Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) won stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday in Serra San Bruno, Italy. Battaglin took the bunch sprint for his first Giro victory from a reduced peloton after a late bid from Danilo Di Luca (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) fell short in the final 500 meters of the 246-kilometer stage.
Fabio Felline (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) was second and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) was third.
Luca Paolini (Katusha) finished with the bunch to retain his overall lead.
“I knew that I could win, especially in the rain,” said Battaglin. “I already had tried in the previous stage, but I did not have success. This time, all went well.”
Paolini came through 10th to protect pink.
“It was a hard stage, but I expected that,” he said. “The team was made available to me all day and I tried to stay in front as much as possible. I was focused on the pink jersey, not to lose time. I’m glad to be successful. The stage win? Again, the goal was to keep the
pink jersey, not to try to win the stage. And, anyway, I did not have the legs to win.”
Make way for the attacks
Seven riders broke free 8km into the race’s southernmost stage: Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocatolli-Venezuela), Francis Mourey and Johan Le Bon (FDJ), Julien Bérard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Ioannis Tamouridis and Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Pim Lithgart (Vacansoleil-DCM). They took a maximum advantage of roughly eight minutes, but the bunch would not extend a longer leash. With 75km to go, the group had split, with Bérard, Le Bon, Lithgart, and Mínguez on the front.
Mínguez was soon the lone survivor, however, and when his gap fell below a minute, the counter-attacks began. Dirk Bellemakers (Lotto-Belisol) jumped across to Mínguez with 43km to go, but the pair was soon neutralized and Patrick Gretsch (Argos-Shimano) countered. Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvoli) bridged across through the fog and the rain began falling soon after the leading pair topped the day’s penultimate climb, the Vibo Valentia, almost 40km from the finish. Pirazzi took top honors at the KOM line and his Italian squad came to life in pursuit of the maglia azzurra.
The peloton drew the escapees in with 37km remaining and Leonardo Duque (Colombia) went on the attack over the descent.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) suffered a mechanical on the descent and was forced to chase back through the caravan after taking a wheel hand-up from teammate Valerio Agnoli. The Sicilian GC contender put his descending skills on display to regain contact with the peloton.
Duque pushed on alone on the wide, high-speed descent and the bunch was strung out single-file in pursuit, gaps forming near the back. The peloton caught the lone Colombian with 29km to go and Gretsch countered as the road flattened. Frederik Willems (Lotto) bridged across and the leaders were two.
The peloton rolled toward a series of ramps leading to the day’s final climb, the 12km, 5.5-percent Croce Ferrata, and the GC riders began to position. Tanel Kangert brought Astana teammate Nibali to the front; Bradley Wiggins (Sky) moved toward the head as well, accompanied by three teammates. Defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) sat fourth wheel, in the left gutter, but it was three green jerseys of Bardiani Valvole pushing the pace.
With 25km to go, Gretsch and Willems held :28 over the peloton, but the bunch was coming up fast, led by a five-man Bardiani Valvole train. The two escapees were soon back in the bunch and the green-clad Italians’ work began to pay off.
Bardiani Valvole opens the finale
Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) was the next rider to take the bit, attacking with 22.5km to go. Pirazzi bridged across and three riders soon joined them: Matteo Rabottini (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia), Carlos Quintero (Colombia), and Sylvain Georges (Ag2r La Mondiale).
Behind them, Katusha led the chase, with Luca Paolini in second wheel.
Georges attacked the breakaway low on the climb, with 18km to go, and quickly took almost a minute on his former companions. Marcato fell back to the peloton.
Georges oscillated between 45 seconds and 1:15 as he climbed the Croce Ferrata, but Sky soon took to the front of the peloton with four riders — Kanstantsin Siutsou, Sergio Henao, Rigoberto Urán, and Wiggins — and ticked the pace up. Siutsou took up the pace-making on the point and quickly pulled in the three remaining chasers, Wiggins sitting third wheel.
Former Vuelta a España winner Juanjo Cobo (Movistar) lost contact with the peloton under the pressure from Sky.
Georges’ lead was :39 with 13km to go. The lone leader continued to push on, but Di Luca and Robinson Chalapud (Colombia) jumped across with 10km to go. Georges held the wheel of “The Killer” for a moment, but that was it. The Frenchman was soon gone and Di Luca churned out a fierce cadence en route to the summit.
Georges slowed after he was dropped, pulled on a rain shell in the thick fog, and went back to the bunch. The stage profile was tailer-made for Di Luca in his pre-doping-ban glory days and he appeared to know it. The Italian did the bulk of the work at the front and Chalapud struggled at times to stay in the wheel. Nonetheless, the Colombian did work in the escape and took the top points over the top of the climb.
Di Luca came around Chalapud high on the descent and quickly distanced him, but the Colombian drew him back. The peloton pursued at roughly 15 seconds with 5km to go and the escapees put themselves to the work of holding off the bunch on the mostly flat run-in to the finish.
The leaders held :09 with 3.7km to go. Di Luca pulled his companion for kilometer-after-kilometer, but forced Chalapud to the front with 1km to go and the bunch breathing down his neck. The peloton was within 15 meters when Di Luca countered, dropping the Chalapud.
Di Luca fought for the line, but the stage’s 246 kilometers were about a half-kilometer too many. Katusha, with Paolini second wheel, led the peloton onto the Italian’s wheel, and with 500 meters to go, he was done.
Urán showed himself on the right barriers with 300 meters to go, but slipped back into line, waiting. He waited too long, however, and Battaglin jumped. The 23-year-old Italian pushed up the center of the road, taking a two-bike gap on the bunch, and won his first career Giro stage handily.
Felline came through second with the KOM-chasing Visconti third.
“I negotiated the last corner and I started my effort perhaps a bit far, but I preferred to anticipate it and it went well,” said Battaglin. “I had the strength to go up the road.”
Wiggins loses time in the finale
While Cobo saw his Giro hopes almost certainly ride away on the Croce Ferrata, Wiggins also lost time, finishing in a group 17 seconds down on Bettaglin and a number of overall contenders.
Wiggins crossed the line in 48th position and the jury ruled that he had not been hampered by the crash of Cristiano Salerno (Cannondale) in the finale. Hesjedal, Nibali, and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) each finished in the front group.
Urán moved up to second overall, still at 17 seconds, with Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) third, at 26 seconds. Wiggins is now 34 seconds down on the GC.
The 96th Giro d’Italia continues Wednesday with the 203km fourth stage from Cosenza to Matera.