Mark Cavendish sprinted to victory on stage four of the Tour de Suisse as Omega Pharma-Quickstep flexed their muscles ahead of the Tour de France.
Having announced the team will support both Cavendish and GC contender Michal Kwiatkowski when the Tour rolls out in July, the Belgian super team seized a rare opportunity of a sprint finish in Switzerland to bag their second stage win of this year’s race.
Sprinting into a headwind, Cavendish delayed his final acceleration perfectly – kicking powerfully for a second time to surge past stage three winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) came from well back to take second, but the day belonged to Cavendish and his team-mates – who as well as bagging the stage win, comfortably defended Tony Martin’s yellow jersey.
The stage started in chaotic circumstances, with several riders crashing in the neutralised section before the race had begun.
On a surprisingly dangerous section, Daniele Ratto (Cannondale) was the man to come off worst, suffering a suspected fractured collarbone which forced him to leave the race.
Consequently, the neutralised start to the race was extended, before finally – after more than 20 kilometres of racing – hostilities were officially allowed to resume.
Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) and Laurens De Vreese (Wanty Groupe Gobert) were the two riders to form the day’s break, breaking clear moments later and earning a gap.
With no real danger up the road, the peloton were happy to let them stay clear for much of the stage, as Omega Pharma-Quickstep led the bunch behind.
The sedate pace continued for much of the stage – King of the Mountains Bjorn Thurau (Team Europcar) the only man to break cover, launching a long-range attack to bag a solitary climbing point on the first ascent of the day’s category four ascent.
A handful of crashes littered the rest of the stage, with Chris Anke Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) one of the riders to hit the deck. The highest profile victim, however, was Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) who fell at the back of the bunch after touching wheels with a CCC Polsat Polkowice rider.
Having already lost time overall on stage three, Wiggins took some time to get up – appearing to be suffering discomfort in his knee. Eventually he gingerly got back on the bike, grimacing as he pedaled while in conversation with the team car.
Back at the front, the two leaders’ advantage had been reduced dramatically on the final lap of the finishing circuit – De Vreese kicking on just enough to stay in front over the second ascent of the category-four climb.
Paris-Roubaix champion Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) pulled a huge shift on the front of the bunch to reel them in as the race came together with ten kilometres to go.
Katusha, Tinkoff-Saxo and Giant-Shimano, all harbouring their own sprinting ambitions, also pulled on the front – Tinkoff-Saxo even managing to shut the door on OPQS with five kilometres to go.
Russian champion Vladimir Isaichev (Team Katusha) earned a slender solo advantage on the front, but it came to nothing as Tinkoff-Saxo lined out on the front of the peloton.
Their move was enough to box out both Giant-Shimano and Omega Pharma-Quickstep – both teams reduced to frantically battling for position tucked well back. Sagan was another struggling for position, clinging desperately to Cavendish’s wheel.
Back at the front, Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) burst forward with his team-mates lined out behind him. Giant-Shimano and Omega Pharma-Quickstep then managed to seize control back inside the final 1,500 metres, with Tom Boonen burying himself on the front in support of Cavendish.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Sagan both piggy-backed the Quickstep train as Giant-Shimano moved back to the front, with Cavendish at fifth wheel. John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) was nowhere to be seen, however, as Koen de Kort peeled off to find no team-mates on his wheel.
Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) led the sprint out, with Sagan picking the other side of the road and briefly looking to be in charge of the sprint.
Cavendish’s second kick put paid to the Slovakian’s chances, however, and the Manxman judged the sprint, and the headwind, perfectly to win by more than a bike length.
Tour de Suisse 2014: stage four – result
1) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 3.35.03hrs
2) Juan Jose Lobato (ESP) – Movistar – ST
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale
4) Sacha Modolo (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
5) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha
6) Danny van Poppel (NED) – Trek Factory Racing
7) Jonas Vangenechten (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol
8) Davide Appollonio (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
9) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
10) Matthew Goss (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
General classification (provisional)
1) Tony Martin (GER) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 14.19.37hrs
2) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Shimano +6”
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale +14”
4) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +17”
5) Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED) – Garmin-Sharp +23”
6) Davide Formolo (ITA) – Cannondale +27”
7) Jon Izaguirre (ESP) – Movistar – ST
8) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Tinkoff-Saxo +28”
9) Mathias Frank (SUI) – IAM Cycling +29”
10) Mattia Cattaneo (ITA) – Lampre-Merida – ST