Coquard survives the echelons to win Tour Down Under stage 4

Bryan Coquard (Team Cofidis) upset the favourites to win stage four of the Tour Down Under in Willunga, starting his sprint early and holding off the rest of the front group that formed in the crosswinds. Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) retained his leader’s ochre jersey ahead of Sunday's finale around Mount Lofty. 

Coquard finished several metres ahead of stage 1 winner Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First-EasyPost) with Hugo Page (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) in third place at the conclusion of the wind swept stage. The 49th win of Coquard’s career was his first at WorldTour level and first for France at the Tour Down Under since Stéphane Bergès way back in 2000.

“I wait ten years for this win. I am very proud and happy for this win,” Coquard said after crossing the line. 

“I win a lot of lot of races but never at the WorldTour. I am very, very happy.” 

Coquard hit out early on the long drag in Willunga, timing his run to perfection, raising his hands to head in disbelief and celebration. 

Vine, who looked assured throughout the stage, will start the final stage of the race 15 second ahead of Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) and Simon Yates (Jayco-Alula). 

Asked about the stage, Vine stated “It was pretty stressful” but he is “looking forward to Lofty.” 

Sunday'’s fifth and final stage, from Unley to Mount Lofty is a new finish for the race. Should Vine retain his lead at the conclusion of the 112km stage, he will become the ninth Australian winner of the race.

How it unfolded

The 130-rider strong peloton rolled out of the picturesque beachside town of Port Willunga with Vine, the 19th Australian to wear the leaders jersey at the Tour Down Under.

With the threat of crosswinds, it was a tense but controlled start to proceedings on the familiar roads to the Tour Down Under, albeit on a stage suited to the sprinters rather than the traditional Old Willunga Hill finish. 

Rolling through the vineyards of McLaren Vale on roads that the peloton would traverse in reverse later in the day, the peloton wasn’t letting any early breakaways get away. 

With the early lap taking the peloton south, east, north, east, north - the ever changing directions of the course exposed the bunch to winds from almost all directions. 

On his third attempt of the day, Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-EasyPost) forced the first breakaway with former two-time winner Daryl Impey (Israel-Premier Tech) for company. 30km into the stage, the duo’s lead over the peloton was quickly out to 1:30 minutes. The UAE Team Emirates lead peloton was content with the composition of the break and happy to let the lead out over three minutes. 

The gap continued to grow steadily out to almost four minutes as Rutsch claimed the KoM honours at Lower Willunga Hill on the first of three crossings over the finish line. 

The action though was taking place in the peloton as Jayco-Alula strung a surprise to string out the bunch with 75km to race, catching out sprinters and GC aspirants. 

As the echelons formed, with groups spread out on the long roads throughout the vineyards, a crash in the bunch brought down a number of riders. 

Heading back east to the beach, the high pace on the approach to the first sprint point in Aldinga Beach, trimmed Impey and Rutsch’s lead down to under a minute. The third group on the road, including stage two winner Rohan Dennis a further minute behind. 

There was no contest at the sprint point with Impey rolling over in first. Michael Matthews swept up the bonus second in third place and further increased his lead in the points classification. 

In Aldinga, after the peloton crossed the startline by the Star of Greece in the opposite direction to the stage start, they caught the two leaders. Ag2R-Citroen and Israel-Premier Tech assisted Jayco-Alula at the head of the peloton which was keen to press its advantage over the chasers. The echelons were back on the long straight roads of McLaren Vale. 

At the second KOM and penultimate crossing of the finish line, the two groups were just about back together again. 

Honore, celebrating his 26th birthday today, sneaked over the line first to secure the points and move into the KOM lead. On the long straight road back towards the beach, the echelons formed again with Ineos Grenadiers doing the damage on the front, denting the hopes of the chase group to regroup with 30km left in the stage. 

The sprint teams continued to rotate duties at the front of the bunch. The intermediate sprint was hotly contested by Hugo Page, Kramil Gradek and Yates finishing third and so moving on equal time with Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) thanks to the one bonus second. Yates is second overall due to his better hundredths of a seconds in the prologue time trial. 

As the peloton completed the second lap through Aldinga and Tatchilla enroute to the Willunga finish line with 10km left to race, the second group was 35 seconds in arrears. They got close but never close enough. 

On the final run into the finish line, EF Education-EasyPost, UAE Team Emirates and Israel-Premier Tech massed in numbers at the front of the bunch. 

Inside the flamme rouge, Vine was sitting safely third wheel as the sprint trains lined it out into the left-hand corner and onto the uphill drag to the line. 

Cofidis timed its work perfectly for Coquard, with Alexis Renard dropping him off
into prime position. 

The Frenchman caught his rivals by surprise and never looked back, to secure a historic victory.

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