St. Amand Montrond was expecting local hero Julian Alaphilippe to shine in the City of Gold but the Frenchman was outshone by Soren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) in the 15.1-km time trial of stage 4 on Wednesday. The in-form Dane, revealed by his victory in Paris-Tours in 2018, confirmed his great current form by beating the tricky course and the rest of the field to win in less than 19 minutes, a bar only beaten by one other rider, Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe). Second, six seconds behind Kragh Andersen, the German champion now leads the Dane by 58 seconds overall, while his team-mate Felix Grosschartner is third, 1:01 adrift. Norway’s Kasper Asgreen was third in the stage, 12 seconds adrift.

De Gendt sets the tone
First on course, polka-dot jersey holder Jonathan Hivert (Direct Energie) started at 13:38 but his time of 21:32 did not last long. The first rider to make a lasting impression was 2017 and 2018 French time trial champion Pierre Latour (Ag2R), who clocked 19:31, beating team-mate Alexis Gougeard by five seconds. The Ag2R team achieved a great overall performance, Benoit Cosnefroy also being clocked under 20 minutes. Latour’s time was rapidly improved by Slovenia’s Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-McLaren) in 19:24 but above all by Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), who set the bar even higher in 19:04 thanks to a swashbuckling descent.

Not for TT specialists
It was too high in any case for Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), the 2013 and 2015 Paris-Nice winner, who lost 21 seconds on the Belgian. Specialists did their best – world hour record holder Victor Campenaerts clocked 19:06, Swiss champion Stefan Kueng 19:17 and his Groupama-FDJ team-mate, Swedish TT champion Tobias Ludvigsson 19:18. But the bumpy course also favoured a different type of riders with Pello Bilbao (19:06) and Norway’s Kasper Asgreen (19:03) upsetting the pure “rouleurs” by taking the front positions. Kragh Andersen was even more at ease, speeding down the final descent to beat the 19-minute barrier and clinch one of his most memorable wins to date.

Schachmann ideally placed
Schachmann was the only one to come any close while the GC contenders, the men expected to battle it out for final victory at the weekend, all finished really close to one another. While Alaphilippe never settled in the right pace and lost 36 seconds, Colombian champion Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) was 45 seconds down, his compatriot Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) 51 seconds behind, France’s Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) 50 seconds back and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) 53 seconds adrift. But at the end of the first real test of this edition, the real favourite could now be the man in the yellow jersey himself.

Stage Classification

1. Søren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) in 18’51’’

2. Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) at 6’’

3. Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) at 12’’

General Classification

1. Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe)

2. Søren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) at 58’’

3. Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) at 1’01’’

Next up: 5th stage: Gannat – La Côte-Saint-André