Primoz Roglic laid down a marker to his rivals with victory on stage four of the Tour de France as Julian Alaphilippe retained the yellow jersey.
Roglic was seen as favourite for overall victory in this year’s Tour before suffering injuries in a crash at the Criterium du Dauphine last month, but appeared untroubled as he sprang forward to take the win at Orcieres-Merlette.
Alaphilippe and Britain’s Adam Yates were part of the chasing group who followed Roglic over the line to ensure no change at the top of the standings, in which Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Alaphilippe leads Yates of Mitchelton-Scott by four seconds.
But Roglic is now only seven seconds behind, and this performance will be seen as a sign that he has carried over the form which saw him leading in the Dauphine before he withdrew ahead of the final stage.
“It was quite a hard day actually, quite hot, but the guys did again a really good job, I was all the time in a good position and at the end I could do a good sprint,” the Slovenian said.
Asked if he had hoped the victory would come with the yellow jersey, he added: “I have to accept it, I don’t really care. It was a nice day, we stayed safe at the end, we win which is even better and we have to continue like that.
“I’m coming back (from injury). We see that I am still coming back and now I can race every day feeling even better.”
The 160.5km stage from Sisteron saw the Tour dip a toe into the Alps unusually early and cap it with a summit finish, though the final climb was not one to compare with those to come in the final week of this race.
Instead the steady gradient was taken at high speed as Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team controlled from the front, ensuring attacks were kept to a minimum until the road began to level out near the top.
Cofidis’ Guillaume Martin tried a move with 500 metres to go, sparking the others into life. Roglic quickly showed he had the most left in the tank, leaving defending champion Egan Bernal in his wake as the Colombian came home seventh ahead of Yates in 10th.
Bernal remains sixth overall, now 17 seconds off Alaphilippe in yellow. But Richard Carapaz – Ineos Grenadiers’ plan B should Bernal falter – could not keep up with the lead group and lost 28 seconds to slip to 21st overall.