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2016 Tour de France; Stage 4- Kittel Kitten Crushes Cranky Coquard

July 5, 2016

Here’s all you need to know; Diamond Legs. Per Iljo Kiesse, Kittel’s teammate and leadout man, the team finally got to show the world Kittel’s “diamond legs.” (End stage report.)

Ok, fine, it was a bit more than that. Not a lot, but there was some action and drama too. A four man break got away early (Oliver Naesen- IAM[looking for a new sponsor], Markel Irizar- Trek-Seafood, Alexis Gougeard- AG2R, Andreas Schillinger- Bora-Argon 18) and stayed away until just inside the final 10km of the race. The rolling-ish terrain ultimately hurt the break as the cumulative miles caught up to them, on the Tour’s longest stage of the year. I’d held out hope that today would be a day for the break to finally work, but the sprinters and the miles double-teamed the break’s chances today.

The break was caught inside the final 10km, assuring a sprint, after the sprinter’s teams- especially Lotto-Soudal- spent considerable energy bringing things back together. A near mass pileup through one of the innumerable roundabouts brought things to a near standstill, and strung things out at warp speed. The final sprint was ever-so-slightly uphill, so the push for positioning was aggressive. In the pre-sprint melee, Cavendish was distanced from his leadout and had to avoid spent riders, so was negated from the sprint. Lotto-Soudal had Greipel positioned perfectly and he launched early- as always- but faded quickly, and looked as if he may have had a mechanical issue. He could be seen staring at his drivetrain, and sat somewhat awkwardly, seeming to just give up.

Kittel came around Greipel and Sagan, and looked to have it locked up early … but the plucky little Frenchman Coquard came around on the left and lunged for the line at the same time as Kittel. It took a photo finish and a few minutes to prove that Diamond Legs also has spider monkey arms like me- further proving his eery similarities to me. I wonder if he’s any good at overhead selfies too? Sagan held on for third, retaking the green jersey to go with his yellow. Since he’s busy sporting yellow, he’ll let Cav stay in the green by virtue of being in second place in the points competition.

Uncharacteristically for my German people, Kittel was quite emotional upon his win today. Having screwed the pooch on the previous sprints so far, the pressure was high for Diamond Legs to get a win- both within the team, and himself. It took a photo to prove he was the winner, but now that he’s gotten the monkey off his back, he can relax a little- just as Cavendish was able to earlier. Coquard continues to show his potential, and he’s clearly ready to step up, if he ever gets the timing right, and better support.

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Tomorrow’s stage is gonna be the first test of legs and resolve for the GC guys. With SIX categorized climbs, two of them Cat 2, it’s gonna hurt like hell after these long and fast sprint stages. The true GC contenders are unlikely to really show their hands, as the last week of the Tour is where the real fireworks will come- and are more important. It’s not really the kind of stage where the Tour can be won or lost, since it’s so early, unless you’re the predictably fragile type like Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte, or even Thibaut Pinot. The transition from sprint stage to climbing stage is aways hard for the rider’s legs to adjust to, and usually catches somebody off guard. The final little climb is far enough from the actual finish line that it won’t likely be a day of huge time gaps, unless riders are unlucky (see above).

The only GC guy likely to make a move, due to his deficit, is Contador. If his legs are feeling better than his shoulder, he’s the kind of rider who could regain some lost time … but you can bet ALL the other GC guys know that. If Nibali is really only at the Tour to help Aru (HAHAHAHAHA!!!), he might be one to have a go. But the stage really seems to be pretty well tailored to Valverde, I hate to say. Since he’s currently in third on GC, it’s pretty likely we’ll see him take yellow by the end of the day. If not Valverde, look for Giant-Alpecin to work hard to get Warren Barguil into yellow, since he’s in fourth- :18 away from yellow. Thing is though, Sagan is too hard to get rid of under normal circumstances, so he could possibly gut it out and retain his bright chemise.

Things will begin to look a bit different tomorrow, but they’ll certainly look different after Thursday’s big climb up the brutal Col d’Aspin. You can bet the climbers will be eyeballing each other tomorrow, looking ahead to Thursday. The chess match is beginning to get interesting.

Tim

PS- You know the drill … go buy a kit!

 

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