Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 4 of the 2016 Tour de France, a largely flat 237.5km journey from Saumur to Limoges
Good morning, and a warm welcome back to Cyclingnews' live race centre for stage 4 of the Tour de France.
Yesterday seemed to last forever, didn't it? Well, today's stage is even longer - the longest of the entire race no less. 237.5km from Saumur to Limoges, where we should see another bunch sprint.
The team buses have gathered in Saumur and the riders are going through their morning rituals. They'll be rolling out in just over 30 minutes with racing proper scheduled to begin at 11.30 CET.
Here's the stage profile
As you can see, it's long, and largely flat, though the roads do rise gently in the second half as the race continues to make its way south.
We go up to 452 metres of altitude via a fourth-category KOM point, and while that may sap the sprinters' legs a little, it shouldn't prevent their teams from ensuring a bunch gallop.
Mark Cavendish has rocked up and he's sporting a new little customisation on his bike. 28V - to mark his victory tally in the Tour de France after his stage win yesterday. The Manxman is level with Bernard Hinault and closing in on the 34 of record holder Eddy Merckx.
The podium announcer has just sung Happy Birthday to Alexander Kristoff and the crowds joined in. The Norwegian is 29 today.
The Katusha man was 8th on the opening stage and 11th yesterday, and will be hoping his fortunes can turn on his birthday.
Before we roll out of Saumur, let's have a recap of yesterday's action. Cavendish won his 28th Tour stage, beating Greipel by a tyre's width in dramatic fashion. Our full stage report includes video highlights, photos, and full results.
Like yesterday, the riders are in relaxed mood this morning. The FDJ riders are sitting around drinking coffee and reading today's edition of L'Equipe. Meanwhile Romain Bardet is getting his hair cut...
We're just moments away from the roll-out now
And we're off! This pic from FDJ shows the riders on the start line and they've just set off into the neutralised zone.
And we're off! This pic from FDJ shows the riders on the start line and they've just set off into the neutralised zone.
The neutral zone is around 10km long and Christian Prudhomme will soon rear his head from the roof of his car and declare stage 4 officially underway.
Here we go then. That's Km0, the flag has dropped, and we are racing.
Who will attack today?
Yesterday saw a breakaway of just one rider - Armindo Fonseca. Did he get his days mixed up? Interestingly, the last time Limoges hosted a stage finish was also the last time a true day-long solo break has yielded stage victory. Frenchman Christophe Agnolutto was the victor and odds-defier on that day in 2000.
The race passes through Chatellerault after around 75km - birthplace of Sylvain Chavanel...
The riders are still all together after the early kilometres of this stage.
The issue of the 'fight for position' in stage finales - with GC teams and sprint trains alike vying for space - is becoming an increasingly hot topic at this Tour.
After Peter Sagan said some riders have 'lost their brains' (you can read his full comments here) and Bernard Eisel said the situation is 'just getting ridiculous (here), Mark Cavendish has entered the debate. Here are his thoughts:
All together after 15km in what has been a calm start to proceedings.
We now have a group of around seven riders making a bid for freedom ahead of the peloton. Counter attacks, too, as others look to join the move.
The riders out front are Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff), Markel Irizar (Trek-Segafredo), Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data), Andreas Schillinger (Bora-Argon18), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Julien Vermote (Etixx-Quick Step) and Daryl Impey (Orica-BikeExchange).
However, the peloton is riding hard with some - mainly the French Pro Conti teams - not happy they've missed the boat.
Those seven are brought back but we have four new riders off the front and this time it's looking like they might get away.
Oliver Naesen (IAM Cycling)
Alexis Gougerard (AG2R-La Mondiale)
Markel Irizar (Trek-Segafredo)
Andreas Schillinger (Bora-Argon18)
Over 2 minutes 30 now for the four leaders and the peloton are have let this go. This is our breakaway for the day. Settle in, folks.
@Chris_Boardman Tue, 5th Jul 2016 10:25:20
It was only a matter of time before Alexis Gougeard made it into his first Tour de France breakaway. The Frenchman, who was in the break on his debut Paris-Roubaix last year, featured in our list of young debutants to watch at this year's Tour.
Peter Sagan's Tinkoff teammates hit the front of the bunch to tighten their grip on this as the gap goes out towards five minutes. That's the responsibility that comes with the yellow jersey, but they'll be interested in the proper chase later on as Sagan has a chance for a second stage win here.
@EdwardPickering Tue, 5th Jul 2016 10:36:56
Agree with Ed's prediction?
Maillot jaune Sagan enjoys a quick chat with former teammate Chris Juul-Jensen
The average speed for the first hour of racing was 44.5km/h - a marked improvement on yesterday, when it was over 10km/h slower.
