After only four stages of the Tour de France, the balance of power is already clearer: Primoz Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma team look like those to beat.
Roglic, the Spanish champion of Vuelta, took advantage of the first arrival at the top of the race on Tuesday in the ski resort of Orcières-Merlette to erase lingering doubts about his form.
After an impressive collective performance from his teammates, the former Slovenian ski jumper won a sprint to secure his third career stage victory in the three-week race. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe managed to keep up with the late acceleration and retained the race leader’s yellow jersey after crossing the finish line in fifth place.
“It was a pretty quick day, it was tough, but the guys once again did a really good job,” said Roglic, thanking his teammates for their support on the final climb. “I was still in a good position so I could do a good sprint so I’m very happy.”
Roglic completed the 160.5 kilometer trip in 4 hours, 7 minutes and 47 seconds.
With a strategy used in previous years by reigning champion Egan Bernal’s Ineos team, Roglic teammates Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss set a very quick tempo over the final seven kilometers of climb, preventing any attack from the side. ‘Alaphilippe, Thibaut Pinot, Nairo Quintana or Bernal.
“The Jumbo-Visma train was really hard to follow,” said Alaphilippe.
Roglic couldn’t let down any of his rivals, but used his power to win in the sprint launched by Frenchman Guillaume Martin 500 meters from the end. Roglic, third in the general classification, thanks to the bonus time granted to the winner of the stage, reached a speed of 52 kilometers per hour by raising both arms to cross the line.
Tadej Pogacar got a Slovenian brace and Martin completed the podium.
Overall, Alaphilippe kept a four-second lead over Briton Adam Yates, with Roglic three seconds behind.
Roglic’s participation in the flagship cycling race was in doubt just a few weeks ago after his withdrawal from the Criterium du Dauphine due to injuries he suffered in an accident.
“I’m coming back,” Roglic said. “We can see that I can run and every day I feel a little better. It’s nice to be able to ride again. I have already had proof that I was ready to go. Now we have to keep doing a good job with the whole team. “
Bernal crossed with the same time as Roglic in the ski resort where Luis Ocana handed over to five-time Tour winner Eddy Merckx a resounding defeat in 1971. At 17 seconds behind Alaphilippe, Bernal said the longer climbs in the big mountain stages coming later in the race will be more suited to his style of pure climber.
“It’s not good when another [general classification] riding takes a few seconds, but you have to be really patient and know that our goal is to get to week three without wasting too much time, and then try to regain some time on the long climbs, ”he says. “For us, it will be about minimizing wasted time and arriving as fresh as possible last week.”
Before the final battle took shape, a group of six riders attacked from the start outside the town of Sisteron. But with the French Alexis Vuillermoz threatened in the general classification, Alaphilippe’s teammates did not let the breakaways widen too much of a gap.
The sextet did not collaborate well, as the German Nils Politt tried to knock his companions down twice on the descents. As he tried to close the gap, Belgian Tiesj Benoot escaped unscathed from a spectacular fall 26 kilometers from the end after misjudging a curve and rushing through a guardrail. His motorcycle was snapped in half, but he was replaced and returned to racing.
The six breakaways were all caught by the peloton before the final ascent.
Stage 5 will take runners from Gap to Privas on a mostly flat route suitable for sprinters. The three-week tour, which was postponed from its usual July slot due to the coronavirus, ends in Paris on September 20.