Wout van Aert lands sensational solo win to end bridesmaid streak on Stage 4 at Tour de France
Wout van Aert spread his wings in Stage 4 of the Tour de France, soloing clear with 10km to go with a devastating attack after Jumbo-Visma blew the race apart on the final climb. “I didn’t want to take the risk anymore,” Van Aert said after ending his run of three successive second places and strengthening his grip on the yellow and green jerseys.
‘Deadly demonstration’ – Van Aert conquers Stage 4 after Jumbo-Visma blow race apart
If you can’t win against the clock or in a bunch sprint then best to try a different tactic… That was clearly the mindset of Belgium’s Wout van Aert who took things into his own hands on Tuesday as he ended his run of three consecutive second places with serious panache.
An all-out attack from the man in yellow and his Jumbo-Visma teammates blew the race apart at the end of the 171.5km Stage 4 from Dunkerque to Calais. After compatriot Tiesj Benoot paved the way, Van Aert went over the summit of the final climb with a small gap over Danish teammate Jonas Vingegaard and Britain’s Adam Yates of Ineos Grenadiers – the only two riders who came close to matching the uphill kick of the yellow jersey on the Cote du Cap Blanc-Nez.
Van Aert pushed on to open up an unassailable gap of 25 seconds as the teams of Jumbo-Visma’s GC rivals and the remaining sprinters grappled to regroup in his wake. But the chase was all in vain as 27-year-old Van Aert held on for a sensational victory – even if Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) felt his sprint for second place had earned him a maiden Tour stage win when he led the splintered field home eight seconds in arrears.
It took a friendly word of warning from Van Aert’s teammate Christophe Laporte – who pipped Alexander Kristoff (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) and Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) for third place – for the unfortunate Philipsen to realise his error of his ways.
"We were a bit far back and we couldn't see Van Aert in the front," Philipsen said. "And I had a bad connection too. I thought I was sprinting for the win but then I saw him right in front of me when I crossed the finish line, so, yeah..."
‘Caught everybody off guard’ – Jumbo-Visma decimate pack with surprise attack
The likes of Stage 2 winner Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) all finished in the chasing pack, but Stage 3 winner Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) was one of the many riders distanced after Jumbo-Visma lit the torch paper on the sixth and final categorised climb of the day.
"I didn’t want to take the risk anymore," Van Aert said after ending his ‘losing’ run. "I think it was quite obvious that we were trying something with the team. We were in a perfect position thanks to Nathan [Van Hooydonck] and Stevie [Kruijswijk], then Tiesj took over on the climb.
"The goal was to go full to the top and see what happened. But I came over the top alone. I was in doubt whether I should wait for Jonas and Yates behind. By going full, I put Jonas and the others in a good position because they didn’t have to ride. So I decided to go on alone. Then it was 10km of all-out suffering."
‘I didn’t want to take the risk!’ – Van Aert happy to avoid another bunch sprint
Van Aert’s seventh Tour stage win of his career sees the Belgian extend his lead in the general classification to 25 seconds over compatriot Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), with Slovenia’s double Tour champion Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) in third at 32 seconds.
The man in yellow also extended his lead in the green jersey standings by rising to 170 points – some 61 points clear of his nearest challenger, the Dutch debutant Jakobsen. A third consecutive breakaway for Denmark’s Magnus Cort saw the EF Education-EasyPost rider extend his lead in the polka dot king of the mountains classification, while Cort’s fellow escapee, the Frenchman Anthony Perez (Cofidis) picked up the day’s combativity award after holding off the peloton until all hell broke loose on the final climb.
"He’s crazy, huh? Like half-human, half-motor," Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic said when quizzed about his teammate Van Aert's performance after the stage. "We cannot wish for more – it’s really unbelievable and I’m proud to be a part of it. The team was there, the situation was there – and the guy is just super strong. When he goes, no one can follow."
‘I thought we were sprinting for the win’ – Philipsen
On a slow-burning day where the wind did not blow aggressively enough at the start to bring about the anticipated splits, two riders – Denmark’s Cort and Frenchman Perez – rode clear from the gun to build up a maximum lead of around seven minutes.
If six fourth-category climbs were on the menu it was only the first – the cobbled Cote de Cassel – where we had anything resembling a battle for polka dot points between the leaders. With the stage passing nearby to the headquarters of his Cofidis team, Perez attacked so hard that his water bottle jumped out of its cage – but this thirsty work was for nothing when Cort calmly rode clear to keep up his run of winning ever categorised climb since the race’s start in his native Denmark.
By winning the first seven classified climbs of one Tour, Cort equalled a 64-year-old record set by the Spanish climbing legend Federico Bahamontes. And soon the record belonged to Cort outright after he crested the summit of the Cote de Remilly-Wirquin ahead of Perez, who in turn took the spoils at the intermediate sprint at Lumbres.
‘He wants that point’ – Cort wins thrilling sprint in KOM battle
This all played out after a bizarre segment between the first two climbs where an acceleration on the front of the chasing pack from Quick-Step saw the peloton momentarily split in two and the breakaway's lead tumble to under four minutes.
Once order was restored, Cort went on to make it 11 climbs from 11 before finally sitting up and letting his companion ride clear with the peloton closing the gap to just over one minute ahead of the final 25km of racing. Tensions rose as the race approached the coastal road once again after the inland loop – and it was left to Jumbo-Visma to pull off their masterclass.
In a move that echoed the team’s emphatic team performance in Stage 1 of Paris-Nice this spring – when Laporte lead home a famous one-two-three ahead of Roglic and Van Aert – Jumbo-Visma combined with the Ineos Grenadiers team of Welshman Geraint Thomas to reel in Perez and snap the elastic in the peloton with 12km remaining.
Vingegaard, last year’s Tour runner-up, was present and correct alongside Benoot and Van Aert before the man in the yellow skin suit fully committed to a devastating solo move to add a win that had all the hallmarks of Belgium’s greatest cyclist, Eddy Merckx. With Wednesday’s Stage 5 heading to the cobblestones of northern France, it would take a brave man to bet against Van Aert securing an indomitable double at Arenberg.
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