Jens Keukeleire finished stage 4 of the Tour de France mortified by his involvement in Chris Froome's crash but what a difference 24-hours makes. Orica-GreenEdge managed to place Mat Hayman and Simon Clarke in the breakaway and the duo were joined by teammate Keukeleire after the Belgian bridged the gap from the peloton and continued on to finish sixth on the stage in his debut Tour.
For the team's sports director Matt White, despite the rain and mud, it was a good day of racing as he explained.
"Bottom line, it was a very pleasing day on two fronts," White said. "Firstly, not one crash between our nine guys today so we are all healthy and safe. And the second reason is that we really featured in the race today. We were on the front foot with Clarkey (Simon Clarke) and Maty Hayman.
"It was always going to be a bit of a gamble to go in the breakaway, it certainly wasn't planned, but they saw an opportunity with some big strong boys launching off the front early and took that."
The breakaway contained seven men at its peak but it slowly dwindled as riders succumbed to crashes and the inclement weather. With 26km left of the 155km stage, Keukeleire bridged across to the leaders with the maillot jaune Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and maillot vert Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Although there was the 'race-within-a-race' happening, Keukeleire explained it "didn't feel like the Tour de France." "It felt like cyclo-cross today with the mud and the wet cobblestone sections," he said. "I always said I wanted to do Paris-Roubaix in the wet to have that experience, yes it's 100km less and less cobblestone sections, but I think it came pretty close."
Staying upright and avoiding any mechanicals saw Keukeleire remain with the leaders but with Astana and then Lars Boom (Belkin) racing aggressively for the stage win and gaining time over Nibali's GC rivals, it was too much for Keukeleire to chase them down by himself.
"I tried to stay as good as possible at the front," Keukeleire said. "In the last couple of cobblestone sections the difference was made, especially by Astana, who were riding pretty impressively for Nibali. On the second last cobblestone section there was a small gap and it was only Lars Boom who could close it.
"I tried, I came close, but I just couldn't make it and went through to the finish with Sagan and (Fabian) Cancellara."
While impressed by the Tour debutante's ride on the pavé, White acknowledged that it was almost impossible to stop Boom from winning the stage today.
"Whilst it (the breakaway) was a gamble, it did put us in the pole position behind so we could just sit there and follow," White said. "And when Jens Keukeleire was able to go across with the best it was a very pleasing sign.
"As always we would have liked to have gone for the win but Lars Boom was just too strong today and when it did split on the last cobble section, Jens was just in the wrong position to react."
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