CALAIS, France (AP) — Belgian rider Wout van Aert won the hilly fourth stage of the Tour de France, extending his overall lead after attacking heavily on Tuesday’s closing climb.
The Belgian rider retained the leader’s jersey for the Jumbo-Visma team after taking it for the first time this Saturday. He also extended his lead in the green jersey contest for best sprinter.
Van Aert shook the pack as he rocketed forward on the last of the five climbs – a 900m climb to the Cote du Cap Blanc-Nez with a 7.5% gradient – about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the end .
He said he felt an early attack was the best way to avoid a bunch sprint on the line.
“I didn’t want to take the risk of losing anymore. It was pretty clear that we were trying something with the team,” he said. “I went full throttle to see what would happen. I was all for it.”
Considered one of the best multi-skilled riders in the world, 27-year-old Van Aert is a former three-time cyclo-cross world champion and a one-day classics specialist.
The Jumbo-Visma rider flapped his hands like a bird’s wings as he sat up on his bicycle. He crossed the line eight seconds ahead of compatriot Jasper Philipsen of the Alpecin-Fenix team, while Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte took third place in a sprint finish.
“This sweater gives wings. It was certainly a tough climb, but this stage would most likely end in a bunch sprint,” said Van Aert. “It was difficult to finish alone, but thanks to the work of my teammates, I made it. It was up to me to finish it.”
Van Aert took a time bonus of 10 seconds and is now 25 seconds ahead of Yves Lampaert in the general classification and 32 seconds ahead of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar.
Pogacar’s rival Primoz Roglic, the 2020 Tour runner-up and Van Aert’s teammate, remained seventh in the overall standings, nine seconds behind Pogacar, with both finishing in the main peloton.
After a day of travel, riders took a sunny route of 171.5 kilometers (106.3 miles) from the coastal town of Dunkirk to Calais, where riders could see the English coastline as they arrived at the much-used port location. Van Aert completed it in 4 hours, 1 minute, 36 seconds.
Danish rider Magnus Cort, who delighted the crowd with his breakaway rides over three intense days in Denmark, was again in the early breakaway – this time alongside Anthony Perez.
Perez drove about 45 kilometers ahead and Cort was overtaken by the pack shortly afterwards. Cort took more points in the polka dot jersey, but much tougher climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees are yet to come.
Wednesday’s fifth stage is a flat stage for sprinters of over 157 kilometers (97 miles) that starts in Lille Metropole and goes over some of the dreaded cobblestones featured on the one-day Paris-Roubaix classic.
The race ends on July 24 in Paris.
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