10km to go: Major problems for the sprinters, then! Van Aert is too strong and suddenly, the holder of the yellow jersey is all alone at the front of the race. Nathan van Hooydonck and Tiesj Benoot gave him an excellent boost in the breakaway there.
12km to go: Here we go. The peloton have upped it, and within about a minute, Perez’s lead has been halved. Ten seconds in it. Jumbo Visma have gone, and caught everyone off guard. There is a split!
14 km to go: What a ride this is from Perez. On his own, this is so gutsy, as he makes his way up one of these uncategorised climbs. He remains about 30 seconds ahead.
17km to go: This is what awaits.
20km to go: Perez’s lead remains a touch over 30 seconds but will surely be caught. Some members of the peloton were caught doing 80km/hr on one particular descent. Crazy.
24km to go: What an email this is, from David Alderton, who has a fine cycling hat on his email avatar:
Seeing Jack Bauer at the front reminded me of one of the greatest ever stages I have seen. He was in a break from the moment the flag dropped on Stage 15 in 2014 and was looking to win the stage in Nimes after coving 22km, only to lose out with something like 20 metres to go. I’ve never shouted at a television quite as much, nor have I wanted to buy someone a big milkshake and say “it’s ok, mate, it’s Ok”. He’s a phenomenal rider, did near faultless ride, and then the cruel reality of bike racing crushed it all. It’s the best sport in the world.
This is the stage that David is talking about. It’s a cruel world.
This is what William Fotheringham wrote in 2014:
“In the shadow of the Roman Arena Jack Bauer and Martin Elmiger made a doomed attempt to win the stage in a finish redolent of a pair of gladiators being put to the sword after being given the thumbs up. After spending every pedal turn of the 222km stage – the third longest of the race – in front, all of seven pedal revolutions separated Bauer from the finish line when Kristoff swept past him with less than 25 metres to the line.
“Bauer left Elmiger for dead with 100m to go and was clearly within reach of New Zealand’s first ever individual stage win in the Tour – Kiwis have twice been part of squads that have won team time-trial stages – when Kristoff and the others came haring past. Understandably he collapsed in tears afterwards.”
27km to go: Ineos and BikeExchange-Jayco are among the leaders of the peloton. Having a good position going into the final climb with around 10km to go, at Côte du Cap Blanc-Nez, is absolutely pivotal to make sure you aren’t dropped for the final stretch to Calais. Plenty of jostling, then, but I don’t think there will be any significant breakaways until we reach that final climb, which lasts only about 1km, but is very steep.
30km to go: From the helicopter’s camera, we can now see the coast.
36km to go: Ben Francis sends a message in response to Paul Griffin’s email:
The first Tour I properly paid attention to was 1997 (I was six at the time), and my memory was of a lot of sprint stages early on. I can’t find the actual stage profiles, but looking at the stages and results, it began with a 7km prologue won by Chris Boardman at an average speed of 52 km/h. Then followed *eight* sprint stages, of which seven look to have ended in bunch sprints (three wins for Erik Zabel, two for Mario Cipollini). The exception was stage 5, where the breakaway stayed away but Cipollini led the peloton home at 3’24.
I feel like flat openings to the Tour were pretty common back in the 90’s, and the trend for having more variety in the opening week started rather more recently. The other amazing thing, looking back at 1997, was how long stages were in the EPO era. Five of those first eight that year were over 200 km, and two were over 260!
38km to go: Bradley Wiggins, out on the Eurosport motorbike, is reporting how there is a dangerous little cross-head wind on the plateau that Perez is currently on. That spells a tricky little bit ahead for those in the peloton. With about 23km to go, the riders will reach the coast and change direction east towards Calais. That will be another test.
41km to go: Cort makes it back to the peloton and the safety of his EF Education-Easy Post team-mates, who pass him a few gels and drinks. He inhales all that is given to him.
43km to go: Cort is done for the day and will drop back now towards the peloton, who are just over a minute away now. It looks as though Perez will give it a go, though, and he’s left as the sole member of the breakaway.
47km to go: Cort takes one more point, uncontested, at Côte du Ventus, to make it 11/11 for this year’s race. Remarkable. Save for the first climb today, Perez has allowed Cort to take the KoM points today, and Cort allowed Perez to take the 20 points at the intermediate sprint. The two are deep in conversation at the front, it’s unclear what they are chatting about.
48km to go: I’ve barely mentioned Pogacar all day. He’s lurking menacingly about 10 wheels from the front of the peloton.
50km to go: Fifty to go! A bit more undulation now, as the peloton lurches up and down the climbs and descents. As Cort and Perez approach Côte du Ventus (no, no that one), there remains just one more categorised climb: Côte du Cap Blanc-Nez, with a maximum gradient of 12%-13%.
54km to go: “What makes cobble stone sections so difficult to ride?” asks Jan Bruck, via email? “How do they effect the speed of the race? Are they stressful for bikes as well as riders? Are they a good spectacle to watch?”
