Coquard Sprints to Victory in Stage 4 of Tour Down Under
Stage 4 of Santos Tour Down Under 2023 was a 133.2-kilometer ride in rolling hills terrain suitable for a fast pace, breakaway attempts, and sprint finishes. The route took the riders from Port Willunga to Willunga Township and brought the riders through McLaren Vale, known for its delicious full-bodied red wines.
There was, however, no time for wine tasting during today’s stage. The peloton set a fast pace from the very beginning of the stage and eventually a breakaway duo formed. The duo featured Jonas Rutsch of Team EF Education-EasyPost and Daryl Impey of Israel-Premiertech. The breakaway hopefuls cooperated well on their way through the valleys in the baking hot and sunny conditions that provide the optimal growing conditions for the hedonistic wines that are produced here, though the hard-working professional cyclists would likely have preferred a more temperate climate.
The duo managed to build an advantage of 3 minutes and 49 seconds over the chasing peloton. Rutsch was first to reach the top of the Lower Willunga hill-Highstreet challenge, followed by Impey, who has won the Tour Down Under on two previous occasions.
At the intermediate sprint on Aldinga Beach after 69.5 kilometers, it was Impey who prevailed and took the maximum bonus seconds. Jayco-AlUla’s Australian Michael Matthews was chasing bonus seconds for the points competition, and he managed to win the sprint of the peloton and gain a bonus second.
The main peloton increased the pace and eventually reeled in Rutsch and Impey - partially thanks to the windy conditions that enabled the peloton to ride at speeds of up to 51 km/h.
With the peloton reunited, the stage was set for a fierce sprint battle across the finish line.
Sprinter favorites, such as Matthews and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny) were eager to secure a stage win, but it was Team Cofidis’ Bryan Coquard who proved the fastest man on the day. Coquard won the fast stage in 02:53:41, thereby taking the first WorldTour race win of his long career.
Coquard was followed across the line by Team EF Education-EasyPost’s Alberto Bettiol, who won this year’s Tour Down Under prologue. Hugo Page (Team Intermarche-Circus-Wanty) completed the podium.
“I’ve been fighting for this WorldTour win for ten years, so I’m very happy. It's very nice to share this win with the guys in the team because of the great team spirit,” stage winner Coquard told Roadcycling.com.
“I know I'm very good at the start of each season and I’m usually in a really good condition. That’s why I came to Australia to open the new season in a good way. Last year was my first year in the Cofidis team and the most important goal for me was to start winning again and this year it's clearly working for me,” Coquard explained.
Impey said he wasn’t planning to take part in a breakaway in today’s stage, but when the opportunity emerged, he took his chance.
“I haven't showed myself in the race too much. It was nice to get out there today. It wasn't really the tactic of the team. I just kind of followed the flow of the race and then we look back and we had a gap. Then sometimes when you are up there you think, well, it's a very tricky day, maybe it's better to have someone up there in case we miss the split,“ Impey said.
Matthews said he wasn’t in a good condition during today’s stage but had fought hard to make the most of the opportunities presented to him.
“The legs weren't there unfortunately. I struggled most of the day. I really tried to profit from some of the sprinters missing the front group and the crosswind there. All through the day, it was a battle against myself, unfortunately. But we still set it up. We still believed in the opportunity to go for the stage today. But just didn't have the legs. There’s no hiding behind it I just wasn't good enough,” Matthews explained.
Jay Vine remains overall race leader for UAE Team Emirates. Simon Yates climbed to second place in the general classification thanks to one bonus second secured in today’s stage. Yesterday’s stage winner Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) dropped to third place. Both Yates and Bilbao are fifteen seconds behind Vine.