Stage 4 of the Tour de France, ending by the sea in Calais, was set to be the last chance for the sprinters of the peloton to show their stuff for some time, with the next sprints not likely to arrive until the end of the second week.
However, the fast men ultimately didn't have a chance to follow the wheel tracks of Fabio Jakobsen and Dylan Groenewegen and battle it out for the last time in 10 days, with Wout van Aert's stunning late solo attack putting paid to those hopes.
In the end, it was Alpecin-Deceuninck's sprinter Jasper Philipsen who led the peloton home for second, celebrating in error with Van Aert up the road. Further back, Jakobsen, wearing the green jersey on Van Aert’s behalf, sprinted home in 12th, while Groenewegen was 122nd at 1:33 down.
Speaking to Cyclingnews after the stage, Jakobsen said that Jumbo-Visma played the tactics – attacking on the final climb of the Côte du Cap Blanc-Nez – perfectly, adding that they have, in Van Aert, the strongest man in the race.
"I think Jumbo had a perfect team tactic with Wout. They have perhaps the strongest guy in the bunch so congrats to them," Jakobsen said.
"I think I was in a quite decent group over the top, but we didn't manage to close it and in the positioning towards the last straight I got a bit boxed but also I didn't really have the legs to sprint.
"The climbs just broke my legs a bit, but you always need to try, and we did. Unfortunately, not too many points and no result but I'm happy. So, this is what it is and then now tomorrow we're going to eat some cobbles."
Jakobsen, clad in his green skinsuit as he sat on the steps of the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl bus, said that he would continue the battle for the points classification. He currently lies second in the standings, albeit already 61 points behind Van Aert.
He pointed out that anything can happen to green jersey contenders during the Tour, with the 2017 Tour seeing Marcel Kittel crashing out of green and Peter Sagan getting disqualified early on being perhaps the freshest examples.
"No, I think I think you just need to collect points to even be in," Jakobsen said, noting there were maybe three or four sprint chances left in the race. "It's also nice for in the coming week to have something to do because it's probably not going to be for me, and you never know what happens. It's not the first time that the leader of the green jersey – that can always happen something in a race.
"It's always a bike race. I think as a sprinter you need to always try and go for green. It's good for motivation and Mark Cavendish last year showed that it's possible. So, who knows? The jersey is handed over in Paris so yeah, we look forward."
Jakobsen also took time out to set the record straight on his relationship with fellow QuickStep-AlphaVinyl sprinter Cavendish. The pair had both hoped to take the team's Tour sprint spot, but – as Cavendish has pointed out in the past – any reports of bad blood between the pair is way off the mark, he said.
"Also, I'd like to set something straight. I saw somewhere in interviews that I said or that there was being said that Mark Cavendish did not congratulate me yet, but he did. So, I don't know how this got into the media,” Jakobsen said.
"He immediately sent me a message. We are very good friends, I look up to him, and to me he's a legend. So, I hope you can set this straight on internet for me because I admire him, I love him, and he's like a big brother to me, so I want to say that."
'For four or five seconds I really thought that I had that Tour victory'
While Jakobsen finished among the main peloton, which was still some way off victory with Van Aert up front, it wasn't the same for all sprinters. BikeExchange-Jayco sprinter Dylan Groenewegen was the main man missing from the group, saying later that the stage was what he and his teammates thought it would be beforehand.
His teammate Michael Matthews came home inside the top 10, and Groenewegen praised his team but admitted that his legs weren't up to it on Tuesday, two days after his win in Sønderborg.
"It is what we thought before eh?" Groenewegen said after emerging from the team bus following a post-stage shower. "It was going to be a hard stage, but it was possible to make it a bunch sprint.
"When I saw the peloton was split, my legs were really empty and, in the end, Wout van Aert was too strong for everyone. It's not a shame – the third stage was really good and today the team was really impressive, but my legs were not.
"He was flying on the climb, and I don't know after, but he was too strong for everyone. I'm still happy with the legs but today they are not enough."
Closer to Van Aert – in fact, just eight seconds down – Philipsen led the group home but said later that he initially didn't see the Belgian celebrating his stage win. The 24-year-old, who now has four Tour runner-up spots to his name, admitted that he thought he had won the stage.
"Yes, I thought I had won, but suddenly I saw Wout there," he said. "I didn't know he was leading the way. I never saw him go on the climb and I didn't hear on the radio that he was leading either.
"Yes, I'm very disappointed. For four or five seconds I really thought that I had that Tour victory. It will probably make for nice photos but for me it's mostly shit. There's nothing left but to take the shame for a while."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Prior to joining the team, he had written for most major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly, Rouleur, and CyclingTips.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France and the spring Classics, and has interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.
As well as original reporting, news and feature writing, and production work, Daniel also runs The Leadout newsletter and oversees How to Watch guides throughout the season. His favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Volta a Portugal, and he rides a Colnago C40.