Jonas Vingegaard kept hold of the leader’s yellow jersey at the Tour de France on Sunday but only after surviving a fall and losing two key Jumbo-Visma teammates to injury which weakened his defences in a tense struggle for the title with defending champion Tadej Pogacar.
The stage itself, raced in sweltering 40-degree heat, was won by Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen who edged a mass bunch sprint ahead of Wout van Aert and Mads Pederson.
The sprinters caught Frenchman Benjamin Thomas around 250m from the line of the stage from Rodez to the Carcassonne citadel, as the home nation’s run without a win stretches to 35 stages.
Philipsen thought he had won stage four at Calais, not realising another rider had crossed the line much earlier.
“I have better memories than at Calais,” he said smiling.
“It also helped that Mark Cavendish isn’t here this year,” he said in reference to the star British sprinter.
An even match
In the struggle for supremacy in the general rankings, Vingegaard saw his team reduced to six riders, which leaves him level on teammates with Pogacar with six stages to go, three of them Pyrenean mountain slogs.
Vingegaard, who fell around 55km from the finish, still leads Pogacar by 2min 22sec, with 2018 champion Geraint Thomas third, another 21sec adrift.
The slightly-built Dane, however, arguably lost his two strongest helpers as three-time Vuelta winner Primoz Roglic was announced as a non-starter, which was bad enough.
But when Steven Kruijswijk fell just after environmental campaigners staged a second roadblock protest at this year’s race, Pogacar’s team will have been heartened.
“It’s never nice to see someone fall,” said Pogacar.
“But if I hadn’t lost my two teammates it would be different. Now we go in to the last week an even match.”
Vingegaard admitted it had been a bad day for Jumbo.
“It’s two very important teammates, two very strong riders. It’s quite a bad day for us. We’ll just keep fighting all the way to Paris,” he said.
While he described his injuries as nothing serious, the fact he fell due to inattention and then threw his bike down suggested a crack in his armour.
“I’m okay. I have some road-rash on my left side from when I went down, I’m a bit sore but that’s how it is after a big crash.”
In temperatures over 40 degrees the peloton rolled at a slow pace, and many have decided not to train on Monday’s rest day.
“It was so hot, well over 40 degrees. I’m so happy about the day off tomorrow,” said Pogacar.
With 65km remaining two escapees slightly ahead of the peloton suddenly slowed down as protestors blocked the road.
The following pack had to brake and in such heat many were caught cold.
Two of the protesters were chained at the neck; two others let off pink flares. Another had “984 days left” written on his shirt.
The same group also briefly halted the Tour in the Alps on stage 10.