172km remaining from 237km
The gap between the break and the bunch has stabilised at 5 minutes after 60km of racing.
Have you listened to our latest Tour de France podcast yet?
Plenty of kilometres remaining in this stage, so you've definitely got time. Daniel Benson and Stephen Farrand are joined by The Times' Jeremy Whittle to dissect the opening three stages.
A shot of our breakaway quartet
Let's shine a spotlight on our breakaway riders. Three of the four ride for WorldTour teams so it's not quite your average gathering of lesser-known Pro Conti air-time hunters.
Markel Irizar is one of the elder statesmen of this Tour de France peloton, the 36-year-old now in his 13th year as a pro and his 15th Grand Tour. The Basque rider spent the first portion of his career at the Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi squad but his career was nearly over before it had even begun.
In 2002, two years before he would turn pro, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and began treatment. Not many years before, as a youngster, he had written a letter of support to Lance Armstrong when the American was diagnosed with the disease. Irizar would make his own comeback, going on to enjoy a long and fruitful career - his best result being his overall win at the 2011 Ruta del Sol - and, as if by fate, he rode alongside Armstrong at the Radioshack squad. Current pros invariably talk about Irizar with a notable tone of respect and admiration, his application and approach to life and his career serving as an inspiration to many.
157km remaining from 237km
A nice moment as Sylvain Chavanel clips off the front of the peloton as they enter Chatellerault. That's where the veteran Frenchman was born, and he is allowed to enjoy a moment in the spotlight, drinking in the applause and support from family, friends, and locals.
Remember when Geraint Thomas broke his pelvis early in the 2013 Tour, and rode all the way to Paris as Chris Froome won his first yellow jersey?
Well, if he can do that, he can probably cope with what has been thrown at him so far this Tour. The Welshman is suffering with a rib injury after ploughing into his stem in the late crash on stage 1. It's affecting his breathing and his riding position - here's our story with the full details:
The average speed has reduced slightly as our breakaway covers 40.5km in the second hour of racing. Overall average so far of 42.5km/h.
140km remaining from 237km
The gap goes out slightly as the riders take on the gentle climb to Monthoiron after 92km. 5:45 is the gap.
Let's talk about the finishing straight...
Yesterday was a slightly-uphill drag to the line and we have a similar scenario again today. We've just walked up past the line and this is what it looks like. It's around 3% maybe, but longer than yesterday. Yesterday Cavendish and Greipel comfortably got the better of sprinters more specialised in draggy finishes, but how will it play out today?
125km remaining from 237km
It's hot out there as the sun breaks through the clouds and the riders make their way along these long, straight country roads.
Here are Sagan's Tinkoff teammates driving the peloton. Cavendish's Dimension Data team have also been heavily involved at the front of the bunch.
Chris Froome drops back to his team car, where he has a chat with Nicolas Portal through the window. He is offered some sun cream - Nivea, I think - but politely declines. It's not clear what exactly is Froome's issue but he waves his hand to say 'forget it' and makes his way back up through the peloton.
119km remaining from 237km
The riders enter the feedzone, with the leaders six minutes ahead of the peloton.
118km remaining from 237km
We're halfway through the stage!
It's been a quiet day so far but not quite as sluggish as yesterday. Only another 118.75km to go...Already looking forward to my own feed zone.
We may be in the feed zone but it's not all calm as crosswinds start to blow. There's a split in the bunch with a small group of riders caught out and a fair way off the back.
Sagan is up near the front, chomping on his lunch, as that group has to put in an unwanted period of effort to regain contact with the peloton.
42km covered in the third hour by our breakaway men. The average speed for the day so far stands at 42.3km/h.
Time to fire up the breakaway spotlight once again and this time it's shining on Alexis Gougeard.
The AG2R rider is one of a number of promising up-and-coming Frenchman, and is making his debut at the Tour de France. Attacking, and getting in breaks, seems to be in the 23-year-old's DNA. He did so at his first Paris-Roubaix last year, and had a memorable ride at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this year, surviving from the break to hang in with the elite group of Sagan, Van Avermaet, Rowe, and Benoot and take fifth. The only surprise is that he's waited until now in this Tour, which started out in his home region of Normandie.
When he started out at the USSA Pavilly-Barentin club, no one seriously entertained the idea that one day he’d ride the Tour de France. Slightly overweight and heavily inconsistent, it took him a while to prove the doubters wrong but he won junior national time trial titles in 2010 and 2011 and hasn’t looked back. He enjoyed a storming end to last season – his second as a pro – as he completed his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, where he won a stage, soloing away from a large breakaway on a medium mountain day. He then won a stage and the overall at the Tour de l’Eurométropole.
