Primoz Roglic reaffirmed his status as the Tour de France favourite as he won stage four to close the gap on Julian Alaphilippe in the yellow jersey.
The Slovenian’s crash at the Criterium du Dauphine last month had raised questions over his fitness coming into the Tour but the way in which he sprang forward from his rivals to take victory ahead of countryman Tadej Pogacar seemed to answer them.
Alaphilippe was fifth and Britain’s Adam Yates 10th to ensure there was no change at the very top of the standings – in which Alaphilippe leads Yates by four seconds – but Roglic moved up to third, seven seconds back, with the bonuses from his victory.
“I feel every day a little better,” Roglic said. “I’m still not totally the same but I felt the second stage showed I could still ride a bike so I need to enjoy that, stay focused and do the same like we did until now for these three weeks.”
The 160.5km stage from Sisteron to Orcieres-Merlette 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 third week of this race.
Alaphilippe’s Deceuninck-QuickStep team sought to control the pace as soon as the road began to ramp up, with Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma squad then helping to keep the pace strong to stifle the chances of attacks.
As the gradient eased near the summit, Cofidis’ Guillaume Martin attacked to spark counter-moves, and it was Roglic who had the legs to get away as defending champion Egan Bernal and others simply tried to hang on.
Bernal came home in seventh, not losing any time on the road but seeing his deficit in the general classification grow to 17 seconds once bonuses are applied.
“It is not good when another GC rider takes some seconds, but I think we need to be patient,” said Bernal, who emerged from the Dauphine with fitness concerns of his own as he deals with a back problem.
“Our best scenario is to arrive to the third week without losing too much time and recover in the long climbs. For us we have to minimise the time in these stages and arrive as fresh as possible to the third week.”
While Bernal stayed in the front group, the Ineos Grenadiers saw their Plan B Richard Carapaz lose contact and concede 28 seconds to slip down to 21st overall.
That was another sign that it is Jumbo-Visma who have come to this Tour with the strongest team.
Tom Dumoulin retains co-leadership alongside Roglic for now, and was also in the front group to sit seventh overall.
“The whole team was very strong, and I think we need to continue with the way we started,” Roglic added. “We need to stay as long as possible with both of us as high as possible, and still follow our plan.”
Fifth place on the day kept Alaphilippe in yellow, but the man whose unexpected 14-day spell in the lead reshaped last year’s Tour insisted Deceuninck-QuickStep were not planning to defend it so long this time around.
“The Jumbo-Visma train was really hard to follow, so there’s no disappointment for us,” he said. “We’re just happy to be in yellow again tomorrow. But I don’t want to ruin the team either, we’re not here to control the race for three weeks.”
That fast pace also killed off any hopes Yates had of a late dig which might have made him the ninth Briton to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour.
“I think it was (Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp) Kuss who set a pretty ferocious pace for the last kilometre or whatever it was,” Yates said.
“I think we were all in a line and that’s kind of where you finished. I’m only four seconds off so we live to fight another day.”