Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal marked the half way point of the race and the first day when the GC (General Classification) contenders really made themselves known.
The 173km route included 2,658 metres of climbing and passed by Anthony Gormley’s world-famous Angel of the North sculpture before heading into County Durham and across the Pennines into Cumbria.
The finish in Kendal was at the top of the short but steep 500-metre, 11% average gradient of Beast Banks climb.
The ‘Queen Stage’ (the name given the hardest stage of any tour) lived up to expectations as Team Ineos spiced up the GC battle over the hills and moors of northern England. Although there were officially only three categorised climbs like every other stage, there were perhaps ten to a dozen climbs that would have been categorised if they had appeared in any of the other stages.
As soon as the flag dropped to signal the end of the neutralised zone there was the usual flurry of activity as riders attempted to make the break of the day.
With the first Eisberg Sprint only 12km from the start (though with a stiff climb to overcome before reaching it), Rory Townsend (Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes) set off in the search for more points in the contest for the red jersey.
Townsend was quickly joined by his nearest rival in that competition, Dries de Bondt (Corendon-Circus).
This attempt was brought back after 9km by Ben Swift (Ineos) and immediately his team-mate Dylan van Baarle went over the top to initiate the break of the day. Van Baarle took the first Eisberg Sprint with fellow breakaway Alex Domont (AG2R) in second place and GC leader Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) ever conscious that every second counts in the GC battle, leading the peloton to take third place and one bonus second.
At the base of the first categorised KOM climb of the day at Snods Edge after 30km, the Irishman Eddie Dunbar (Ineos) shot across the gap from the peloton and the three-man break was away for the next 80km.
After 110km of racing, van Baarle dropped Dunbar and a couple of kilometres later Domont was also dispatched back to the peloton.
This gave Townsend an unexpected crack at the third Eisberg Sprint of the day and with van Baarle still up the road, Townsend was brought up to the front of the peloton by a couple of his Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes team-mates to dice out the contest with Stages 1&3 winner Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) for second place.
Townsend took third place and gained a valuable point in the Eisberg Sprint competition which helped him to extend his lead and retain the jersey for at least another day.
As anticipated, the stage and GC battle exploded into action as the peloton hit the final categorised climb at Gowthorp after 138km.
Although all the Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes riders had ridden well up to this point, Tom Stewart had a tumble close to the base of the climb, and by the time the peloton descended on the other side, forty riders had gone clear but the group did not include any of the team’s riders.
UK UCI Continental team rider James Shaw (SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling) got away with 2 other riders 10km from the finish, but as they looked at each other in the final kilometre, race favourite Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) stormed past them all to take a convincing win and the GC lead by just one second from Trentin.
Ryan Christensen was Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes first finisher in 41st place, 3 min 46 sec behind van der Poel. Townsend was 62nd, Colman 73rd (both at 14 min 39 sec), Bostock 94th (14 min 48 sec), Tennant 105th (20 min 55 sec) and Stewart 110th (21 min 3 sec). Christensen is the leading team rider on GC in 42nd place at 4 min 10 sec.
After a mammoth day out on Stage 4 with seemingly no flat, just climbing or descending, the 174km Stage 5 starting and finishing in Birkenhead, will be a be a clear relief with only 821 metres of climbing.
Expect the UCI Continental riders to be back in the breakaway though a tough task faces Townsend with the three Eisberg Sprints positioned late on in the stage.
Written by Paul and Marina Stedman.
Photo credits – SWpix.com