By Julien Pretot
ORCIERES-MERLETTE - Slovenian Primoz Roglic showed no ill effects of his crash earlier this month as he prevailed in the first mountain-top finish of this year's Tour de France on the fourth stage, a 160.5-km ride from Sisteron on Tuesday.
His compatriot Tadej Pogacar was second and Frenchman Guillaume Martin was third in a sprint featuring all the pre-race favourites.
France's Julian Alaphilippe retained the overall leader's yellow jersey when he took fifth place.
Roglic, whose participation in the Tour was in doubt after a crash in the Criterium du Dauphine, eased to victory to claim a 10-second bonus and send an early warning to his rivals.
"It was quite a hard day actually, but the guys did again a really good job," said bookmakers' favourite Roglic, whose Jumbo Visma team mate Wout van Aert set a devilish pace in the final climb, a 7.1-km ascent at an average gradient of 6.7%.
Orcieres-Merlette has held a famous place in the Tour's history since Luis Ocana beat the great Eddy Merckx by more than eight minutes in the 1971 race before crashing out three days later.
There was no such epic on Tuesday as the main contenders marked themselves in the final uphill section until the sprint, which saw Roglic move up to third in the general classification, seven seconds behind Alaphilippe.
Asked if he was disappointed not to have taken the yellow jersey, Roglic said: "It's the news that I have to accept, I don't really care. Like I said, a nice day, we stayed safe and we won which is even better."
The access to the final climb was barred to motorised vehicles as organisers and authorities looked to avoid mass gatherings amid the Covid-19 crisis, leaving very few spectators by the side of the road.
Tiesj Benoot, one of six breakaway riders, skidded into a road barrier, slid along and fell, breaking his seat post in two in the process, but the Belgian escaped unhurt.
Wednesday's fifth stage is a 183-km effort from Gap to Privas.
The top riders will have another chance to fight it out on Thursday when the sixth stage takes the peloton up to the Mont Aigoual, although they are likely to leave the real battle until the final week.
"It was a good climb to see how the GC riders are so yeah I'm happy to arrive with them as it was really hard," said defending champion Egan Bernal.
"It's not good to see another GC rider take some seconds. But I think we need to be patient and our best scenario is to arrive in the third week without losing too much time and then try to recover a bit of time in the long climbs, try to arrive as fresh as we can in the last week."