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Stage win for Tour de France leader Van Aert


Belgian rider Wout van Aert has won the hilly fourth stage of the Tour de France and extended his overall lead after a trio of second-placed finishes.

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Van Aert rider kept the leader’s yellow jersey for the Jumbo–Visma team on Tuesday after taking it for the first time on Saturday. He also extended his lead in the green jersey contest for best sprinter.

He was eight seconds clear of countryman Jasper Philipsen of the Alpecin–Fenix team, with Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte taking third place in a sprint finish.

Philipsen briefly thought he was the winner, but cut his celebrations short when he saw Van Aert was already doing so.

“I had the feeling I had won for about two or three seconds,” he said

Michael Matthews, in ninth, was Australia’s best finisher with Caleb Ewan 31st.

Van Aert shook up the peloton when he surged ahead up the last of the five climbs — a 900-meter ascent up Cote du Cap Blanc-Nez at a gradient of 7.5  per cent — about ten kilometres from the end.

He said he felt an early attack was the best way to avoid a mass sprint at the line.

“I didn’t want to take the risk of losing anymore. It was quite obvious that we were trying something with the team,” he said. “I went full gas to see what would happen. I went all out.”

The 27-year-old, who came second in the previous three stages, flapped his hands like a bird’s wings as he sat up on his bike as he crossed the line.

“This jersey gives wings. It was definitely a tough climb but this stage was very likely going to end up in bunch sprint,” Van Aert said.

“It was difficult to finish alone, but thanks to the work of my teammates, I did it. It was up to me to finish it off.”

Van Aert picked up a 10-second time bonus and is now 25 seconds ahead of Yves Lampaert in the overall standings and 32 seconds clear of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar.

Pogacar’s rival Primoz Roglic, the 2020 Tour runner-up and Van Aert’s teammate, stayed seventh overall and remained nine seconds behind Pogacar, with both finishing in the main pack.

Matthews is 11th, 50 seconds adrift, and Ben O’Connor the next best-placed Aussie in 41st.

After a travel day, riders tackled a sunny 171.5 km route from the coastal city of Dunkirk to Calais, where riders could see the English coastline when they arrived into the much-used port location. Van Aert completed it in 4 hours, 1 minute, 36 seconds.

Danish rider Magnus Cort, who thrilled crowds with his breakaway rides during three intense days in Denmark, was again in the early breakaway — this time alongside Anthony Perez.

Perez pulled ahead some 45 km out and Cort was caught by the peloton shortly after.

Wednesday’s fifth stage is a flat stage for sprinters over 157 km starting at Lille Metropole and going over some of the feared cobblestones that feature on the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic.

The race ends on July 24 in Paris.

 – AAP

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