2020 Tour de France stage 4 preview

Stage 4: Sisteron - Orcières-Merlette 

Date: September 1, 2020 

Distance: 160.5km

Stage start: 1:25 p.m. CEST

Stage type: Hilly

The race makes an assault in the Hautes-Alpes with 3,000 metres of climbing and the first summit finish, setting up a bonafide GC day. Never before has an alpine summit finish appeared as early as the fourth day of the race. In fact, there hasn’t been a finish climb this hard and this early in the Tour de France since 1979, when riders had to tackle the first category climb Superbagnères (later reclassified as hors categorie) in the Pyrenees for a time trial on the third day of the race. 

The category 1 Orcières-Merlette was last featured in 1989 as a mountain time trial clash between Laurent Fignon and Greg LeMond. Before this year’s confrontation, there are four other peaks to conquer. The course gently rises to the sprint in Veynes for the first 51.5 kilometres, then ascends the category 3 Col du Festre at 1,441 metres above sea level. The category 4 Côte de Corps leads to the Côte de l’Aullagnier followed by Côte de Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes, a pair of category 2 inclines which then follow Le Drac river towards the 11km ascent at 5.9 per cent average gradient to Orcières-Merlette. Le drac was part of French folklore as a dragon-like beast and the road to the summit finish at 1825m may draw similarities for the peloton.  

The strategic challenge of a major summit finish at this point in the race is that teams have to weigh the advantage of gaining time against the disadvantage of defending gains, and the fact that a rider peaking at this point in the race might not hold that peak all the way through the final week. Team Ineos used to be renowned for killing the Tour on the first summit finish of the race, but even they might treat this opportunity with caution. 

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