Stage four of the 2014 Tour de France was an instant classic, with Vincenzo Nibali putting on a masterclass over the cobbles while wearing the yellow jersey, as Chris Froome crashed out of the race and Alberto Contador lost precious time. While the general classification battle was absorbing in all its drama, at the head of the race, Lars Boom was out in one of his best days on the road bike to claim the stage win.
Boom hasn't raced the Tour since, while the pave of the north has featured just once since the instantly iconic stage. With the unveiling of the 2018 Tour de France parcours and eye-catching stage 9 to Roubaix, Boom could be set for a return to the French Grand Tour.
"I think it is really nice to have a stage like this in the Tour," Boom told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Guangxi with limited access to the full parcours of the Tour. "I am looking forward. It is stage 9 so it's a little bit further away then 2014, but it is good."
The inaugural Chinese WorldTour race is the final road event on Boom's programme in 2017, with his focus on aiding Dylan Groenewegen in the sprint stages. Looking over his season, Boom explained after a challenging spring his year improved, with the Tour of Britain a highlight.
"The beginning of the year was bad so I was unhappy. I worked hard to get back into a good level at the end of the year, so in the end the last few months were quite good, I think," he said.
Gibbons feeling the pain of Beihai crash
South African Ryan Gibbons came into the Tour of Guangxi aiming for a result to close out his debut professional season. Instead, the Dimension Data rider suffered a nasty fall on stage 1 and has since been struggling with bruised ribs.
"I can't get up when I lay down on my back. It takes me a bout 10 minutes to get up. I am just making up the numbers here," Gibbons told Cyclingnews on the finish line of stage 3.
Despite the pain when attempting to rise from a horizontal position, Gibbons was able to push pain to one side during the stage 3 Nanning city circuit with a strong presence on the front of the peloton inside the final lap.
"I went with a move and rolled through maybe a little harder than I should have and the guy sat up so I just decided to ride," he said of the stage. "I am just trying to salvage something out of this. Hopefully, I feel better day by day. The legs are defiantly there, I just hope that I can feel good and, after tomorrow, that I can do something in the last two stages."
With Gibbons unable to contest the sprint finale, Bernie Eisel took over duties for a top-10 result. However, for stage 4, Gibbons explained that Mekseb Debesay is the team's protected rider.
"We are looking for Mekseb, and I think tomorrow I wouldn't be surprised if he gets another top five, and if that is the case, then we'll fully ride for him in the last two stages time bonuses on the road and in the final," he said.
Jack Haig keeping things fun in China
After two stages suited to the sprinters with little on offer to test his climbing capabilities, Jack Haig decided stage 3 would be a day to liven things up with a day in the breakaway. The Orica-Scott rider fulfilled the ambition and in doing so, also claimed a bonus second via an intermediate sprint point that could prove decisive in the final general classification.
"Just trying to get some bonus seconds at the finish there, but it's also not super fun just sitting in the bunch and doing nothing, so I thought I might as well just give it a crack. It was a good opportunity at the start there and with three people, I was hoping to get more than one second but it is enough," Haig told Cyclingnews of his day in the breakaway.
With an expected break in proceedings on stage 4 from the Fernando Gaviria show of the first three days, Haig is one of the riders aiming to make his mark at the NongLa Scenic Spot summit finish. While the road book and maps provide details of the route and profile for the race, Haig explained he is unsure just what to expect in the finale after the surprise of stage 2's missing meters of elevation.
"No one really knows what the climb is going to be like. Yesterday we were meant to have 1,600m of climbing and we had about 600," he said. "I don't anyone knows how hard the climb is going to be tomorrow and then how high the long stage is going to be. Gaviria could even win. He has 30 seconds now of time bonuses so this can be hard but also [Julian] Alaphilippe, he won the sprint today and you saw his form at Worlds and Lombardia."
Without compromising his professionalism or duty to the team, Haig added that keeping things somewhat lighthearted and entertaining for the six stages will help him push through the fatigue of the season and finish the year on a high.
"Just keep it fun. In the week and bit after Lombardia, I just had fun, I went out and rode and didn't go any efforts or anything, just hard when I felt like it and just enjoyed it. It is super hard racing here, so you just look at the scenery and have fun," added Haig, who is likely to skip the Australian summer of racing for a European winter off-season.