Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) won stage 4 at the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday after a furious chase to the front in less-than-ideal racing conditions.
Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) stayed in the overall lead and will wear the pink jersey for a third straight day.
A mechanical problem forced Bouhanni off the back of the race during the seventh of eight finishing circuits. A teammate dropped behind to help pace him back, and the pair put out a massive effort to rejoin the field. He found himself in the final sprint and was able to take the victory ahead of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) and Tom Veelers (Giant-Shimano).
“This is my first stage win in a grand tour,” Bouhanni said. “It is also a relief. Now, I have the [red] jersey of the points classification and I will do everything possible to keep it. But I will mostly concentrate on the sprints, this is what brings the most points.
The sprint was missing one notable rider: Giant’s Marcel Kittel, the winner of stages 2 and 3 in Northern Ireland and Ireland. The German pulled out of the race before Tuesday’s stage because of an illness.
Matthews has an eight-second lead over Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and a 10-second buffer over Daniel Oss (BMC Racing) in the GC.
Slick road surface
The stage was plagued by rainy weather that resulted in a slick road surface on the 121-kilometer route from Giovinazzo to Bari in southern Italy.
TV commentators suggested the greasy film on the asphalt was caused by the rain mixing with particles from diesel fuel exhaust. The opening 30km of the stage were ridden at a parade-like pace, with not a drop of actual racing going on. Veterans Cadel Evans (BMC) and Luca Paolini (Katusha) spoke with race officials in the race caravan on several occasions, most likely about neutralizing the race because of the conditions.
Conditions improved slightly as the race hit the finishing circuits in Bari, but the road surface seemed to worsen in certain areas of the 8.3km loop — particularly near the start and finish of the eight circuits, which included a series of sharp turns.
“It was really dangerous on every corner. It was agreed with the majority of the peloton, it’s only right,” Bouhanni said. “The roads were very slippery and it became very dangerous in the last lap. There was a big fall at 3km and I almost fell, I hit the pavement.”
With about 35km left, it was announced on the TV broadcast that the stage would be neutralized from a time standpoint at the end of the seventh finishing circuit. This allowed the GC hopefuls to sit up and take it easy over the final lap, while at the same time letting the sprinters compete for the stage win.
Bouhanni, who made up a ton of time to win the stage, was able to stay on two wheels despite a series of high-speed crashes in the final 3km as the sprinters and their leadout trains raced toward the finish line. With each turn came another handful of riders hitting the pavement hard.
Bouhanni’s teammates began escorting him to the front of the pack with about 3.5km remaining. When the Giant riders peeled off, Bouhanni was second in line, behind Tom Veelers (Giant). Veelers ran out of steam and Bouhanni catapulted past him.
The race picks up with Wednesday’s stage 5, a 200km route from Taranto to Viggiano.
AFP contributed to this report.