CALAIS: Belgian Wout van Aert made a late solo break to win stage four of the Tour de France and extend his overall lead on Tuesday.
After coming second on each of the first three stages in Denmark, the Jumbo-Visma man crossed the finish line in Calais eight seconds ahead of the fast-closing peloton.
Van Aert’s feat was a rare act of brilliance that will live long in the memory, and makes up for the disappointment of his three narrow misses.
The Jumbo Visma rider left all his rivals gasping for air on the final hill of the 171.5-km ride from Dunkirk after his Jumbo Visma team’s brutal acceleration blew apart the peloton
After 160km dominated by two escapees, Van Aert’s Jumbo team and Adam Yates’ Ineos launched a blistering attack on a short, steep climb.
Dressed in his luminous yellow outfit as race leader, Van Aert crossed the summit first and then powered over the final 8km at speeds up to 55km/h, waving his arms in mock flight at the finish.
“This is an exceptional win for me. This is something new for me and is a really special moment,” said Van Aert.
Behind him, Alpecin rider Jasper Philipsen won a bunch sprint for second and briefly celebrated believing he had won the stage.
“It’s a shame for Philipsen, we shouldn’t laugh at him,” said Van Aert.
Van Aert now leads Yves Lampaert by 25 second in the overall standings, while Tadej Pogacar is third at 32 second and also retains the best young rider’s white jersey.
“If I could take the yellow tomorrow I wouldn’t say no,” said the 23-year-old defending champion.
Dane Magnus Cort Nielsen showed his ability on the first day in France after he emerged as the hero of the Danish Grand Depart taking the climb points jersey.
He again won most of the climbing points and stays top of the King of the Mountains standings.
His escape companion, Anthony Perez of Cofidis, outlasted Cort Nielsen across the marshes, over the canals and picturesque villages as the peloton closed in and was awarded the prize for the day’s most aggressive ride.
Many fans were holding up signs wishing a happy birthday to Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert as he turned 40.
“If you’d told me I’d still be here 10 years ago, I would never have believed it,” said Gilbert.
Wednesday’s stage is a bone-shaking 157km run from Lille to Arenberg taking in 20km of cobbled mining roads. The same road was used on the Paris-Roubaix classic, also known as the ‘Hell of the North’.
The top contenders will be looking to avoid losing the Tour on day five on a tricky terrain that favours the heavier riders and Van Aert will be again be one of the stage favourites
The stage could be crucial for the overall standings between the GC contenders.
Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2022