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It’s safe to say that stage 4 of the 2023 Tour de France was not one for the ages. Several riders were licking their wounds from crashes in a chaotic finale, while Jasper Philipsen will go down in the history books as the winner.
However, even he derided it as “the most boring Tour de France stage for a long time.”
For the best part of four hours before the chaotic finale into the motor racing circuit in Nogaro, the power was way down, as riders sat in the wheels, fueled up, and had a good chat.
“I tried to convince [Uno-X rider] Torsten Træn to go in the break because he’s in my fantasy team. I’m in a league with my girlfriend and her family, I thought I’d try and sneak myself some points,” British champion Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious) told Velo.
“It was really easy, and then just really stressful at the end,” he said. They helped to keep their German Phil Bauhaus in front on the way to a third place finish.
“Even stage 3 was nice, just to chat in the bunch. A good tick along and recover – and it meant stage 5 will be extra hard. Maybe a little bit more tension in the legs would have been nice from that perspective,” Wright said Wednesday morning.
The Tour of olden days
Racing his second Tour de France, Kevin Vermaerke (Team DSM-Firmenich) is working for Romain Bardet and looking to seize breakaway success. For the man from California, the chilled-out vibe was a welcome change.
“I think it’s really nice. Last year in the first week, I don’t think I talked to anybody,” Vermaerke said. “It was just looking down at my stem and sprinting out of every corner.
“I was talking to a few guys yesterday about how this is the Tour we watched growing up, you see everybody cruising through the countryside, chatting and the weather was good.”
“I enjoyed talking to some of my friends in the bunch and enjoy the race. To watch on TV, it might not be the most interesting but it’s also part of the Tour. These long days add fatigue and even if they’re not hard, you’re still on the bike for five hours. I think you need some stages like that.”
Fittingly for the Fourth of July, Vermaerke caught up with American friends Quinn Simmons (Lidl-Trek), Matteo Jorgensen (Movistar) and Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost).
“It’s super motivating to see those guys, Neilson in the polka-dot jersey, Quinn and Matteo have also been successful. I’m hoping to prove myself here like that as well.”
Cosnefroy breaks away to ‘spice things up’
There was a short-lived breakaway, as Benoît Cosnefroy went up the road with Anthony Delaplace (Arkea-Samsic). It transpires that Cosnefroy had been speaking to Tim De Clercq, the diesel Soudal-Quick Step domestique, who asked him why he didn’t attack.
Because you’d only give us two minutes, the Frenchman replied. De Clercq responded, sportingly, that he’d give them some time.
So off they went. “We just thought we’d spice up this stage which must have been boring for everyone,” Cosnefroy said afterwards.
Even in front, the monotony was high. At one point, the AG2R-Citroën rider had a quick chat with the adjacent camera man, saying: “if we can do the post-race interview now, let’s do it, it means I won’t have to go to the press area. Why have we made this [breakaway]? I don’t know.”
Occasional training partners Cosnefroy and Delaplace discussed “Normandy and the beautiful Norman flags waving on the roadsides.”
A drag for the peloton
Does it ever get boring for the riders too?
“It does drag on a bit,” said Vermaerke’s DSM-Firmenich teammate Chris Hamilton. “But at least yesterday, we still had a pretty decent speed by the end of it. There wasn’t a headwind, so it was all right.”
Context is king: given the way the stars attacked the hilly Grand Départ and stage 5 in the Pyrenees, we can allow them a little respite.
This might not be the last time we see the bunch take a collective pause for breath before going all guns blazing at the finish and the next stage.