• Fernando Gaviria (right) celebrates with a fist pump after crossing the finish line ahead of Peter Sagan (left) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Stage 4 was the closest the 2018 Tour de France has got to a full bunch sprint, with most of the top-level sprinters getting a chance to go for the victory in the finishing town of Sarzeau.
Cycling Central

11 Jul 2018 - 7:37 AM  UPDATED 11 Jul 2018 - 11:43 PM

It was a relatively quiet stage of the Tour de France. A breakaway of four riders was left to hang out there very late, but the sprint teams managed to bring them back within the final kilometre.

Only a late crash with five kilometres remaining disrupted the calm of the peloton, with a number of riders going down after a fall near the front of the peloton. 

The sprint trains got themselves set up and it was Dimension Data who led out into the final kilometre, Trek-Segafredo gradually went over the top to claim the lead, but it was a superb run by Maximiliam Richeze from 700 metres to the 250 metre mark that stole the show.

The Argentinian towed Fernando Gaviria, giving the eventual winner a chance to start the sprint with a significant advantage.

Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) started his surge for the line from 300 metres out and had plenty of momentum, sweeping past Gaviria and looking the winner at one stage. He paid for his long-range effort, with Gaviria and Sagan passing the big German late.

Behind the winning trio there was plenty of other action, with Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) complaining after Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto NL-Jumbo) crossed his path in the final few hundred metres. He didn't opt to make a protest to the commissaires and reflected on his positioning after the stage instead.

"The team were brilliant for the last kilometres," said Cavendish. "It was exactly what we wanted, and we executed the plan we had.

"We knew we had to take it on even though it was a headwind, so I thought we'd do that then another team would come in. In a block headwind, once you're not in a wheel, your watts went double, you know.

"The thing is that [Soren] Kragh Andersen came in and pushed me out of [Mark] Renshaw's wheel, and it was better to go on his wheel than be in the wind. So I thought, 'OK, he'll go', then he started to go round Renshaw, then Renshaw started to lead out, and I thought the left would be closed, so he came over the right and the gap opened on the left.'

Cavendish was left scrapping for wheels after Richeze swept past with Gaviria and Sagan in tow, blocked from following as teammate Mark Renshaw happened to peel off that side and was in the way.

"Quick-Step went on the left, and I'm blocked by my own lead-out man," said Cavendish. "That's going to look shit on paper, but you know what I mean. It was my own fault, I shouldn't have really been there.

Cavendish was consoled by the arrival of his recently born son, Casper, to the Tour. 

"It's luck of the draw, but like I said, it was going to be hard to beat [Quick-Step]. They've got another stage win, and I'm left holding a baby."

Groenewegen and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) were the most impressive outside the top three. They both started their sprints from poor positions but came storming home to claim fourth and fifth, respectively.

“I was good today, said Groenewegen. "The legs felt great. In the sprint I got boxed in several times, so I always had to re-launch my sprint.

"When I see my sprint and take into account how my legs felt, I’m disappointed that I didn’t win. That’s a pity, because there aren’t many opportunities.” 

Kittel was similarly disappointed that another opportunity had passed him by, but promised to keep trying.

“If you give up trying, you can go home," said Kittel. "The Tour is three weeks long and there are riders who have gone for three weeks and then won at the end on the Champs-Élysées. It’s still a long race with more chances on the way to Paris. I want to take those chances.”

Stage 4 Winners

“Obviously Quick-Step is very strong and they are the team to beat. I think the stages are just a little messy, like they were last year. I wanted to get out, took full risk again and I went through the peloton where I saw Quintana in front of me at 600 meters, and other guys who were blocking the road.

"That’s why I couldn’t find my way forward but this wasn’t just a problem for me, it was for other riders too. But that’s just the Tour. I will keep working and trying.”

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For the moment however, Fernando Gaviria and Quick-Step Floors hold the mental edge going into the upcoming sprint stages.

"It was difficult today," said Gaviria, "because the breakaway really pushed us, as we were the ones working the most at the front.

"We also had some headwind and that uphill drag, but Max (Richeze) was unbelievable, he knows when it's the right time to go to the front and did again a perfect lead-out."