Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep) pipped Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) to the line on stage 4 of the AlUla Tour, coming out on top by the width of a wheel rim in the photo finish to score his second win in two days.
The Belgian hit the front 300 metres from the line on the uphill finish in Maraya, powering past the DSM-Firmenich PostNL lead out of Casper van Uden and then holding off Coquard in the final metres as the Frenchman lunged for the line.
Van Uden rounded out the podium, though he ceded the leader’s jersey to Merlier, who takes over the lead by four seconds heading into stage 5. Coquard lies third overall, 14 seconds back, heading into the sprinter-unfriendly final stage.
DSM had control of the peloton in the final kilometre with several riders leading Van Uden to the finish.
Meanwhile, just behind the Dutch team, Merlier and Coquard had already begun the hostilities as they jostled over stage 1 winner Van Uden’s wheel. But it was Merlier who took the initiative to jump first, pushing past the Dutchman and immediately putting clear air between him and the rest.
Coquard had the quickest final burst to the line, making his way across to Merlier, but it wasn’t quite enough to get his wheel in front before the finish.
“It was a hard exercise in the end. I was in the red with 400 metres to go and Bryan let me pass in the wheel. I decided to go from far out. I know I had it in the legs,” Merlier said after the finish.
“I know I can do this long effort. If you don’t try, you don’t win but I’m happy that it was just enough at the finish. Bryan said he won but I wasn’t sure. I’m happy to be in this seat now.
“I think it was the most stressful stage of the week. I don’t know why because there was less wind. In the end, we made it and only one of our riders crashed so I hope he’s OK.
“I have a lot of confidence in him. Let’s hope he can show his legs tomorrow,” he concluded, noting that his team will ride for William Lecerf’s GC chances on stage 5.
The battle for the final sprint, the 36th win of Merlier’s career, was set up 5km from the finish as breakaway survivor Andreas Miltaidis (Terengganu) was caught after spending almost 100km of the 142km in front.
The Cypriot had joined Iker Bonillo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Tegsh-bayar Batsaikhan (Roojai Insurance) in the move following a very fast opening 45km during which a break couldn’t get away.
The trio enjoyed an advantage of four minutes at one point, though with sprint squads such as DSM and QuickStep controlling the peloton and the time gap, the stage was always likely to end with a bunch sprint.
In the end, Miltaidis went solo 30km from the finish, just after the first passage through the challenging uphill finish. His dropped breakmates would be caught 10km later, while he persisted well into the last 10km before being swept up.
All was set up for a mass sprint in Maraya, though Arvid De Kleijn (Tudor) and Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates) wouldn’t be involved after the pair were among several riders caught in a major crash 6.6km out.
Still, a host of other sprinters, including stage winners Van Uden, Merlier, and Søren Wærenskjold (Uno-X Mobility) remained in the peloton to contest the final. DSM took on the workload at the front, but once again it was Merlier who came away with the glory.
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