The Belgian had already frustrated the sprinters on stage 1 of the Critérium du Dauphiné a month ago so there is little surprise he had the appetite to try again on the similarly hilly terrain of stage 4 of the the Tour de France. Particularly given the rider his team had been built around had been forced out of the Grand Tour with a broken collarbone after a hard crash on the fast run into the line on stage 3.
“After Caleb Ewan was forced to abandon the race, we lost the fastest sprinter in our team. It was rather quiet at the dinner table last night because – with so many sprint opportunities – most of our team was built around Caleb. That is why we had to change tactics and race offensively,” Van Moer said in a team statement.
True to that objective, Van Moer took off as soon a the rider safety protest go-slow ended, joined by Jean-Luc Périchon (Cofidis) the pair stretched out the gap on the 150 kilometre stage to Fougères. It never got out too far though, with the advantage only allowed to stretch out three minutes as the teams of the sprinters determined to have their day.
“Despite a small success rate today, I still opted for the breakaway,” Van Moer said. “Of course, I knew it would be a difficult task to stay ahead of the peloton at the Tour, but I kept fighting and gave it my all, which I always do. And such stages with hilly terrain suit me like a glove. I already proved so at the Dauphiné, Tirreno-Adriatico and Ronde van Limburg."
As the pair headed toward the line, with 15 kilometres to go, the gap was quickly tumbling dropping, down to just 30 seconds as the peloton ramped up the pace, and it looked like it would soon be game over for the duo out front. Van Moer, however, wasn’t going to let a potential stage victory at the Tour de France slip away so easily. He decided it was time to leave his breakaway companion of more than 100 kilometres behind and use his time-trial skills to try and make it to the end alone and, for a while there, it looked like it just might work.
Instead of joining the chase to make sure it was a sprint for the victory, which no doubt would have been their focus if Ewan was still in the bunch, his teammates were now working to disrupt the chase. Instead of the gap getting smaller it grew, at least for the first stages of Van Moer's solo foray.
“In the final 15 kilometres of the stage, my teammates told me through the radio that I could win the stage, which gave me a huge boost,” said Van Moer. “Unfortunately, to get caught at 100 metres from the line is really hard.”
Van Moer watched the prospect of his second career win and a Tour de France stage disappear as the gap eventually narrowed again and he was then swamped by the sprinters as the line approached. It still turned out to be a heroic ending, but one where Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was the main character. Stage 4 became a tale of a returning victor defiantly resisting a premature end to his stellar career, rather than one of the unrelenting young rider defying the odds and alone managing to hold off the rampaging horde.
Van Moer finished 49th and was unsurprisingly awarded the most combative rider prize. He, however, is now looking to the new chapters ahead where the ending turns in his favour and he takes home the ultimate prize of a stage victory at the Tour de France.
“I hope to be at the front again in the next weeks,” said Van Moer. “Although it’s a pity I just missed out on the stage win, I have to put things into perspective. I am only 23 years old and hopefully there are still a lot of opportunities to come.”
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