This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) won the sprint involving a surprisingly large group at the end of the fourth stage of the Giro d'Italia on Tuesday. The peloton, which included all of the favourites, caught late breakaway rider Danilo Di Luca (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) with only a few hundred meters to go, and Battaglin took the win by several bike lengths over Fabio Felline (Androni) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar).
Yesterday's dramatics from the final climb were not repeated, but the two closing climbs and high pace were enough to make a selection. Still, it was a relatively large group that came to the finish. Di Luca had attacked out of the group of favourites near the top of the final climb, and the little Italian almost had enough to stay away to the end.
Luca Paolini (Katusha) retained the overall leader's maglia rosa while Giro overall favorite Bradley Wiggins (Sky) lost 17 seconds during the stage and dropped from second in the GC sixth after finishing 48th in the day's stage. He is now 34 seconds off the race leader. According to Sky's Dave Brailsford, Wiggins was caught behind a crash and his time may be adjusted.
How it unfolded
Overnight rain stopped in time to offer dry roads to the peloton in the morning. The race started one rider down; Sandy Casar of FDJ did not race due to a broken wrist.
The rolling early part of the course was set up perfectly for a break, and seven riders took advantage of that to take off. Johan Le Bon (FDJ), Francis Mourey (FDJ), Julien Berard (AG2R La Mondiale), Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocattoli), Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Ioannis Tamouridis (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team) were the lucky ones.
In a quiet first half of the stage, the seven built up a lead of over seven minutes, but with 100km to go in this longest stage of the Giro at 246km, the gap finally started coming down and was around the four-minute mark.
The early rolling section gave way to flat in the middle of the stage, but the first real difficulties of the race were looming. It was the first uphill - but not mountaintop - finish of the race. The category 3 climb Viba Valentia reared up at 206.8km, and the category 2 Croce Ferrata at 239.3km, leaving a short downhill dash into the finish at Serra San Bruno.
Katusha led the slow but steady chase, protecting surprise maglia rosa Luca Paolini. With about 95km to go, there was finally split in the break group, with Le Bon, Minguez and Ligthart jumping clear, soon to be joined by Berard. They were probably happy to have dropped Sella, who was only 2:39 down on the GC. He and the other two were eventually caught by the field.
With about 60km still to go, there was a large crash in the field, but no one appeared to have been injured.
Sella's absence and a gap of over four minutes made things look good for the smaller break group, but Katusha wasn't about to let the pink jersey slip away so easily. With Vini Fantini's help, the gap had fallen to under a minute before hitting the foot of the first climb. Not quite willing to give up, Minguez and Berard took off alone as they started up the category 3 Vibo Valentia.
Berard couldn't keep up and was caught again by Ligthart and Le Bon, with Minguez taking advantage of it to take off again solo. But the peloton was only about a minute behind.
The rain started up again on the penultimate climb, increasing the difficulty, but the gap still dropped dramatically. Minguez fought hard, but with 42km to go, his adventure was over. Patrick Gretsch of Argos-Shimano was the next to go, with Stefano Pirazzi of Bardani giving chase. The Italian took the mountain points in the fog at the mountaintop ahead of the German, with former mountain leader Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) placing third.
Both riders were soon caught again, as the field moved into even worse weather conditions with diminished visibility. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was the first victim, who either crashed or punctured on the descent, but was able to make his way back up to the group of favourites. Meanwhile, at the other end of the field, Leonardo Duque of Colombia took off on a solo effort, showing off his descending skills. Over nine minutes down, he was no threat.
The climb had shattered the peloton, with the sprinters happily falling back into the gruppetto, and the rest of the field coming down the climb in numerous small groups. No sooner was Duque caught, than Gretsch took off again, joined by Frederik Willems of Lotto Belisol.
Once the descent was finished, the weather conditions improved and many of the groups came back. With 25km to go, Gretsch and Willem had built up a lead of nearly half a minute, but Bardolini was setting a fierce tempo in the field.
They, too, were soon caught and further attacks followed. Pirazzi refused to give up, and he and Marco Mercato of Vacanosoleil were the next to go, and they were joined by three other riders as they started up the final climb. Katusha jumped into the head of the chase work, with maglia rosa Luca Paolini on second wheel.
Mercato dashed out to take the final intermediate sprint and forged on alone in the rain. Sylvain Georges (AG2R) gave chase and continued on in front when Mercato blew up. Back in the field of the favourites, Katusha kept a firm hand on things, determined not to let anyone take off and take the maglia rosa away.
The Frenchman quickly picked up a minute over the field. He had proved his climbing abilities last year at the Tour of California when he won the Big Bear Lake stage in a 50km solo effort.
Sky moved to the front with 15km to go, signaling that it was time for the GC favourites to make their mark. The British team, built around Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, ground its way up the mountain, dropping riders en masse behind them.
Weather conditions deteriorated again as the road climbed, but that didn't stop Danilo Di Luca (Vini Fantini) from attacking near the top. Sky let him go. He was followed by Colombia's Robinson Chalapud, and the two quickly caught and dropped Georges in the rain and fog.
Di Luca did most if not all of the lead work on the ascent. He wanted to drop the pesky Colombian, who dashed around to take the mountain points at the top. They had built up enough of a lead to have realistic hopes of going for the win.
Di Luca showed himself to be the master of the subsequent descent, but Chalapud was able to catch up. The peloton was visible in the background, only about 10 seconds back at the 5km marker.
Fortunately, in light of the rain and wet road, it was a short and not very steep descent, with good roads. Di Luca constantly did his best to pull away from both Chalapud and the chasing field. The Italian realized with just under 2km that his chance was apparently over, looking back continually over his shoulder.
He didn't give up though and charged ahead, even building up a small gap with 800 meters to go. He held doggedly on to his lead, only to be caught with 300 meters to go, and it came down to a sprint.