Tour de France 2022 - Stage 4 preview

Stage 4: Dunkerque to Calais

Date: July 5, 2022

Distance: 172km 

Stage timing: 13:15 - 17:15 CEST

Stage type: Hilly

After a rest day and a transfer to Northern France, the Tour de France is back in its home country for stage 4. Though starting and finishing on the North Sea coast, the stage from Dunkerque to Calais mainly takes place inland. Six classified climbs will give the breakaway something to fight for and could see the polka-dot jersey change hands at the end of the day. The stage begins and ends at sea level but is characterised by barely any flat terrain at all, beyond the first 30km and final 10km.

The peloton heads south from Dunkirk inland and there is an air of the spring classics about the first part of the route as it takes place in French Flanders. The first climb, the Côte de Cassel, is cobbled; the other climbs are on asphalt roads. It comes after just 30km and if the breakaway is not settled by this point, it could provide the ideal launching pad for any rider with an eye on escaping the bunch.

From there, the route turns west. There is an intermediate sprint at 63.2km which offers points for the green jersey contenders, as the race heads into an undulating section featuring four category four climbs within the space of just over 50km. The toughest of these is the Côte de Nielles-lès-Bléquin - 1.1km of climbing at an average gradient of 7%.

If raced at a high pace, this series of climbs in quick succession could see some of the pure sprinters dropped in favour of the punchier, classics-style sprinters - think Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Peter Sagan (Team Total Energies) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).

With 24km to go, the race reaches the uncategorised Côte d’Opale on the Channel coast. The Côte de Cap Blanc-Nez is the final difficulty on the way to Calais, cresting with 10.8km to go. This might be enough time for the bunch to come back together before the finish line, given the final 10km is basically flat, but the prevailing southwesterly winds would mean a tailwind to the finish which might help the breakaway. 

Another possibility is a slight change in wind direction which could bring tail-crosswinds that would wreak havoc in the peloton and create gaps among the GC contenders, whose teams will need to fight to keep their leaders in contention. Despite all that, another big sprint is the most likely outcome.

The contenders for the stage, should it go to a sprint finish, will be the same riders who have contested the last two stages. Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and Dylan Groenewegen (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) have won a sprint apiece, with Wout van Aert second on both occasions. Peter Sagan has been in the mix too, looking back to his belligerent best. 

Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) has been missing from the action in the final few hundred metres for the past two days and will be looking to rectify that, as will Mads Pedersen. The Dane failed to make an impact on home soil and will be in the hunt, along with Alpecin-Fenix' Jasper Philipsen who also left Denmark empty-handed.

Alberto Dainese (Team DSM), Danny van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe), Hugo Hofstetter (Arkea-Samsic), Alexander Kristoff (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) and Max Walscheid (Cofidis) all represent decent outside chances, and could cause an upset for the favourites, should the probably bunch sprint materialise.

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