Generally, it’s carnage, especially if the winds are up, and it’s wet. The cobbles are slippy, the grooves between them can trap a wheel, and the road itself is narrow. These bikes are built for speed and efficiency, so there is little to protect the hands and the body from shuddering up and down the track. This article, from 2014 on the one-day Paris-Roubaix, does a better job of explaining why cobbles are so perilous.
58km to go: Alpecin, Lotto-Soudal riders are leading the charge at the front of the peloton. This is a relatively flat part of the stage, as riders make their way north back towards the coast. It’s into a headwind, which is causing the peloton to bunch and swell.
64km to go: An email from Paul Griffin.
“As a race I’m finding it a little bit undercooked so far, like a hungover student’s full English. It got me wondering whether this is the flattest start to a Tour ever? There have been very few climbs, and none at the business end of stages. This perhaps accounts for the fact that, while it’s been a spectacular, er, spectacle, there’s no real narrative yet, apart from the understandable simmering antipathy between Groenewegen and Jakobsen. Plot twist please.”
I don’t have any precise stats to hand, but Denmark was very flat, and for all the enthusiasm of the fans, a little boring racing wise. The lack of wind didn’t help, either. A bit more NARRATIVE wouldn’t harm things, certainly. It’s at times like these that we really miss the presence of a home favourite to spice things up. A shame that Julian Alaphilippe, who strove to get fit after his horrendous accident at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Classic in April, narrowly failed to get himself ready for the start this year.
66km to go: The peloton is less than 2min30secs away now, it’s going to be a certainly that the leaders, Perez and Cort, will be caught.
68km to go: That’s 500km completed in this year’s Tour. Around 2,800km to go! Cort takes the 10th KoM point after another short, sharp climb. He’s having quite the race, I wonder what will be left in the tank for tomorrow on the cobbles.
70km to go: Yet ANOTHER King of the Mountain point to Cort! That’s nine out of nine for this year’s race!
73km to go: Teams are jostling for position now at the head of the peloton. There are some, like Mads Pedersen of Trek–Segafredo, who want to use these small climbs to test the pure sprinters, and make sure the riders like Ewan and Groenewegen don’t have it too easy before the finish. They want to take something out of their legs. Pressure is starting to be applied.
75km to go: Two short sharp climbs for Perez and Cort, who now have a five-minute lead. The peloton are making a little descent, which should narrow the gap to the leaders even further.
84km to go: The lead for Perez and Cort is now at nearly seven minutes. The peloton are starting to gear up, with Lotto-Soudal trying to lead the response.
93km to go: Perez and Cort have reached the southern-most tip of the stage, and will now turn west into a light cross-wind before turning north into a headwind towards the coast and Calais.
98km to go: Back at the head of the race, Magnus Cort has taken yet another KoM point at Côte de Remilly-Wirquin. He has eight in total so far, and nobody else has won one! He’s the first person ever in the Tour to have won the first eight KoM points of a race!
Result of the intermediate sprint at Lumbres:
1. Anthony Perez, 20 pts
2. Magnus Cort, 17 pts
3. Fabio Jakobsen, 15 pts
4. Wout van Aert, 13 pts
5. Michael Morkov, 11 pts
6. Peter Sagan, 10 pts
7. Christophe Laporte, 9 pts
8. Caleb Ewan, 8 pts
9. Brent Van Moer, 7 pts
10. Florian Vermeersch, 6 pts
11. Daniel Oss, 5 pts
12. Tim Wellens, 4 pts
13. Nils Politt, 3 pts
14. Maciej Bodnar, 2 pts
15. Tadej Pogacar, 1 pt
Overall green jersey standings:
1. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), 120
2. Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), 105
3. Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), 64
4. Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco), 60
5. Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost), 59
102km to go: Fabio Jakobsen is the best of the rest in the sprint, just ahead of Van Aert and Sagan. That means Van Aert has his lead cut to 15 points in the overall sprint standings, with Jakobsen in second place.
105km to go: There should be a scrap for the remaining sprint points as the peloton approach the sprint checkpoint. There are 13 remaining places up for grabs, although nobody has pulled away yet. Caleb Ewan and Peter Sagan are all in the mix, though.
Perez and Cort do not even contest the sprint. Cort is just interested in KoM points, and quite happy for Perez to take the full 20 spring points.
110km to go: The wind is, unfortunately, not really playing a part. It’s around a 6km/hour wind, which isn’t causing any splits. We’ll get a small cross-wind as they riders turn in a few km, then largely a headwind as the riders approach the finish.
112km to go: A small (uncategorised) climb for Perez and Cort, who are fast approaching Lumbres. You can see where we are on the stage map here. The peloton, meanwhile, is gliding peacefully behind, 6min20secs back.
116km to go: Perez and Cort have increased their lead back to six minutes! What a strange start to this stage.
