On Thursday, Reuben Thompson scored his very first podium in the WorldTour. Unfortunately for him, this happened after a very chaotic fourth stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. After making it to the day’s breakaway, the New Zealander was able to fight for victory while the peloton had to respect a neutralization until the finish following a big crash which caught the race’s main favourites. Romain Grégoire is now tenth in the general classification.

Like the day before towards Altsasu, the Groupama-FDJ team wanted to be in the front on Thursday, on a very hilly stage towards Legutio. Like the day before, Reuben Thompson got in the mix for it early on, and he was rewarded this time as he joined the front with five guys, namely Louis Meintjes, Mathieu Burgaudeau, Mikel Retegi, Joseba Lopez and Karel Vacek. “We talked about it this morning,” said Benoît Vaugrenard. “We thought that it was better to have a rider in front, because you never know what could happen behind. We thought that it could also be useful in the final, whether for Romain or someone else.” The six men could gain ground and build a solid six-minute lead after the first hour of racing. At the halfway point, however, an attempt of echelons in the peloton reduced their gap to less than three minutes. A little further on, the fugitives came over the first of the final’s three climbs (Reuben Thompson first at the top, editor’s note) with an unchanged lead, but with still forty kilometres to cover. It was just a few minutes before the day’s major event occurred.

“I’ve never experienced a situation like this,” Reuben Thompson

Thirty-five kilometres from the finish, many riders were caught in a huge crash downhill, including Primoz Roglic, Jonas Vingegaard and Remco Evenepoel, who were all forced to abandon. After a period of wavering, the race was neutralized, and the riders stopped. “Unfortunately, we have already experienced this in certain races,” explained Benoît. “So we just had to wait for news. We knew, however, that it would be difficult for the peloton to resume racing because there were no more ambulances to ensure the riders’ safety.” After a break of about forty minutes, the organization eventually decided to make the six leaders restart, but to neutralize the peloton’s race until the very end and to freeze the GC times. “The decision surprised me at the time,” confessed Benoît. “When they announced it on RadioTour, I asked my colleague if he heard the same thing as me. They decided to give a chance to the riders from the breakaway. Good for them. They were in front, they did their race.” A new start was then given for the six leading men, including Reuben Thompson, before the bottom of the last climb, and with victory at stake. “At the start of the day, I wondered if I should wait for the peloton because I thought we had no chance”, said the Kiwi. “The gap went up, down, up again. It was a roller coaster day. It was crazy and strange, I’ve never experienced a situation like this.”

On the final climb with less than ten kilometres to go, the 23-year-old was however unable to compete with Louis Meintjes. “After a long break like that, my legs felt really bad,” he said. “I’m not used to that. I struggled on the climb, but I kept on going. It was really fun to be racing for the win again, even if it is with a massive asterisk beside it.” “Meintjes was really stronger, we saw it quite fast,” added Benoît. “We have no regrets”. Reuben Thompson still secured second place in a two-man sprint with Karel Vacek. “It’s a particular podium, but the advantage was given to the attackers today,” added the sports director. “Everyone has their share of bad luck, we avoided it for once. We wish all the riders involved a good recovery.” As a direct consequence of this accident, Romain Grégoire entered the top-10 overall on Thursday. The race should resume normally tomorrow. “There is a three-kilometre climb on the final circuit, to be done twice,” concluded Benoît. “A strong breakaway can go to the end, and we’ll have to see how the leaders’ teams are affected and what we can do. We are motivated. For the GC, everything will be decided on Saturday.”

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