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by Shane Stokes
May 14, 2014
The Irish stages may have been marked by wet weather but any thoughts that the Giro d’Italia’s return to Italy would see a sudden change in conditions was quashed when the riders lined out on stage four of the race.
At the end of a largely disrupted day of racing, former French champion Nacer Bouhanni was first to the line, winning a bunch sprint ahead of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) and Tom Veelers (Giant-Shimano).
The bunch rode slowly for most of the 112 kilometre distance, with the rainfall plus the roads from Giovinazzo to Bari combining to produce extremely slippery conditions.
As a result the riders decided to exercise caution, holding back on racing until the final hour. The organisers agreed then to neutralise the finishing times, instead taking the general classification positions at the start of the final lap of the 8.3 kilometre circuit.
Before then, Elia Viviani (Cannondale) won the intermediate sprint on the finishing circuit, beating Nizzolo and Lampre Merida’s Roberto Ferrari to take the points in the battle for the red jersey.
The latter had been worn prior to today by double stage winner Marcel Kittel (Giant Shimano), but the German dropped out prior to the start of today’s stage due to a fever.
The agreement to neutralise the overall classification battle at the start of the final lap enabled the GC riders to back off at that point. Those who were intent on fighting for the win plus their team-mates would be able to battle to the line.
The decision proved to be a wise one, with numerous riders crashing when the speed ramped up on that final lap.
Bouhanni and his FDJ.fr team were intent on putting him in the best possible position, with the Frenchman feeling good despite energy expended when chasing back on after a mechanical.
Viviani’s Cannondale tried to set things up for him but several of the riders hit the deck. The Italian himself stayed upright, although the disruption to the train saw him finish back in fifth place.
Bouhanni explained the issues he faced towards the end of the stage. “Thirteen kilometres from the finish line, I suffered a puncture and a broken rear wheel. I had to stand at the side of the road waiting for help, and then change bikes,” he said.
“My team-mate Laurent Pichon waited for me, but it still took us took an entire circuit to catch up, and we rejoined the group only on the last circuit. As a team it took everything we had.
“In the closing kilometres, there was a crash on a right-hand bend. I managed to avoid it by swerving left, and luckily I had my team-mate Chavanel ahead of me, and with his help I managed to regain the leaders. Coming out of the final curve, I had maybe 20 metres to make up on the rider ahead of me, and I just gave it everything.”
Clad in the red jersey, he added that he will do his utmost to try to win the final points classification.
As for the Maglia Rosa, Michael Matthews continued to hold onto the pink jersey after the stage. He played it safe in the finale, explaining that he was happy with the agreement.
“I had the pink jersey, so everyone was coming to ask my opinion about how to proceed in order the keep the race safe. The best idea was definitely to neutralise it until we reached the circuit, which we did,” he said.
“Then, on the final circuit, the conditions were bad, really icy, so the best decision was to neutralise the race and let the sprinters sprint if they wanted to, but without time bonuses. That is what the commissaires decided. Instead of five or six on the ground, it could have been 100, so the decision of the commissaires was the safest option.”
He had identified stages five and six as his biggest targets for stage wins and confirmed today that this remains to be the case. While he feels he is not sprinting as well as he did in the past, he believes his climbing is very strong at the moment and that this aspect will help him on Wednesday’s stage.