There are two birthdays in the peloton today, by the way. Alexander Kristoff turns 35, while former stage winner Philippe Gilbert turns 40, becoming the 15th man to ever ride the Tour in his 40s. A good fact from the Tour’s official website: 10 of the 15 have competed in the 21st century: Matteo Tosatto, Jens Voigt, Christopher Horner, Mathew Hayman, Haimar Zubeldia, Alejandro Valverde, Franco Pellizotti, Alessandro Petacchi, Viacheslav Ekimov and Iñigo Cuesta.
120km to go: Aaaaaaand, the peloton is back together.
125km to go: The peloton splits! Mathieu van der Poel and Pinot are briefly caught in the latter group, but make up the difference. About a 20 second gap at present.
130km to go: The peloton is now just 3min28secs behind. To recap, here’s Cort nailing that first sprint.
135km to go: Re Gary’s tweet below, I’d say the riders are relatively nervy today. The first cross-winds, the first cobbles after a big changeover day from Denmark, most of the these contenders will be trying to safely negotiate the hazards today, and leave the finish to the sprinters, most likely. It would be a high-risk strategy for someone like Thomas to use this stage as a platform for an attack. But then, if it’s not something that Pogacar and co are expecting, perhaps the reward could outweigh the risk.
137km to go: The peloton are into their own ascent on the cobbles, and they have closed the gap on the leaders to 4min45secs.
140km to go: Cort is assured of retaining the polka dot jersey after beating Perez to the summit of the first climb! It was Perez that actually went for it first, but a dodgy gear change, a dropped bottle and sprint technique (bum out of the saddle too early) allowed Cort to pass him on the narrow cobbled road.
141km to go: Cort and Perez hands and wrists chatter along as they ascend the first climb, with cobbles under their wheels. This is only a small stretch of cobbles, but will certainly be on all of the riders’ minds for tomorrow.
145km to go: The lead is such that Perez, who was 5min16secs down on Wout van Aert, at the start, is the virtual holder of the yellow jersey! That won’t last, though.
149km to go: About six kilometres to go until the riders reach Côte de Cassel and the first climb. The peloton is hurtling down a stretch of straight road, so very much in a holding pattern. Meanwhile, the two leaders, Cort and Perez, have increased their lead to six minutes and thirty seconds! Very early days, though.
159km to go: This stage has a bit of everything today. A few climbs, some cross-winds at play from the north-west as the riders come back towards the coast in the final 25km. There are even a few cobbles to help gear the riders up for tomorrow’s stage, which includes 11 stretches of treacherous cobbles in the final 80km. Wout van Aert, a remarkable winner of mountain, time trial and sprint stages last year, is the strongest all-rounder in the world and as holder of the yellow jersey, you’d expect him to be there or thereabouts come the finish today. I’d think Pogacar will probably keep his bonce down today and try and get through the next two stages unscathed.
167km to go: Magnus Cort, custodian of the polka dot jersey after passing all six category four climbs in Denmark in first position, leads out an early breakaway with Anthony Perez. The peloton lets them go, and quite quickly there is a two-minute gap, between the main field and our new leaders.
A rest day for all the riders yesterday. Pogacar used his time off to … rap.
The riders have rolled out from Dunkirk, with thousands of fans lining the coastal road, which heads east before darting south towards Côte de Cassel. It’s worth mentioning that there was a minute’s applause at the start line for the three victims in Sunday evening’s awful shooting in Copenhagen, which is of course where the Tour started this year.
Bienvenue! After the first three stages in Denmark, the Tour arrives in France at its most northern tip, from the port city of Dunkirk, winding inland and looping back to the coast, to Calais. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” a famous man once said.
From our stage-by-stage guide, here’s what today’s preview has to say.
Stage 4: Dunkirk-Calais, 171.5km
Relatively short, and with a series of short, sharp climbs inland from the Channel coast, this stage will be “nervous”, as the riders put it, although the pattern should be familiar, with an early break of riders from the smaller teams looking to scoop up points on the five ascents. However, the final 25km along exposed roads around Cap Gris Nez could split the field if the wind blows from the north-west.
Here’s how the GC standings fall, after Monday’s rest day, with the heavy favourite, Tadaj Pogacar, tucked nicely in third position.
- 1. Wout van Aert (Bel/Jumbo-Visma) 9hrs 01mins 17secs
- 2. Yves Lampaert (Bel/Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) +7secs
- 3. Tadaj Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) +14secs
- 4. Mads Pedersen (Den/Trek-Segafredo) +18secs
- 5. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned/Alpecin-Fenix) +20secs
- 6. Jonas Vingegaard (Den/Jumbo-Visma) +22secs
- 7. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) +23secs
- 8. Adam Yates (GB/Ineos Grenadiers) +30secs
- 9. Stefan Kung (Swi/Groupama – FDJ Same time
- 10. Tom Pidcock (GB/Ineos Grenadiers) +31secs
Wout van Aert holds the yellow jersey, after narrowly missing out on winning stages one, two and three. “It’s not funny any more,” Van Aert said on Sunday, after missing out to Dylan Groenewegen in the sprint.
An intriguing day awaits … join me!