Magnus Cort of Astana has won stage 4 of Paris-Nice ahead of Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal and Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo.  George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma moved into the top 20 overall, continuing to finish safely in the peloton, biding his time for the high mountains.

The first day for the non-sprinters would be a day for the break, with a breakaway group of 13 riders escaping up the road during the 212km from Vichy to Pélussin.  A breakaway had plenty of reason to be confident with the very undulating roads rolling their way all the way to the line but for a section between kilometres 62 and 103 that was relatively flat.

It was unsurprising to see Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal in the breakaway move of the day.  He was joined by Evaldas Siskevicus and Eduard Grosu of Delko-Marseille-Provence, Christoph Pfingsten of BORA-Hansgrohe, Elie Gesbert of Arkea-Samsic, Olivier Le Gac of Groupama-FDJ, Julien Bernard and Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo, Damien Gaudin in his KOM jersey for Direct Energie, Mathias Le Turnier of Cofidis, Magnus Cort of Astana, Kevin Reza of Vital Concept and Alessandro De Marchi of CCC Team.

The break’s advantage stretched to upwards of 6 minutes over the course of the day, but with Deceuninck-Quick Step and Mitchelton-SCOTT prominent on the front of the peloton it looked like advantage bunch rather than break for much of the day.  Jack Bauer of Mitchelton-SCOTT was particularly prominent over the course of the stage, leading the peloton with 44km to race and the gap down to less than 3 minutes.

Sonny Colbrelli sprinted to 7th place at the front of the peloton that featured George Bennett, photo Sirotti

With large numbers in the break it was unsurprising to see riders attacking from a long way out.  At the Cote de Condrieu De Gendt lifted the pace and fractured the group with only about half the group able to keep pace including De Marchi, Gesbert Ciccone, Le Turnier and – after a bit of catch up – Cort.  Despite Bauer pulling the bunch along at speeds touching 50kph the gap to the break wasn’t coming down quickly, with the lead for the breakaway sitting at 2.37mins.  The peloton had lost a number of riders over the tough course so far including the yellow jersey of Dylan Groenewegen.

Losing contact with the break and back in the bunch with just over 30km to go was Damien Gaudin, who’d led the KOM classification.  He would lose the jersey today though as De Gendt continued notching up points through the day, ending the stage 6 points clear of Gaudin.  Over the climb of the Cote de Saint-Michel-sur-Rhone it was De Gendt once again leading, and with 19.7km to go the break passed through the finish line for the first time, with their lead down to 1.24mins.

Onto the final KOM climb of the day the gap for the break had dropped again to less than a minute but it wasn’t quite certain who was in control – break or bunch – with no one team in absolute control of the field behind the breakaway.  The leaders had been whittled down to just four as well with Magnus Cort, Alessandro De Marchi, Thomas De Gendt and Giulio Ciccone left to fend for themselves.  They went through 10km to go with a lead of 46 seconds, but then built that lead up again to almost a minute.

Michal Kwiatkowski now holds the overall lead heading into tomorrow’s individual time trial, photo Sirotti

Despite attacks from back in the peloton and AG2R La Mondiale getting involved at the head of the peloton it became apparent that the bunch had left it too late to catch the break as the four leaders continued to work together through 1.5km to go and with a lead still at 46 seconds.  Under the 1km to go kite De Marchi took the lead with Cort then coming through.  What looked like the Dane simply moving through to take a turn evolved into an all out attack as he drifted away slightly and then accelerated with Thomas De Gendt the only one able to launch a pursuit.

Cort was away though, having stolen a tactical march on the breakaway and he did enough to secure the stage ahead of a disappointed De Gendt and Ciccone.  A late attack from the bunch from Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie and Valentin Madouas of Groupama-FDJ saw them just hold off the remnants of the peloton; led home by Sony Colbrelli of Bahrain Merida.  George Bennett finished safely in the group and moved up again overall to 18th on GC.

Overall the yellow jersey passed from Dylan Groenewegen to the shoulders of Michal Kwiatkowski of Team Sky, who leads Luis Leon Sanchez by 5 seconds; and Philippe Gilbert by 10 on the eve of the individual time trial.

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