Tommy Voeckler was in the break so the Tour’s started now

Okay, the Tour is officially underway. I know we’ve already had the Grand Départ and millions of people watching, but two crucial things happened on stage four. One, we got to France. Two, Tommy Voeckler got in the break.

It isn’t the Tour until we’ve had Tommy’s TV time. Tommy Voeckler’s faces are quite simply a fundamental part of the race these days. He didn’t achieve much today beyond a few points in the mountains classification, but at least he made a flat stage interesting for anyone who was watching the live coverage. There he was: tongue out, head describing figure-eights like Stevie Wonder. Admit it, you’ll miss him when he’s gone.

The stage win

Marcel Kittel, obviously. That’s three stages out of four now. Today’s was a bit closer, but all that’ll achieve is that he’ll take the next sprint even more seriously.

Peter Sagan reprised his role as Kittel’s shadow. After falling not far from the end, Sagan had to fight his way back through the peloton (and according to David Millar, ‘fight’ is the operative word). He made it to the front just in time to follow Kittel all the way to the line. It’s his new hobby.

Sagan didn’t come second though. He came fourth. Milan-San Remo winner, Alexander Kristoff, tried to stay ahead of Kittel and narrowly failed, while French sprinter Arnaud Demare tried to get ahead of Kittel and narrowly failed. The most striking presence, however, was Demare’s diminutive countryman, Bryan Coquard.

Coquard’s a cocky little get

But in a good way. He won an intermediate sprint yesterday, but spent half his sprinting time looking back at the riders he was beating. At 58kg he looks nothing like a sprinter and that is never more apparent than when he’s alongside Marcel Kittel’s gargantuan 86kg frame.

The contrast plays hell with your sense of perspective. It’s like Coquard’s scaled down. Seeing him next to Kittel makes it look like some sort of Dads v Lads bike race. Perhaps he can use his small size to his advantage by convincing Kittel that he isn’t in fact small but far away.

Yellow jersey news

Not actually in any way relevant to the yellow jersey in all honesty, but The Schlecks (Andy) has abandoned. Meanwhile, Chris Froome took a tumble and is a bit banged up. They think he’s okay, but if nothing else, the gravel rash on his hands really won’t be much fun on…

Stage five

The second key stage of this year’s Tour and one of the main reasons why one of the themes of this website has been the cobbles this year. The fans and journos can’t wait. The pros – with the exception of Fabian Cancellara and a bunch of Belgians – are dreading it.

The route is based around the spring classic Paris-Roubaix and uses many of the same stretches of pavé. Here’s what to expect. Accidents and time gaps are inevitable; the withdrawal of a major contender more than possible. Even worse/better, there’s rain forecast which makes everything a hundred times worse/better.

Geraint Thomas has described the stage as ‘last man standing’. Who will that man be? Of the top ten from this year’s Paris-Roubaix, only Zdenek Stybar, Bradley Wiggins and Tom Boonen are missing. But the stage win’s only half the story. Carnage-induced time gaps between the overall contenders are the other half. It should be immense.


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