@petercossins Tue, 5th Jul 2016 12:43:00
97km remaining from 237km
Over the last several kilometres, the peloton, fully fed, has begun to take chunks out of the breakaway's advantage. It's now down to 3:30.
85km remaining from 237km
A reminder of the stage profile as we approach a couple of key features. First up we have an intermediate sprint at Le Dorat after 170km - so just over 15km from now. Then we have the fourth-cat climb of the Côte de la Maison Neuve.
The road is heading uphill and the breakaway quartet are really shelling time here. The gap is down to below the two-minute mark - currently 1:45.
There might not be too long left for our breakaway riders, so let’s get that spotlight out again. IAM Cycling’s Oliver Naesen is, like Gougeard, making his debut at the Tour – his debut at a Grand Tour in fact.
As recently as 2014 the young Belgian was working full-time as a delivery driver, and training in his own time. Still, he made enough of an impact to earn a ride as a stagiaire with Lotto Soudal and then turn pro with Topsport – a big conveyor belt of Beglian talent – in 2015. That neo-pro campaign bore a number of encouraging results, including wins at La Poly Normande and Gooikse Pij, and he moved up to WorldTour level with IAM. They’re folding, of course, at the end of this season, and word is he’s off to AG2R to join Gougeard and bolster the French team’s Classics set-up after the retirement of Johan Van Summeren.
Right, I've finally reached my feed zone, so I'm off to grab a bit of lunch. I'll hand over to my colleague Laura Weislo in the meantime...
Hello all - it's such a lovely day in the Tour de France, and great to see the sun shining on the riders.
Let's hope they can stay upright for the rest of the stage. It's been quite hectic, and yellow jersey Peter Sagan spoke out about rider safety, asking the UCI to relax the 3km rule to let the GC riders sit out the sprints.
Sagan's Tinkoff team had their bus break down, and they are driving around in a replacement for the stage. That's not the kind of stress the riders really need, especially with the maillot jaune to defend, and Alberto Contador nursing wounds from crashes on stages 1 and 2.
Julian Vermote is setting pace in the peloton while Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel have a spirited conversation that involved Sagan doing some sort of shaking motion - maybe discussing bee hive dances?
69km remaining from 237km
3km to go til the intermediate sprint.
67km remaining from 237km
Schillinger dances away from the breakaway, looking back to see if anyone will chase. They don't, and he takes the sprint then waits up.
The points classification is currently led by Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) after his stage win. Sagan attacks.
Sagan gets the intermediate sprint and moves closer to Cavendish in the points classification. Marcel Kttel got between the two.
Sagan, Kittel and Cavendish were laughing after the sprint, they're having a grand time today. Luckily for all of us, the peloton is moving along at a decent clip - we're on a 41kph schedule, much more merciful than yesterday's 37kph.
60km remaining from 237km
Lotto Soudal takes charge after the sprint, with Dimension Data throwing a rider in to help the chase. The gap to the breakaway has been hovering around 1:55 or 2:00 for a good while. They know they can catch this quartet.
There's a category 4 climb coming in 5k - the Côte de la Maison Neuve - but it's the only climb of the day and won't threaten Stuyven's jersey.
Naesen is still in the virtual maillot jaune, but just by a couple seconds. That should evaporate soon.
The breakaway is on the climb, but it's not much of an ascent. It's classified only because of the length of this stage.
A mix of Belgian, British, German, French, Swiss and Italian flags greet the riders as they head through the KOM sprint. Irizar attacked and took the points.
Rather, point. The category 4 climbs have but one single point toward the polka dot jersey. Irizar won't threaten Stuyven's lead in that ranking, but will fill out the list to six riders - four of them with one point, Paul Voss (Bora) with two, and Stuyven with four.
52km remaining from 237km
The peloton has the gap back to 1:43 after it had gone out over two minutes again, now wiping out Naesen's virtual lead.
There's still no sense of urgency in the chase - perhaps the riders are taking to heart the criticisms of Sagan, Cavendish and Eisel on the senseless risk-taking.
@letourdata Tue, 5th Jul 2016 13:52:21
Winner Anacona is heading back into the bunch after a trip to the Movistar team car for bidons. The riders have to work very hard to stay fed and watered during these marathon stages. André Greipel was complaining to Eurosport about how much he had to eat to get through the six-hour long stage yesterday.
Movistar is a bit old-school with the bottle carrying, while Fortuneo-Vital Concept has a modern vest with bottle-holders stitched all over it for their riders to ferry water to the team.
