Fernando Gaviria won his second stage victory of this Tour de France in a thrilling sprint finish in Sarzeau on Tuesday, and in doing so made plain the fight Peter Sagan faces to win a record-equalling sixth green jersey.
Riding in his first Tour, Gaviria again made it appear as though he has been performing on cycling’s grandest stage all his life, and at the end 195 mostly tranquil kilometres through the heart of Brittany the 23-year-old Colombian faced down the brilliantly talented Sagan and hugely experienced powerhouse Andre Greipel, and beat both by a matter of inches in a photo finish.
Chris Froome and the rest of the main general classification contenders finished safely in the pack, although a mass crash 5km from home caused several riders to lose time including Katusha’s Russian leader, Ilnur Zakarin. One of Froome’s key rivals Rigoberto Uran was also caught up in the incident but his EF team worked hard to ensure he rejoined the peloton.
Much of this stage passed without incident, a natural lull in a far bigger contest, like the tranquil spell of a Test match before tea. It took a classic pattern: the early breakaway of four riders enjoying their moment in the limelight, the peloton gently reeling them in, before the foremost sprint team, Gaviria’s Quick-Step Floors, took control of the race finish.
Quick-Step have an impressive history of sprinting prowess with Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel among their alumni, and Gaviria is continuing the tradition. Three days after winning on his debut, he followed the self-styled ‘wolf pack’ of Quick-Step riders to the front of the peloton as the finish-town of Sarzeau came into view, before springing out and attacking the long, wide straight.
Sagan and Greipel were the only riders who could keep pace, with Cavendish failing to find the position or power to match them despite the assistance of his Dimension Data team. Greipel seemed to nudge ahead in the final 50m but Gaviria came back and pinched victory on the line.
Fernando Gaviria, right, pips Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel (EPA)
The result means Sagan retains the green jersey with 143 points, but Gaviria now has 139 and already it seems like these two will enjoy a rivalry throughout this race and Tours to come.
For those overall riders the serious stuff starts now: Wednesday’s stage five is an up-and-down day consisting of five categorised climbs like a tough classics race, before Thursday’s stage six takes in two loops of the gruelling Mur-de-Bretagne, which will hurt plenty in the pack.
General classification after stage four: 1 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 13hrs 33mins 56secs, 2 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team at same time, 3 Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky at 3s, 4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors at 5s, 5 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors at 7s, 6 Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors at same time, 7 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb at 11s, 8 S0ren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb, 9 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb both at same time, 10 Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 35s