Featured image courtesy of Cor Vos
Early excursions into high altitude mountain stages are a rare occurrence for the Tour de France. Stage 4 to Orcières-Merlette was tipped to be a day for the breakaway but not to be today as Primož Roglič secures a stage win and a psychological advantage over his rivals.
The fight to get in the break was surprisingly not shut down as riders such as Nils Politt, Krists Neilands, Tiesj Benoot and Quentin Pacher went away. There was no threat to AG2R’s Benoit Cosnefroy’s lead in the polka-dot jersey so today was all about having a go for the stage win. It wasn’t to be as Israel Start-Up Nation’s Krists Neilands did go solo but was caught by the peloton just before the final climb.
Last year we had a frightening altitude finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles as early as Stage 6, this year another altitude finish but earlier on Stage 4. Orcières-Merlette isn’t the hardest climb but being early in the race it was always going to be a first test to see who’s in shape. Today’s stage finish wasn’t the most spectacular but it was interesting to see who was there and thereabouts.
Credit must go to Jumbo-Visma who are the team to beat. The pace of Wout Van Aert and Sepp Kuss to deliver a Primož Roglič, who is the form man making a statement that he is the contender to beat. In the final kilometre he produced a brilliant sprint, which we’ve seen in the weeks previous at the Dauphiné and the Tour de l’Ain, to steal some seconds on everyone else.
We are only in the first week yet Jumbo-Visma are dominating the peloton, have just produced a strong display atop a mountain and are in charge of their own destiny.
Julian Alaphilippe remains in the yellow jersey, looking fresh and Mitchelton-Scott won’t be left disappointed despite not taking the jersey. Adam Yates climbed well to finish tenth, Esteban Chaves was alongside him and as ever Mikel Nieve took a turn to control the pace.
Alaphilippe could keep yellow until the Pyrénées or judging by his early visibility at the front of the race could he go all the way? France expects and in Alaphilippe they have hope, Thibaut Pinot once again finished strongly with team-mate David Gaudu recovering and the French have a third rider to cheer now. Guillaume Martin attacked in the finale, he rode a good Dauphiné and who knows could there be an all-French alliance?
Nairo Quintana found himself in contention, Mikel Landa quietly finished ninth and another Slovenian we absolutely need to keep an eye on is Tadej Pogačar. He can ride on the wheels of other GC trains; he was a superstar at last year’s Vuelta – Pogačar is the dark horse and now finds himself in the white jersey as best young rider.
Jumbo-Visma have the edge at the moment at the expense of an Ineos team that won’t be panicking yet but will be slightly concerned at how Jumbo-Visma controlled the pace so well, seem to have stronger domestiques and Roglič leaving it to the final kilometre to sprint to the line. Egan Bernal has conceded a few seconds but we have a hell of a way to go.
Stage 6 to Mont Aigoul is the next serious GC day before the Tour reaches the Pyrénées. After suffering from a fall on Stage 1, Pavel Sivakov looks to be saving himself for the weeks ahead but speculation that Richard Carapaz might be contender for the yellow jersey might be already out of the window. The current holder of the Giro lost 28 seconds to Roglič, an early answer to where Carapaz is at but he could yet recover in the upcoming stages. Ineos will be saving themselves but of course they can’t save themselves too late before the race might be lost.
Krists Neilands deserves ride of the day. The first psychological blow has been hammered by Jumbo-Visma and Primož Roglič. A long way to go as the sprinters get their time to shine again tomorrow. Mont Aigoul is the next obstacle – Stage 4 was a premature indicator of who’s in contention – this Tour is far from over.