The fourth stage of the 2015 Tour de France, a mini-edition of Paris-Roubaix, was expected to be a showdown between the pavé specialists and the Grand Tour riders. A time trialist rode away with victory and yellow, however, when Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) soloed away in the final kilometres.
Bad luck ruined the chances of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Lars Boom (Astana). Others like Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) were more focused on their respective team leaders than on the stage win once they realised the finale wasn’t hard enough to breakaway.
Last year the Belkin team, now LottoNL-Jumbo, won the cobbled stage. The team expected to perform well again this year with Belgian rider Vanmarcke as the dedicated team leader for the stage. The team performed well, but just like at the spring classics, Vanmarcke was confronted with bad luck. After paying a visit to the doping control unit, the 26-year-old was clearly emotional and desperate when talking to the media at the team bus.
“It just keeps going on. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I can’t blame the equipment as the others don’t have mechanicals. It must be something with me," Vanmarcke said. "What is sure is that I was very good. I could’ve attacked on any sector but I had to ride smart but then it went wrong. I flatted on the penultimate and the last sector."
He bridged back just before the final pavé sector after that first flat tyre. “It could still happen in the last pavé sector. I obviously started taking risks to move up otherwise it was over anyway. That’s why I rode at the side of the road. You couldn’t see anything because of the dust. That’s where I punctured again.”
Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Kristoff seemed less disappointed about the flat tyre that took him out of contention for the victory. “That’s life,” Kristoff told Cyclingnews at the finish in Cambrai. “There were many of the favourites having flat tyres, like Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke. You can’t do anything about it. Both me and Rodriguez were were in a good position when I punctured. I was in the place to fight for the win but when you puncture in the final 50 kilometres you can’t come back.”
Classics specialist Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) had to take care of teammate Tejay van Garderen on the cobbles, but at the same time he targeted a stage victory. His third place in Paris-Roubaix this year showed he’s got what it takes to ride the cobbles. The BMC-duo featured in an elite lead group that briefly powered away from the first peloton on the last cobbles of the day. The group was driven by Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and Van Avermaet, but the co-operation in the group that also included men like Nibali wasn’t good enough to stay away.
“I tried on the last sector to get away with Tejay but it wasn’t easy,” Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews while warming down on the rollers at the team bus.. "I tried to get the group going. Froome wanted to ride but men like Stybar didn’t pull. If you’re in a group where not everybody is pulling it’s useless. At such a moment everybody has to work along."
The Belgian was impressed by Nibali, Froome and van Garderen. “Nibali already showed last year he was good on cobbles. Froome was super strong compared to last year. Tejay was there too. I think we’ve got a good GC rider,” Van Avermaet said.
The Belgian rider had mixed feelings about the cobbles stage. “I think the pavé sectors were chosen in such a way that it was less dangerous compared to last year. For me it was ok this way. If there would’ve been rain it would be even more dangerous. It was always a fierce battle in the run-up to each pavé sector, very hectic. Everybody was trying to bring their leader in a good position. I’m glad we came through it unscathed,” Van Avermaet said.
It wasn’t the time to crash as the 30-year-old Belgian rider is about to become a father, with the predicted date being on the final day of the Tour. The deal with the BMC team is that he remains with the team at least until the team time trial on Sunday. A premature birth would be untimely. “At home everything’s cool. No news is good news. Hopefully I can take it easy tomorrow and then I’ll try to go for the victory in Le Havre,” Van Avermaet informed Cyclingnews.