Wow, that’s two days in a row where the Freewheeling prediction has actually been spot on! As predicted, Stage 4 was the perfect terrain for another Sagan win, and, as predicted, the Tinkoff rider and newly crowned European Champion took the race leader’s jersey. Sagan has won so much this season that it’s actually a rare sight to glimpse him in his Tinkoff jersey these days!
Setting out from Aalter, four riders got into an early break, building up a steady lead of four minutes. The first appearance of Belgian pave soon put an end to their hopes however, with the lead diminishing. The circuit was where the action was expected, and on entering this section of the race with 64km remaining, the bunch came together. Riders were to make 2 laps of the 32km circuit, which, as well as two pave sections, also had two climbs and a smattering of uncategorised cobbles.
Tom Dumoulin made a move and a group of six riders came off the front as a result. This shook up the peloton, who sharply shut the break down. After that, numerous riders tried and failed to form a sustainable break.
Rohan Dennis and Edvald Boassen-Hagen found themselves in one of these unsuccessful breaks, which formed as a result of the climbs. Dimitriy Grazdev and Andriy Grivko of Astana looked to be in with the best chance of a successful breakaway, but this too was eventually shut down with 3km of road left.
The second lap saw another push from Dumoulin, who had joined Tony Martin up the road. With two strong riders, the break looked to be promising, but the pair were unable to join the two Astana riders ahead of them to consolidate the move, dangling like a carrot in front of the peloton and never quite managing to bridge the gap to the men up the road. Eventually, the 8.2% gradient of Bruine Put saw the pairing sucked back into the bunch, however Trek-Segafredo rider Jasper Stuyven leapt off the front to join Grazdev and Grivko.
The sprint itself was not without drama. Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff started the action, and Sagan and Andre Démare of FDJ fought for his slipstream, resulting in a bumping of shoulders and jostling. Greipel meanwhile, had been set up by his Lotto-Soudal team mates to try for a sprint victory. The German powered across the line, only missing out on the win by a whisker in a photo finish. Neither Sagan nor Greipel was sure of the result initially, waiting for the finish line photograph to be analysed before Sagan was pronounced the victor by virtue of a bike throw.
Démare was evidently unhappy with the outcome of the sprint, which Sagan addressed after the race. “There are some riders who are not happy…I had a little problem with Démare, but that is sprinting. If I did something bad, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I did. I was in my line and he was very aggressive to me”.
There was drama elsewhere on the stage: his attention momentarily diverted by consuming a gel early in the race, Etixx-Quickstep’s Tom Boonen hit a pot hole and was thrown from his bike. Boonen remounted but couldn’t continue, abandoning shortly after. Team manager Patrick Lefevere explained that Boonen had felt ‘dazed’ after the incident, and was taken straight to hospital. After an x-ray, Boonen was permitted to return home and rest. At the present time, no comment has been made on whether or not this will affect his World Championship preparation.
As if that weren’t enough, an incident with a motorbike on a roundabout late in the race almost wiped out the three leading riders. The motorbike took a wide line around the roundabout, losing control after hitting the street furniture and careering from right to left across the road, directly across the path of the three cyclists exiting the roundabout on the left, who thankfully managed to avoid being struck by mere centimetres. The incident comes after Etixx-Quickstep’s Tony Martin praised the Eneco Tour on his Twitter page, writing “with intelligent diversions no motorbike has to pass the peleton” (sic).
For two seasons, incidents involving official race motorbikes have marred events, culminating in the tragic accident earlier this year at Ghent-Wevelgem where Antoine Démoitié sadly sustained fatal injuries after crashing and then being hit by a race motorbike. The Eneco Tour had impressed riders by introducing diversions for race traffic at pressure points on the road; however this latest incident in a supposedly safe race underlines the need for the UCI to truly investigate ways to ensure rider safety.