sprint point together with Voeckler taking the maximum points uncontested.
Back in the main field Marco Marcato was leading his Cannondale teammate Peter Sagan out for third place in the sprint and despite initial attempts from Bryan Coquard (Europcar) it was the Slovak who took the points, extending his lead in the green jersey competition.
Mate’s mechanical and the increased pace ahead of the intermediate sprint saw the lead duo’s advantage slashed to one minute. And as the peloton descended on cobbled roads down the other side of Mont Cassel, Cannondale started to push hard, having sensed a split in the peloton.
Roughly 30 riders were caught out in the split, including Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Michal Kwiatkowsi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), the last of those having suffered a puncture just before the split. Three of Kwiatkowski’s teammates dropped back from the peloton to the chase group to help the Polish rider regain contact with the main field.
With 55km to go Luis Angel Mate’s bad luck continued, the Spaniard suffering a puncture. Voeckler looked around to see where his breakaway companion had gone but with their advantage down to around 30 seconds, the Frenchman decided to chance his arm alone.
Mate was caught by the peloton less than a kilometre after getting a bike change and a few kilometres later the peloton grew again with the Omega Pharma-QuickStep-led chase group making contact at the back.
Thomas Voeckler’s solo efforts resulted in a widening of his lead with the gap out beyond a minute again with 51km to go. And when he reached the second and final climb of the day with 46km remaining — the fourth category Mont Noir — the flamboyant Frenchman was 1:17 clear of the main field.
In the following 15km Lotto-Belisol did the majority of the pacemaking at the front of the main field, assisted by Astana, and Voeckler’s gap was down to 36 seconds with 32km remaining. The catch was inevitable, it was just a question of when the peloton was going to decide to make it.
Lotto-Belisol’s Greg Henderson, a key lead-out man for Andre Greipel, crashed hard when his wheel slipped out on a roundabout. The Kiwi banged his knee and immediately withdrew from the race.
With 20km left to race it was Giant-Shimano that had taken up the pacemaking and Thomas Voeckler was left dangling just 15 seconds ahead. He was eventually snapped up with a little more than 16km to go as the riders navigated a series of tight roads and narrow corners on their way into Lille.
Tinkoff-Saxo took up the majority of the pacemaking as Peter Sagan crashed at the back but calmly made his way back to the peloton unassisted. With 10km to go and the crowds continuing to grow, it was Garmin-Sharp and Tinkoff-Saxo heading up the dash for the finish.
Roughly 5km from the finish the Omega Pharma-QuickStep sprint train lined itself up at the head of affairs and a few kilometres later they were joined by Giant-Shimano, the two teams lined up as the tight and technical run-in to the finish continued. It had been raining earlier in the day but thankfully the clouds had passed before the riders reached Lille for the finale.
Rounding the final bend before the finish it was Team Katusha in the perfect position for Alexander Kristoff who seemed to jump just a fraction early. He was overhauled just inside the line by Marcel Kittel who took the narrowest of his three victories in the race so far. Kristoff held on for second, French national champion Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) was third and Peter Sagan, who worked his way back to and through the peloton in the tricky closing kilometres, managed to take an impressive fourth place.
The result sees Sagan hold on to his lead in the points classification and the best young rider classification, while Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) still leads the KOM classification.
Kittel said after the race:
“At 20 kilometres [remaining] we were riding at high speed and it was very difficult to stay up front. We also had some troubles with the team to come back to the front and we really had to work hard for that. In the end they could deliver me to the front and that was very important.
It was very very fast at times and lots of corners and roundabouts…very nervous, very hectic but we couldn’t stay together as a team which didn’t allowed us to save as much energy. Today we really had to fight for it and in the end I was alone so I had to work a bit to find my own way it luckily worked out, but it could have been different.
At one kilometre to go it was a feeling for the situation and we were lucky that no other team could stay together to pass us on the right side and close that side when I was on the wheel of Renshaw and from there I had to make a decision: jump onto the wheel of Kristoff to close the gap to let it not grow and then I used all my energy and it was the last bit of strength that made the win possible.
It could have been different if the finish line had been 20m earlier today then I would have come second. I think it would be really stupid not to take that in account for the next stages and not be aware of the dangers of the other sprinters like Alexander Kristoff, Arnaud DeMare, Bryan Coquard or Andre Greipel. We will pay attention to them.
Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult stage, and we have it as a goal which we’re focusing on. We got second in Paris-Roubaix this year and we’ve got a favourite [John Degenkolb] and it gives us a lot of confidence and motivation.”
Vincenzo Nibali finished the stage on bunch time in 24th place and holds a two-second advantage over a whole host of riders going into stage 5. The 156km stage runs from Ypres to Arenberg-Porte du Hainaut and features eight cobbled sectors which are likely to wreak havoc on the peloton.
Previous stage reports
– Stage 1: Marcel Kittel takes Tour opener as Cavendish and Gerrans crash
– Stage 2: Vincenzo Nibali wins in Sheffield and takes Tour lead overall
– Stage 3: Marcel Kittel doubles up in London, Nibali holds on to yellow
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