Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) is on fire at the 2018 Tour de France. On Tuesday afternoon, the 23-year-old rider was forced to work hard in Sarzeau to capture his second stage win of this year's Grande Boucle.
Gaviria didn't even have the time or energy to throw his arms up in the air as he crossed the stage 4 finish line ahead of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal). It was his ninth win of the season and the 49th victory for the Quick-Step Floors team.
For a young rider like Gaviria, who is making his debut in the Tour de France, there's a lot to learn. He has now won two out of four stages in his maiden Tour, and so he is clearly someone who learns quickly. Gaviria was asked about his first impressions of the Tour de France at the finish line in Sarzeau.
“The size of the race is what impressed me the most," he said. "Everything they told me about it is true. The racing itself is not so different. It's an excellent race in which you have to give everything you've got, in every stage. It's tiresome but exciting to be part of it."
He was also surprised that not only the sprinters were fighting for position in the build-up to the sprints. There was a crash with five kilometres to go as Chris Froome's Team Sky were moving to the front.
“This is cycling," he said. "The Tour de France is a new experience for me. I'm surprised about the risks that are being taken by the GC guys. I've got to adapt to the danger, but in general, that's not a problem."
The 195km stage from La Baule to Sarzeau finished on a long dead-straight road near the coast in Brittany on the Rhuys peninsula. The last survivors of an all-day breakaway group were brought back within the final kilometre, mainly thanks to the early works from teammate Tim Declercq. Trek-Segafredo were leading the way for John Degenkolb, and Dimension Data were near the front too.
At 700 metres from the finish line, Quick-Step's Maximiliano Richeze charged forward through the front of the peloton with Gaviria on his wheel and Sagan, wearing the green jersey, just behind them. At 500 metres, the Quick-Step teammates were leading the peloton. Richeze continued his massive pull up the left-hand side of the road, which stretched out the peloton. The hardest work was still to come because, in the final metres, the road went slightly uphill while facing some headwind.
The tricky finish circumstances resulted in a waiting game among the sprinters. Greipel ended that poker game and played his cards at 300 metres from the line. The German powerhouse charged forward from outside the top-five. By the time Greipel came to the front of the race, Gaviria had launched his sprint.
Greipel and Gaviria were sprinting side by side, with the German rider briefly moving ahead of the Colombian. In the final metres, Greipel started fading while Sagan was coming up. Gaviria threw his wheel over the line in first place while Sagan narrowly beat Greipel for second place.
"It was a hard-fought and difficult sprint," Gaviria said. "I had to win. It's a reward for the work from the team during the stage. We'll return to the hotel in a good mood. It was a complicated sprint because the GC riders are also fighting for position. That's what we have to deal with in this Tour de France, and we have to take it as it comes.
"I've had other hard-fought sprints this year at the Tour of California; Caleb Ewan pushed me to the maximum, maybe even more than today,” Gaviria referred to the Australian rider who wasn't selected for the Tour de France by his Mitchelton-Scott team. "André Greipel played it well today and surprised me by going from far out. Luckily I had enough left in the tank to pass him and hold off Peter Sagan."
After winning the first stage and taking the yellow jersey, Gaviria was unable to sprint along in stage 2 due to a late crash in the peloton. During the third stage, a team time trial, Gaviria was dropped quite early by his teammates. The co-operation in the team wasn't as perfect as anticipated, and they narrowly lost out on the stage victory and the yellow jersey for teammate Philippe Gilbert.
After a fantastic start in the Tour de France, the so-called 'Wolfpack' team headed back to the hotel from Cholet with a few riders being very disappointed and angry.
"We're pleased to have won two stages," Gaviria said. "We want to win as many stages as possible. I want to enjoy being in the mix in the sprints. How many? We'll see and take it day by day. If I can win the green jersey in Paris? That's a difficult question. If I would get the green jersey that would be incredible. Winning the green jersey battle from Peter Sagan isn't easy. I'll collect as many points as possible, and if things go my way, then I'll get the jersey in Paris."
On Wednesday, the stage is likely going to finish in a bunch sprint, although the course is more demanding than the previous stages. Stage 5 features five categorized climbs in the final 100 kilometres. The day after that, the stage finishes on the tough Mûr de Bretagne, and that will surely suit other riders. Gaviria will likely be in the mix on Wednesday, but on Thursday it'll be time for Gilbert, Julian Alaphilippe and Bob Jungels to step forward in the Quick-Step Floors team.
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