Cycling awesomeness comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes. Today's entry: the move everyone knows is coming, and still can't do anything about.
Tony Martin of Etixx-Quick Step came into the fourth stage of the Tour de France trailing Sky's Chris Froome by a single second in the overall classification, and was well known to be looking for a gap or a time bonus to vault him into the yellow jersey. But the presence of several sprinters in the final selection of the cobblestone-studded stage meant that a stage bonus was off the table for the German time trial specialist if he finished with the pack. That left one thing to do: go it alone. Everyone knew it was coming, and yet, when Martin fired up his massive engine with just under 3.5km to go, there was nobody to stop it.
Martin used the blunt power that has helped him capture
two three time trial world championships to build a ten second gap, but he also enjoyed the luck of the draw as well. His Etixx-Quick Step team were among the best-represented teams remaining after seven secteurs of cobblestones, and even with Mark Cavendish in tow they were set on disrupting the chase, not helping it. Next in strength were Sky, but Froome's hold on yellow was a burden to them so early in the race, and they seemed happy to relinquish it. Peter Sagan of Tinkoff-Saxo might have wanted the stage, but he wasn't going to pin back Martin by himself. Eventually the team of John Degenkolb got a bit busy, as Giant-Alpecin had some help available to Degenkolb, but their effort was only good enough to seal second on the stage. Martin held on by three seconds, followed by Degenkolb, Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet of BMC, Edvald Boasson Hagen of MTN-Qhubeka, and Nacer Bouhanni of Cofidis.
The cobblestones made for an exciting day, but this time around, not a decisive one. The biggest loser on the day was Thibaut Pinot of FDJ, third overall in Paris last year, who suffered a mechanical problem on the fifth secteur of cobbles and dropped back, then continued with a wheel change only to pull over again and ask for a new bike. By the time he got one, with some teammates, he was behind the second group and losing minutes, not seconds. The rest of the favorites, meanwhile, kept it together all the way to Cambrai. Froome rode expertly behind Geraint Thomas at the front, and Astana's Vincenzo Nibali, a big winner last year on the cobbles stage, made a few lunges into open space, while guys like Movistar's Nairo Quintana and Tinkoff's Alberto Contador did what they had to do to protect their ambitions.
The rain met the peloton at 52km to go and immediately riders began slipping and falling. Among the victims were Alex Dowsettt of Movistar, Dan Martin of Cannondale, and Michele Scarponi of Astana. The favorites remained together as the peloton approached the tricky Famars secteur of cobbles, which did not force any selections. Various teams took aim at driving the pace, including LottoNL-Jumbo, but Astana were the ones with a plan, and at the 40km mark as the peloton reached the Quérénaing sector, Lars Boom hit the gas and brought his captain Nibali with him. The two got a slight gap, but Froome was alert to the move and with Martin and others the attack was pinned back.
André Greipel of Lotto Soudal saw his green jersey hopes suffer today, as well as his legs. The Gorilla, winner of stage 2, briefly lost contact with the front group amidst the cobbled secteurs, along with fellow sprinter Alexander Kristoff of Katusha, who suffered a flat, but the two strongmen of the cobbles powered back into contention for the stage prior to Saint-Python. However, the toll of chasing eventually caused Greipel to lose contact and he finished out of the points. The German still holds a six point lead over Sagan in the classification, but can't expect to hold that for much longer.
Coming off the final secteur, Thomas led a group of eight riders to a small gap into the lead, and Froome himself tried to make it stick, but the rest of the race favorites quickly organized and rejoined them, led in part by Sagan himself. As such, Quintana of Movistar dodged what could have been the nastiest bullet this Tour had in for him, if you believe the conventional wisdom. The lack of rain, which had actually been predicted for the stage, played a big part in minimizing the chaos. From there things proceeded peaceably to the finale, where only Martin had a card left to play.
- MARTIN Tony, ETIXX-QUICK STEP 05h 28' 58''
- DEGENKOLB John, TEAM GIANT-ALPECIN 05h 29' 01'' + 00' 03''
- SAGAN Peter, TINKOFF-SAXO 05h 29' 01'' + 00' 03''
- VAN AVERMAET Greg, BMC RACING TEAM 05h 29' 01'' + 00' 03''
- BOASSON HAGEN Edvald, MTN-QHUBEKA 05h 29' 01'' + 00' 03''
- BOUHANNI Nacer, COFIDIS, SOLUTIONS CREDITS 05h 29' 01'' + 00' 03''
- GUARNIERI Jacopo, TEAM KATUSHA 05h 29' 01'' + 00' 03''
- GALLOPIN Tony, LOTTO-SOUDAL 05h 29' 01'' + 00' 03''
- STYBAR Zdenek, ETIXX-QUICK STEP 05h 29' 01'' + 00' 03''
- COQUARD Bryan, TEAM EUROPCAR 05h 29' 01'' + 00' 03''
- MARTIN Tony, ETIXX-QUICK STEP 12h 40' 26''
- FROOME Christopher, TEAM SKY 12h 40' 38'' + 00' 12''
- VAN GARDEREN Tejay, BMC RACING TEAM 12h 40' 51'' + 00' 25''
- GALLOPIN Tony, LOTTO-SOUDAL 12h 41' 04'' + 00' 38''
- SAGAN Peter, TINKOFF-SAXO 12h 41' 05'' + 00' 39''
- VAN AVERMAET Greg, BMC RACING TEAM 12h 41' 06'' + 00' 40''
- URAN URAN Rigoberto, ETIXX-QUICK STEP 12h 41' 12'' + 00' 46''
- CONTADOR Alberto, TINKOFF-SAXO 12h 41' 14'' + 00' 48''
- THOMAS Geraint, TEAM SKY 12h 41' 41'' + 01' 15''
- STYBAR Zdenek, ETIXX-QUICK STEP 12h 41' 42'' + 01' 16''
- GREIPEL André, LOTTO-SOUDAL 84 pts
- SAGAN Peter, TINKOFF-SAXO 78 pts
- DEGENKOLB John, TEAM GIANT-ALPECIN 60 pts
- MARTIN Tony, ETIXX-QUICK STEP 55 pts
- CAVENDISH Mark, ETIXX-QUICK STEP 53 pts