46km remaining from 237km
The gap is plummeting - 1:20 now for the four riders up front as they enjoy a newly paved, straight stretch of tarmac.
Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx were heaping praise on Mark Cavendish for his 28th Tour de France stage win. Read about it here.
42km remaining from 237km
Handing back the console to Patrick Fletcher who has had a delicious lunch.
The gap from the breakaway to the peloton is right at one minute.
Hello everyone. Scrambled eggs if you're asking, and delicious.
40km remaining now on stage 4 and the gap to the break has ducked below the minute-mark, with the speed really increasing in the bunch.
Gougeard drops off the back of the break. Is that intentional? It doesn't look like it as the Frenchman gets out of the saddle to try and get some more juice out of his legs. But his three companions are disappearing up the road...
That's the end of Gougeard's outing. He'll be back in the peloton soon enough, and so might the other three as the bunch rapidly advances, even with over 35km still remaining.
I guess we better get Andreas Schillinger, the final member of our breakaway, under the spotlight.
The German is 32 and has spent all of his career at German teams, mostly Bora-Argon 18, which he joined in 2011 when it was known as NetApp. He previously spent four years riding at Continental level in Germany. He has never won a race but this is his third Tour de France. He reached Paris in 2013 but was forced to abandon last year, and he has made finishing the race his primary goal this time. He is also expected to chip in to help Bora’s sprinter Sam Bennett in the closing phases of flat stages – not that he’ll be too much use in today’s finale after his breakaway efforts.
He is a rouleur who’s favourite races are the spring Classics and, fun fact, he’s just become a father to a baby boy called Lucas. He said if the baby had arrived late he’d have chosen to skip the Tour to be there at the birth.
29km remaining from 237km
Less than 30km to go now and the peloton is now just 45 seconds behind our leaders.
Etixx-QuickStep's Julien Vermote leads the bunch along these sinuous and gently downhill roads. 30 seconds is the gap.
Who's going to win?
Cavendish again? Or will someone like Sagan make the most of the uphill drag to take the honours? Let us know your predictions, please. You can get in touch via Twitter @paddyfletch
20km remaining from 237km
There's the 20km to go banner, and Lotto Soudal's Lars Bak hits the front, once again working hard as the stage enters its final phase.
Here's the scene at the finish line in Limoges. The sun is out for the fans, most of whom have wisely donned the LCL caps they grabbed from the publicity caravan.
15km remaining from 237km
The leading trio are going deep here, really trying to push on, but they can't hold off the advancing peloton. 15 seconds is the gap now with 15km to go.
@PeteCuzz Tue, 5th Jul 2016 12:07:39
@Leroispeed Tue, 5th Jul 2016 14:43:34
Astana and Movistar move to the front of the bunch. There's little doubt we're going to see another tense battle for position in the closing stages, with the sprinters' teams setting up their trains and the GC teams keeping their leaders safe. It's an issue that seems more pronounced at this year's Tour, with Sagan, Cavendish, and Eisel all speaking out about it.
@toddkingd Tue, 5th Jul 2016 14:45:13
The peloton can see the breakaway trio now but they allow them to dangle out for a little longer as the gap holds at 16 seconds.
Angel Vicioso on the front now for Katusha. Alexander Kristoff hasn't really been a factor in the sprints so far but this one could suit him nicely.
@Laura_Weislo Tue, 5th Jul 2016 14:49:21
Laura touches on an important point: timing.
Cavendish explained how he planned to wait and get behind Greipel as the German opened it up early. That was the key in the end, and the waiting game is going to be even more important on this even steeper drag in the finishing straight. Choosing the right wheel and biding your time will be pivotal.
Schillinger is dropped as Naesen and Irizar try to eek this out for another few metres.
Naesen and Irizar shake hands and are absorbed back into the bunch. Make that out of the back of the bunch.
Team Sky - where have they been all day? - move up towards the front now. They're up alongside Tinkoff and Lotto Soudal.
5km remaining from 237km
@ryanquinn303 Tue, 5th Jul 2016 14:51:35
Lotto Soudal with four men on the front, driving this one forward with 4.5 to go now. Peloton stringing out.
Orica come up now. Matthews could be a contender today.
Oof. Some riders come to a near standstill as the bunch approaches a roundabout, which creates a pinch point. It'll take a real effort to move back up through this bunch - they're flying along.
2km remaining from 237km
Lotto Soudal back on the front. It's Marcel Sieberg on this gentle downhill.
1km remaining from 237km
Sagan is up there behind the Lotto train. Cavendish there with Renshaw.
Approaching the flamme rouge. This is fast.
Etixx move up now
DImension Data hit the front, now Lotto
Katusha lead out, here come Etixx
Kristoff opens it up!
