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There was a summary about stage four of the Tour de France that struck me almost as much as Primoz Roglic’s ability to speak and breathe through a face mask literally seconds after winning in Orcières-Merlett.
Words: Sophie Smith • Images: Chris Auld
Honestly, I am exasperated walking two blocks to the supermarket wearing a fabric mask let alone after pipping Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) in the first summit finish of the race.
Roglic was still wiping the sunscreen out of his eyes when he was asked if it was “good news” that Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), who placed fifth behind Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic), was still in the yellow jersey after stage four.
“It is the news I have to accept. I don’t really care. I just, like I say again, nice day, we stay safe, we win, so even better, we have to continue again,” Roglic told the world feed.
Firstly, I now know that Alaphilippe is racing in a US$120,500 watch because I Googled his surname to ensure I’d spelt it correctly directly afterwards and that was first thing which came up. It might irk his teammate Bob Jungels, who did a solid turn on the final climb and was apparently keen for a time piece sponsor not so long ago but was told it was difficult when you have a common supermarket chain branded across your arse (no offence Lidl).
Secondly, Roglic, who off the bike is I’m told a natural comedian, as well as a former ski-jumper, does care. Maybe less so when there is Factor 50 and a large swathe of cloth in his face, but he does care. Roglic, even banged up and bandaged before the Tour started, has been touted as the man who can, with Jumbo-Visma behind him, challenge Ineos Grenadier and its almost decade-long dominance at the Tour.
The Dutch squad has certainly acted the part since the race rolled out of Nice. It was Tony Martin who played peloton patron on stage 1 and suggested a go-slow on the slippery descent Astana came apart on after not listening. It was Roglic’s gentle arm movement that reiterated the sentiment when the fallen regained their composure.
Likewise, it was Jumbo-Visma who were ever present on the front of the bunch in the run to the finish that Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss appeared to make light work of on Tuesday.
Defending Tour champion Egan Bernal was there, but it wasn’t his Ineos Grenadier team, as we’ve come to expect, dictating the overall shots like storm troopers shepherding Darth Vader.
My brief was not Roglic but Australian compatriot Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), who finished 14th in the lead group and – along with Bernal, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma), Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Merida), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education), Miguel Lopez (Astana) and a score of others – is now 17 seconds adrift of Alaphilippe on the general classification.
“That’s a great ride by Richie,” champion sprinter turned sports commentator Robbie McEwen told Australian audiences.
It was and I believe Porte, riding free of mental inhibitions in what is his last Tour start as a team leader, is up for his best campaign yet. But that’s another story for another day.
Cyclingnews in its blurb about stage 4 said: “The strategic challenge of a major summit finish at this point in the race is that teams have to weigh the advantage of gaining time against the disadvantage of defending gains, and the fact that a rider peaking now at his point in the race might not hold that peak all the way through the final week.”
The Tour is a long game, and longer I guess when it’s postponed and then staged in a sterile-as-possible environment amid a global pandemic.
Porte has constantly referenced the third week of the Tour, as did many title contenders including Bernal, Chaves and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) in the immediate aftermath of stage 4. Chalk one goes to Jumbo-Visma and Roglic. There is no discounting their victory.
But, as a colleague said, there is a lot of distance to cover before Paris, which Bernal, and maybe even Dumoulin, is counting on.
“It was a really short climb, really punchy in the final,” Bernal said. “I think it was a good climb to see how the GC riders are, so I’m really happy to just arrive with them because it was really hard. It’s not good a GC rider takes some seconds, but I think we need to be really patient and know our best scenario is to arrive to the third week without losing too much time and try to recover a bit of time in the long climbs. For us, it will be about minimizing in the time in these stages…to the last week.”