Ewan takes third in Tour stage four dash

Bahrain-Merida on the start ramp ahead of their stage effort

In a fast snaking finish in which speeds nudged nearly 60mph, Thomas and Ineos team-mate Egan Bernal stayed out of trouble as Viviani was led to the line by team-mate and current race leader Julian Alaphilippe of France, victor of Stage 3 in Epernay.

Several sprinters had targeted Saturday's opening stage in Brussels but an uphill drag to the finish line proved too much for the pure quickmen.

Viviani has five Giro d'Italia and three Vuelta a Espana stage wins to his name, but he has been made to wait for one in Le Tour. "I can't believe it".

"It was my biggest goal of the year". We missed the first chance and put the yellow on. But I think we rode well as a team, we were always in a good position and communicating really well, so it's a good day.

Viviani - who won omnium gold at the 2016 Olympics - came out on top after fantastic work from his team led by current leader Alaphilippe, who selflessly helped set the stage for the final sprint in the train.

'It was a nice day until the last 50km, when it went a bit insane, manic and stressful, ' the Welshman said, 'so I'm happy to get it out of the way'. "I won in the Giro and the Vuelta and now in the Tour de France, that means a lot to me".

Deceuninck-Quick Step rider Viviani superbly negotiated the dash to the line to hold off Norwegian Alexander Kristoff and Lotto-Soudal's Ewan, while former world champion Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe came fourth.

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Another rider creating quite a buzz at the Tour is Belgian debutant Wout van Aert, who headed the Jumbo Visma team with another show of cool power on a stage raced across open plains.

Geraint Thomas slipped behind Ineos team-mate Egan Bernal in the Tour de France pecking order on stage three after losing five seconds to the Colombian rider in a steep hilltop finish in Epernay.

The significance of that margin was a strong topic of debate on Tuesday. "It's been ideal", Thomas said.

"I was hoping just to slowly drift back a bit and the next thing I know no-one is coming past me and I was like "I have to try and close this gap" but it was a bit late by then".

'People are trying to make out that it is a five-second gap and it is not.

However, the Ineos team principal, Dave Brailsford, insisted it was a mistake to read anything into the seconds ceded by Thomas to his co-leader Bernal in Épernay.

"A Tour stage was the only win I was missing, now I've got it", Viviani said happily. "If anyone understands the sport, you watch the sport, there is 30-metre gap".

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