Stage four, one of the most feared and talked about stages of the 2015 Tour de France, played out in an anticipated and impressive fashion as the seven sectors of cobbles – six in the final 46 kilometers – whittled down the peloton to a select 35 riders by the end of the lengthy 223.5-kilometer race.
Bauke Mollema successfully conquered the dreaded cobblestones to finish in 16th place and kept his goal for a top GC intact. With the absence of Fabian Cancellara –the champion of cobblestones – lost to a horrible crash in stage three, the goal for Tuesday’s stage was to keep Mollema guarded and safely arrive with the front group.
“I am happy to finish in the first group with most of the GC guys. It was a really hard day, and really stressful again, and I was happy that I survived like this,” explained Mollema.
“I like the kind of races where I really have to fight and everyone is fighting full gas, but today was just a big fight from start to finish to be in a good position for the cobbles, and then to stay there. It was a little much, but I think I had a good day.”
It was a day circled in red by the GC contenders more attuned to ascending mountains than bouncing around harsh cobblestones - a day that tested wills, luck, and more importantly, teamwork.
The skies threatened rain near race end, but only a few drops materialized; the sectors remained dry and it was not the epic cobblestone stage of 2014, but still tough enough to shed some GC hopefuls.
With six out of seven sectors packed into the backend of the race, positioning was the biggest concern with little chance between to make up lost ground.
Today was just a big fight from start to finish to be in a good position for the cobbles, and then to stay there.
Mollema was not well placed coming into sector six, but with the experienced Gregory Rast leading him forward he maneuvered back into contention. Rast later punctured leaving Mollema alone to battle the final sectors, but by then the biggest selection was made, the group whittled to around 45, and it was much easier to maintain position.
Mollema explained, “After the [sixth] section we were a little too far in the back and that was not so good. But after that Gregory brought me to the front, and also after the third. He was with me for a long time and did a really good job. In the end, I lost him and I didn’t know he punctured, but you just have to keep fighting for your position and luckily it was still a fairly big group so it was quite easy to stay with them.”
Stage four ended successfully for Trek Factory Racing. The yellow jersey changed shoulders with a late attack from Tony Martin (Etixx Quick Step) who had hoped to achieve the feat on stage two, but was thwarted by Fabian Cancellara in the sprint finish. Tuesday, Martin did not wait for the sprint, instead he used his time trial strength to solo the final three kilometers, taking the stage win and with it the coveted maillot jaune.