Stage 3, through Provence to Sisteron, was a relative day off. After two hard days and with a ski-station summit finish to come on Stage 4 the peloton took a duvet day.
They’d be roused with twenty kilometres to go to assemble for a sprint, but until then it was a couple of snooze buttons and a cup of tea in bed with the papers.
After an early mountain points hunt for Benoit Cosnefroy and Anthony Perez, fellow Frenchman Jerome Cousin was left all alone up front. The Total Direct Energy man, the only guy willing to put in a proper shift, our guide to the majesty of the Provencal countryside as it wafted by; bearded, mirror-shaded, luxurious pony-tail flowing behind like a brooding bounty hunter on a cheap US TV drama.Embed from Getty Images
He sliced through gorges, clung to hillsides, and wended his way between a historic citadel here and an ancient olive grove there. A rolling billboard for the oil industry. The peloton followed, for periods at a stately thirty kilometres per hour; if it wasn’t quite a year in Provence then at times it felt like it.
That we would get our sprint finish was never in doubt. We used the time to muse upon the relative merits of the contenders for a fast finish.
Sam Bennett? Strong, Irish, and with the all-powerful Quickstep team at his service. Caleb Ewan? Tiny, Aussie, elf-like, and possessed of an elusive turn of pace and a nose scraping aero position. Peter Sagan? Everyone’s favourite human being and (over) due a win.
Cees Bol? Giacomo Nizzolo? Stage 1 winner Kristoff?
The run in to Sisteron contained an awful lot of road furniture for a town of such history. Either the Romans in these parts were fond of a complex contraflow system or the local infrastructure budget has been diligently maxed out. Take the wrong side of a roundabout or misjudge a traffic island and it was game over.
A coupe of standard issue daft crashes left riders, splayed on the deck, watching the race gallop away down the road. The big names stayed well clear, up front, frantic but safe.
The run to the finish faced a headwind, patience and a late surge had to be the tactic du jour, but riders buzzed and swarmed like honey laden bees in search of a queen. The road looked too narrow, riders moved too early, mild chaos ensued.
Sagan launched, to hell with the headwind, only for Bennett to leap past, and where’s Ewan?Embed from Getty Images
Miles back…a stunning surge from several metres, weaving right, and tight, past Sagan, before veering left and dominating Bennett to win.
The overhead camera shot showing the singularly fastest (and most patient) man in the field, a blur through the traffic for career Tour Stage win number four.
Sisteron, all historic architecture and Roman traffic calming measures, sitting pretty.
(Top Image: Caleb Ewan by filip bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0))