The sprinters start stage 4 of the 2021 Tour de France as the prime candidates again. Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Tim Merlier will all have their eyes on stage honours.
Stage 3, which was won by Tim Merlier, meaning Alpecin-Fenix picked up their second stage win in a row, was marred by a plethora of high-profile crashes. Geraint Thomas crashed early but was able to continue, before Primož Roglič, Caleb Ewan and Jack Haig all hit the deck in different incidents. Haig and Robert Gesink were forced to abandon the Tour de France, whilst others that finished may not be able to start stage 4 due to their injuries.
Tour de France Stage 4 profile
Stage 4 kicks-off in Redon, but Fougères is the finish location and has featured in multiple editions of the Tour de France in recent years. Notably, the town hosted the finish to stage seven in 2015, where Mark Cavendish sprinted to victory ahead of Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan.
With just over 1,300 metres of climbing to take place over 150 kilometres, there are no king of the mountains sprints. This means that Ide Schelling only needs to finish the stage to retain the polka-dot jersey. The stage is also one of the shortest of the 2021 route.
The intermediate sprint takes place in Vitré at kilometre 114. Behind the breakaway, the green jersey contenders will all look to gain as many points as possible. Following the IS, just over 35 kilometres will remain until the finish in Fougères. This may deter some of the sprinting teams from going all-in so close to the end, choosing instead to conserve their full power for the finish.
The peloton will enter Fougères from the east side of town. The first key moment in the final kilometres is a left-hand turn at a roundabout with around 2.8 kilometres to go. This will bring the riders to the southern side of town, and with 900 metres to go, the next key turn occurs. This time, it is a right-handed which will send the riders into Fougères. There will be a significant battle for position ahead of this corner, which could have a substantial impact on the stage outcome. The finish line is on a minor uphill gradient and kinks slightly to the right, meaning for every sprinter, timing their effort correctly will be key to victory.
Image credit: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet
Many of the stage three favourites were taken out of contention before the final kilometres on stage three. Firstly, we hope that all riders will make it to the finish without being upended in a crash.
Mark Cavendish was one of those affected yesterday, denying him the chance of winning a 31st Tour de France stage. However, Cavendish was the winner when a Tour de France stage last finished in Fougères and he has a chance of doing it again six years later. That was his 26th stage victory at the Tour de France, though the ‘Manx Missile’ hasn’t won at the Tour for five years. Michael Mørkøv is one of the best leadout men in cycling, his presence will only be of benefit to Cavendish’s chances.
Alpecin-Fenix boast an exceptionally strong sprint team at the 2021 Tour de France, which was on full display when Tim Merlier won stage two. Jasper Philipsen was second as well, though this was partly due to Caleb Ewan and Peter Sagan crashing behind. Philipsen and Merlier have both won sprint stages at Grand Tours in the last 12 months. Could they both try to win the stage, or will Philipsen leadout Merlier again?
Although Wout van Aert has the abillity to win stage four, he has stated that he will be conserving his energy for the time-trial on stage five.
Bryan Coquard has never won a stage at the Tour de France, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a contender for stage four. Just over 100 kilometres separate Coquard’s birthplace (Saint-Nazaire) from the stage finish location in Pontivy, could this be his lucky charm? Coquard was one of the riders to crash on stage three, so we wait for news on his condition.
Groupama-FDJ are battling for GC with David Gaudu this year, but will direct their focus to former French Champion Arnaud Démare who won four stages at the Giro d’Italia last season. Groupama-FDJ lost Ignatas Konovalovas when he was caught up in a stage one crash, which hurts Démare's chances as the Lithuanian champion would've played a pivotal role in his leadout train. Démare was another of the many riders that were brought down before being able to sprint for stage three — if he isn't hurt, he has a chance.
Another rider to crash was Peter Sagan. Sagan looked to be ramping up his sprint, but collided with Caleb Ewan. The Slovakian champion jumped to his feet, whilst Ewan lay on the ground. The Australian looks unlikely to start stage four, but we wait for official confirmation. According to Bora-hansgrohe, Sagan suffered a haematoma and cut on his hip, though he should be able to start stage four. Sagan can never be ignored.
The outsiders with a chance include Nacer Bouhanni, Cees Bol and Sonny Colbrelli.
Deceuninck-Quick Step have one of the strongest leadout trains at the Tour, which is largely down to Michael Mørkøv. If the Dane can place the Manx Missile to the front, he has a great chance of victory. Mark Cavendish is our pick to win stage four of the 2021 Tour de France.
Cover image: A.S.O./Charly Lopez