While it was only 96.2 kilometers long, stage four had almost no flat roads with victory contested by those able to best handle the steep slopes of the Côte de Saint-Roch, Côte Rau de Cowan, Côte Rue Bois des Moins and Côte Achouffe which all featured in the 29.8-kilometer circuit that would be covered three times.
After a short opening seven-kilometer long lap, two riders were able to go clear and open up an advantage of just under two minutes on the first of the longer laps but, the race didn’t settle down behind them and, as a result, it wasn’t long before the peloton was strung out along the road with splits beginning to open up.
Van Avermaet was able to maintain a good position in the first chasing group with Josef Černý, Michael Schär, Gijs Van Hoecke and Łukasz Wiśniowski all there to help set the pace and keep the leading duo on as short a leash as possible on the narrow and twisting roads.
The work of CCC Team for its team captain saw the gap fall to inside one minute 30 seconds with 70 kilometers to go and eventually, with more teams coming up to the front, the leaders were pulled back further, sparking a reaction from the Classics specialists behind.
As the rain began to fall heavily, bouncing off the road and creating poor visibility, Van Avermaet was part of a strong group of favorites that swept up the two early leaders with less than 50 kilometers to go before more riders were able to bridge back across around 10 kilometers later.
At the bottom of the final ascent of the iconic Côte de Saint-Roch, which had an average gradient of 11 percent and pitches of more than 17 percent in places, Van Avermaet was well-placed in a large group of around 25 riders from which the decisive move was made.
A trio of riders, including the eventual winner Tim Wellens (Lotto – Soudal), attack to go over the top of the climb with a slight advantage over the chasing group with Van Avermaet but with no organization behind, the gap extended out to around 40 seconds.
Despite a more determined effort from the group behind with less than 10 kilometers to go, the trio was able to hold on to its advantage with the chasing group finishing around 30 seconds back and Van Avermaet sprinting to tenth on the line to move into eighth overall, 49 seconds behind Wellens.
Quotes From the Finish Line:
Greg Van Avermaet:
“I feel quite good after today’s stage. I think everything went well and I was where I was meant to be at the right moments, especially when the smaller group went clear. It was just a pity that the others were able to come back across at that point. It was at that moment that the three guys went and I was not able to follow, going over the top of the Côte de Saint-Roch in fifth position. That was obviously not good for me because if you are not making it across to the front, it’s more of a gamble behind but, that’s how this kind of racing works. In the end, I just tried to do my best and I am quite happy as the gaps are still not too big with Sunday’s stage in mind. That is a parcours that should suit be a little bit better and I hope to at least keep a top ten place or get a little bit closer if possible.”
“It already been a hard season, but it’s been super hard for everybody. However, I still feel like on these kind of stages I am there with the best. On these days really everything has to go right but I think Geraardsbergen, I have won already there and it will suit me more than this one and I’m happy with how I am feeling at the moment.”
Binck Bank Tour
Stage 4: Houffalize > Houffalize (96.2km)
Top 3: 1. Tim Wellens (Lotto – Soudal) 2. Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) 3. Laurens de Plus (Team Jumbo – Visma)
CCC Team Top 3: 10. Greg Van Avermaet 45. Josef Černý 53. Michael Schär