Kittel comes through, but Coquard is soaring up on the left!
It's a photo finish!
Marcel Kittel wins stage 4 of the Tour de France
Coquard, third yesterday, takes second by the slimmest of margins - even slimmer than Cavendish's yesterday. The young Frenchman came from well back and was roaring back to get up to Kittel, brushing shoulders with the big German. Coquard just, agonisingly, ran out of road.
Sagan was third there, with Kristoff fourth. Cavendish wasn't really a factor.
1 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step 5:28:30
2 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team
4 Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
5 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
6 Sondre Holst Enger (Nor) IAM Cycling
7 Daniel Mclay (GBr) Fortuneo - Vital Concept
8 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data
9 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange
Here's the photo finish!
General classification after stage 4
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team 20:03:02
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:00:12
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:14
4 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange 0:00:18
5 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange 0:00:18
6 Lawson Craddock (USA) Cannondale-Drapac 0:00:35
7 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:59
8 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie 0:01:15
9 Sondre Holst Enger (Nor) IAM Cycling 0:01:40
10 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data 0:01:43
"I feel very emotional right now – it feels like my first stage win again," says Marcel Kittel
"I’m super happy. I’m very proud because the team was really fighting for this win. Things went wrong in the last days and I’m so happy to be back in the Tour and to win a stage like this. I can’t believe it."
What a win from Kittel, and who'd have expected it after a fairly disappointing start to this Tour? Especially on an uphill drag of a finish such as this. The German missed the Tour last year but this marks the renewal of his love affair with the race. Stage tally now up to 9.
Kittel back on the Tour de France podium
Mark Cavendish (8th) offers his take on the sprint
"I was kind of in the wrong position. It was a bit sketchy – with 5km to go I nearly crashed and I lost my leadout. Then I didn’t want to hit it too early. I thought I’d be on Kittel’s wheel, but the next thing it was about survival, trying to dodge people going backwards, all the leadout men. It wasn’t about concentrating on sprint but dodging riders.
"You have to get everything right, it’s not just you against one other person, but nearly 200. That’s what it is, and I didn’t get it right today."
Another day in the yellow jersey for Peter Sagan.
“I can’t complain, I’m happy, I’m still in yellow, I was third, so more points for the green jersey, It’s good," says the race leader.
Sagan is back at the top of the points classification, though Cavendish will once again wear green tomorrow as Sagan stays in yellow.
"Bryan has shown in the last two days that he belongs among the best sprinters in the world, and there are still chances for him to get a stage victory."
That's Sylvain Chavanel talking about his Direct Energie teammate Bryan Coquard, second today and so close to Kittel. What a sprint from the young Frenchman, for whom there are plenty of positives to be extracted from the disappointment.
The exhausted bike throw
A brief report, full results, and plenty of photos can already be found in our stage 4 report.
You can find all the initial reaction from the main protagonists in our daily round-up:
Cyclingnews Editor-in-chief Daniel Benson captured this striking shot at the finish, of Bryan Coquard praying for the decision to go his way as the judges studied the photo finish.
@CycleTribe_ie Tue, 5th Jul 2016 15:55:32
And now we can hear from Coquard...
"I really believed in my chances," he says. "Jimmy [Engoulvent] yesterday reproached me for not throwing my bike forward enough. I could see I was making it back but it was not enough. I'm very disappointed but I must not give up. There are still lots of chances left. I'm glad that we took things into our own hands. There is no mistake in the sprints; the strongest wins. I was never as close to victory but I haven't won yet. I'm young but I'm a winner. I have temperament and I want to win this year on the Tour."
The sprinter-heavy initial GC table I showed you earlier has been amended to include all the other finishers. Here's how the top 10 looks. No real change, with riders from 4-26 all on the same time.
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team 20:03:02
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:00:12
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:14
4 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:00:18
5 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky
6 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff Team
7 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team
8 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team
9 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange
10 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Cannondale-Drapac
@inrng Tue, 5th Jul 2016 16:08:18
So, what does tomorrow hold in store?
Hills. Yes, we're heading into the Massif Central for the first really testing climbs of this Tour de France, and the final 80km look capable or producing some exciting racing. It's not one of the huge GC stages but the overall contenders will nevertheless be drawn out and will need to be on their toes.
You can now read Barry Ryan's full stage 4 report, along with checking out the results and photos. Video highlights on the way too.
That's it from us today. It was a long one, but another exhilarating finish. Thanks for keeping me company. We'll have plenty of news and reaction coming in soon so keep an eye on Cyclingnews, and join us again tomorrow morning for full live coverage of stage 5. See you there!
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