Paul Penhoët continues to gain experience and to get results on the Tour Down Under. On stage 4, quite eventful due to the wind on Saturday, the young sprinter from Groupama-FDJ managed to keep his place at the front and compete in the sprint on a slight uphill finish in Willunga. He eventually finished just outside the podium, in fourth position, while Bryan Coquard won the sprint. He therefore secured his third top-10 of the week while Rudy Molard, twelfth in the stage, moved up to sixteenth place overall before the final, decisive day to Mount Lofty on Sunday.
The Tour Down Under’s peloton headed to Willunga this Saturday, but as a change to the regular, the climbers had put aside their personal ambitions. Indeed, the finish line was this time located at the bottom of the famous climb, and not at the top. With a relatively flat course on the menu, the sprinters were therefore expected, but that did not mean that there were no obstacles on the stage. “We woke up this morning with a powerful wind coming from the south,” said Jussi Veikkanen. “Knowing the route, we knew that it was ideal for echelons, which we had already experienced on this same stage in the past. On our way to the start, we said there was going to be action. That’s what happened.” “Everyone knew that it was going to be stressful with the wind, so everyone was on the alert from the start”, testified Paul Penhoët. The peloton, however, remained all together for an hour, letting two men escape, before the serious things began. “The race really started after the first time across the finish line”, summed up Jussi. “We know the area after the town of Willunga, there are splits already in normal times in the descending false flat. Today, there was also a 3/4 back wind, and the peloton broke in two pieces. At first there were about sixty riders in front, and we had five. Miles was there, but he was unfortunately stopped by a crash in front of him. He was then caught by the second group”.
“I had the legs to compete with Coquard”, Paul Penhoët
At the front of the race, Groupama-FDJ could still count on Paul Penhoët, Rudy Molard, Laurence Pithie and Reuben Thompson. “The gap between the first and the second group was between twenty and fifty seconds for seventy kilometres”, added Jussi. “It was like that until the last fifteen kilometres, then the second group gave up”. At the front row to observe this fight, Paul added: “The second peloton never returned even if it still battled quite a bit because they were pulling very hard behind. It didn’t stop.” The peloton was then reduced to around fifty riders when entering the last ten kilometres leading to the final sprint. “For me, it didn’t change much, because there were almost all the sprinters in front,” said Paul. “The final was a little tense because the wind was coming from the front/side in the five kilometres prior to the sprint”. It was therefore necessary to fight for position, and the young Frenchman could not place himself as he wished before the final stretch. “Laurence protected them throughout the stage, so we sacrificed him a bit,” explained Jussi. “Miles’ bad luck cost us in the final“. “I was quite far with one kilometre to go, and I was in 25-30th position at the last corner”, specified Paul. “I came back well with 300-400 metres remaining, then I was able to start my sprint, but I was too far to win”. Up ahead, Bryan Coquard made a sharp acceleration which allowed him to immediately take a gap.
In his wake, Paul Penhoët grabbed fourth place, fighting to the end for the podium. “Coquard was really strong, but I’m disappointed because I think I had the legs to compete with him today,” he said. “I also had to brake in the last hundred metres to pass to the right, and when you brake in a sprint, it’s over. Even more in a false flat. It was really a sprint that suited me, that’s what bothers me. It’s a pity, but it’s still quite satisfying for a start to the season, even if I was obviously seeking a victory as I said before. We also found good habits with the guys, it’s good for the future. We have to keep the positive and I am already looking forward to the next races”. “Paul is a real racer, and it did him the greatest good to discover the WorldTour level”, added Jussi. “We still have one stage to go, and he will bring his qualities to the team and to Rudy”. Twelfth in the stage, the latter also moved up two positions overall (16th) before a final decisive day towards Mount Lofty. “It’s very close in the GC for the top-10”, concluded Jussi. “It’s a short stage with a lot of elevation, on a little-known route. It may be unpredictable. The goal for us is clear: to seize the opportunities so that Rudy gains a few more positions in the general classification”.