“Ja!” Screams Marcel Kittel (Etixx) as he leaps back to his feet and cuddles his soigneur after sitting on the tarmac with his head buried in his elbows to await the verdict from the photo finish technicians.
He has every right to be chuffed, he’s just won Stage Four of the 2016 Tour de France.
In theory it should have been one for the smaller sprinters – 600 metres @ 4% to the finish line – not a beast like Kittel but he was the man producing most watts.
What about Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)?
The Manxman left it too late, boxed in as a wave came across in the blanket finish and he was nowhere – eighth.
And Andre Greipel (Lotto)?
Despite his boys turning themselves inside out for him on the run in, gravity got the better of him and he faded on the uphill drag to the line and capitulated as the gear just wouldn’t turn for him.
That wee French guy? – Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie).
He was the man causing Kittel’s anxiety; the little Frenchman was finishing fastest – his slight build an advantage on the drag – and closing down Kittel rapidly but he died coming into the line and lost the verdict by millimetres.
The former omnium specialist – silver in the London Olympics – must surely win a stage before the race is out?
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)?
The remarkable maillot jaune put more bonus seconds in the bank taking third spot; he hasn’t finished lower than fourth in any of the four stages thus far – but that’ll change tomorrow.
Has to go to Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) – seventh in this exalted company has to merit praise.
But however much we wish we could tell you that it was an all-action day, it was not – not as pedestrian as yesterday but crushingly predictable nonetheless.
Initially there were seven out front, early – but they came back then four went: Oliver Naesen (IAM Cycling & Belgian), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R & France), Markel Irizar (Trek-Segafredo & Spain) and Andreas Schillinger (Bora-Argon 18 & Germany) – and they were the break of the day getting clear with around 30 minutes riding elapsed.
The Frenchman finally got the mallet with around 40 K to go – Monsieur Biondi in the AG2R car would not be chuffed.
Prior to that Irizar took the only mountains points of the day to protect Stuyven’s jersey on another totally predictable day where the break goes, stabilises (yawn) then gets caught.
Around five minutes was about as much slack as the bunch cut the quartet all day before they began to reel the line in – but ever so slowly.
Inside 10 K to go the break was still clear – but only just as the sprinters’ and GC riders teams came properly to life.
Lotto and Katusha for Greipel and Kristoff; Tinkoff for Sagan and Alberto – and Sky move up as the break meets the Grim Reaper with seven to go.
We’re in Limoges now – and it’s Valgren and Kreuziger for Tinkoff; five Lottos for Greipel with Adam Hansen’s narrow ‘bars easily identifiable up front.
Downhill now and it’s so FAST before it drags up at 600 metres to go.
Greipel’s big amigo, Sieberg takes it up for Lotto.
Orica are there for Matthews – but Kreuziger is SO strong for Tinkoff, dragging the peloton at warp speed.
Lotto again now, Sieberg the man, two K now and Greipel still has two men as Sieberg explodes like a burnt out firework going backwards like a brick and causing problems for those in his wake.
Into the final right hander and Etixx are coming, Kittel looks good – they’ve been hiding ‘til now but were slated by their manager, Patrick Lefevre for showing too early in the two sprint stages thus far.
Finish straight now – it’s messy, men all over the road.
Cav is boxed – Kristoff comes early but dies, it’s Sagan now, then Kittel, big and strong and he goes out in front – but Coquard is coming, coming, rapid!
It’s between Coquard and Kittel, they’re both on their knees now as the line comes ever so slowly at the top of this 4% drag.
They kick – it’s a photo finish.
It’s SO close.
Sagan is third, he’s remarkable.
Dan McLay is well there… Big Marcel shouts with joy, it’s his.
He might even get a smile from Patrick Lefevre tonight – but don’t bet on it…
REAL hills tomorrow – six categorised climbs and a huge re-shuffle of the cards.