With Thursday’s first big mountain climb of this year’s Tour de France looming large, defending champion Geraint Thomas made it safely through Stage 4 to Nancy, as ex-Team Sky sprinter Elia Viviani made it two wins in a row for Belgian team Deceuninck-QuickStep.
In a fast snaking finish in which speeds nudged almost 60mph, Thomas and Ineos team-mate Egan Bernal stayed out of trouble as Viviani was led to the line by team-mate and current race leader Julian Alaphilippe of France, winner of Stage 3 in Epernay.
‘I enjoyed every kilometre today and at the end we got a beautiful victory,’ Alaphilippe said of Viviani’s win.
Thomas, after losing time in Epernay and crashing on Stage 1, was relieved to get through incident free.
‘It was a nice day until the last 50km, when it went a bit crazy, manic and stressful,’ the Welshman said, ‘so I’m happy to get it out of the way.’
Thomas refused to respond to the speculation over his form, saying: ‘I avoid all that stuff.
‘Despite my lack of racing, the schedule probably works in my favour because most of the big mountain days — apart from Thursday at La Planche des Belles Filles — are loaded towards the back end. It will be interesting, a nice little test, but so far, so good.’
Ineos team principal Sir Dave Brailsford dismissed the gap as irrelevant.
‘I think way too much has been made of it if I am honest,’ he said.
‘If anyone understands the sport, you watch the sport, there is a 30-metre gap. G sat up a little bit, he thought people were trying to come over him and that is it.
‘People are trying to make out that it is a five-second gap and it is not. It makes no difference.’