Jasper Philipsen of Belgium sealed back-to-back victories in the Tour de France, winning stage four from Dax to Nogaro. A soporific afternoon’s racing exploded into chaotic life in the closing kilometres. In a finish described by Mark Cavendish as “carnage”, a spate of crashes on the Paul Armagnac motor racing circuit involved riders hitting the road, including the sprinter Fabio Jakobsen of the Soudal Quickstep team.
Cavendish, buoyed by finishing sixth on Monday in the stage to Bayonne, was again in the thick of the sprint, finishing fifth. For now, however, with the Pyrenees on the horizon, he will have to park his hopes for that record-breaking 35th stage win. “It was a real mixing point of riders,” he said of the final kilometres. “I was constantly analysing who was there and who had other teammates, jumping from train to train.”
Adam Yates, of the UAE Emirates team, retained the race leader’s yellow jersey as the peloton enters the first mountain climbs of this year’s race, on the stage on Wednesday to Laruns. “We’ve not wasted too much energy and we’re ready to fight for every second,” Yates said. “This is the Tour and we are expecting full gas racing, especially with the bonuses on the last climb and the gaps being not too big at the moment.”
The crashes in Nogaro came despite the wide road, as Philipsen, riding for the Alpecin-Deceuninck team, again benefited from an expert lead-out to take the fourth Tour success of his career.
“I thought it would be a bit safer with wider roads,” he said, “but the bends were tricky, especially going full gas in the turns. Luckily, the tyres were good enough and I didn’t slip away. I heard some crashes around me, so I hope everybody is OK, but it was a bit of a hectic final with the turns in the end.”
On a stage with one recognised climb, the fourth category Côte de Dému, less than 25km from the entry to the circuit in Nogaro, high speeds were inevitable in the sprint. On Monday, Cavendish had registered the highest speed, an eye-opening 73.3km/h, but his teammates could not compete with the fluent, compact lead-out Philipsen was again given.
With so few hills on the route, and the peloton rolling through the first 100km at a leisurely pace of 37km/h, it was in the main a good day for a long lunch. The stage was animated by two riders from Normandy, Benoît Cosnefroy, of AG2R Citroën, and Anthony Delaplace, riding for Arkéa‑Samsic. The pair forged ahead with 86km remaining, but as the finishing circuit loomed their lead was quickly eroded.
Meanwhile, Jonas Vingegaard’s team has again denied rumours of a rift between the defending champion and his teammate, Wout van Aert, who has cut a frustrated figure in this year’s Tour. “If you have a team like we have, with multiple goals, then it’s different to having just one leader,” the Jumbo-Visma sports director, Merijn Zeeman, said.
“We are a super-ambitious team and we also take some risks. Everyone’s on board with that, but it’s a not a guarantee it always works out.”
Van Aert, who has missed out on a stage win and was heard screaming in frustration after climbing on to the team bus on Sunday, has been under pressure to win before the first mountain stage.
With stage five taking in three major climbs in the final 80km, the focus will switch to Van Aert supporting Vingegaard. Attacks are widely expected from the Dane’s main rival, Yates’s teammate, Tadej Pogacar. The Slovenian is unlikely to disappoint.