If Italy is shaped like a boot, the Giro reaches the metatarsal area. The second longest stage in the race, Stage 4 rolls along the coast for 190km before turning inland for some climbing. This isn’t a summit finish but it does gain altitude fast and there’s only a short descent to the finish.
It offers another chance for exciting racing although yesterday’s frantic action is unlikely to be repeated because the roads are more straightforward.
Yesterday’s Verdict: not bad for Stage 3! Luca Paolini won the day with a clever move and was allowed to go away by the others because he’s no overall danger. Not that he applied for a visa, it took skill and power to escape.
But the excitement was not in the stage win, more with the other names. The first climb was as steep as yesterday’s preview predicted and many riders were caught out by the sharp bend and sudden incline in Mezzatore di San Mauro Cilento. Several were dropped instantly, including red jersey wearer Mark Cavendish which makes you ponder why OPQS were pace-setting before the climb.
The second climb saw plenty of moves with Ryder Hesjedal and Vincenzo Nibali at the front. It was only Stage 3, it was only a third category climb but the defending champion was on the rampage. Astana looked in control and for a moment Sky were caught out. Televisual adrenalin.
The only downside was the potential for danger. With the overall classification still tightly packed, sending the bunch down such a twisting road to the finish was risky. The morning was wet but luckily the road dried out and there were no accidents.
The Route: normally the bunch would be treated to two sights for hours. On their right, the shimmering Mediterranean sea with its crystal clear waters, an incentive to stop for a ice cream or even a fish lunch. On their left the hazy hills of Campania and Calabria that rise away from the coastal strip where tempting roads slip into the hills. Only the weather’s not co-operating and cold conditions will rob the day of any sense of tourism, if not the view.
Instead the first 190km are a coastal procession and the action comes at the end. The first climb of Vibo Valentia is 14.9km long at a gentle average of 3%, apparently there’s some 10% along the way but it’s a large road that shouldn’t prove too selective.
The Finish: the final climb of the Croce Ferrata (“iron cross”) is fast and starts for real in Soriano with a series of hairpin bends through Sorianello, an uphill toboggan run and the steepest part of the climb. The second category label seems generous but it is long and takes the riders up to 900m above sea level in no time. Coming late in the stage it should be a selective point but the soft gradient means its for the punchy riders rather than the mountain goats, turning over a big gear matters and the speed will be high to reward sitting on the right wheel and positioning. Any moves on the steep part can be reeled in by teamwork or co-operation on the latter part of the climb.
The descent is fast and wide, it suits a bunch speeding down. The last 600m are marked “pavé” in the roadbook and like many towns in southern Italy the road is laid with large flagstones but today’s are not the medieval variety but are reasonably level to allow a fast sprint although the first 600m are rougher, the final 200m are smoother.
The Scenario: if an early breakaway goes there’s a good chance it’s kept on a tight leash. Katusha came to win a stage in the race and now that’s done, they will back Paolini to retain his jersey and chase down breakaways. The OPQS team might lend a hand if Cavendish can win an intermediate sprint to reclaim the points jersey, he’s one point of Paolini. But easier said than done on the second longest day of the race (Stage 13 is 254km). Yesterday’s stage prised apart the overall classification, many riders know their chance to wear the leader’s jersey is over. Three quarters of the field at least five minutes down on Paolini, this imposes an order and hierarchy on the race. Katusha can afford to let many go up the road.
Will we get a showdown on the final climb? Yes because it’s the place to win the stage… but it’s not as technical as yesterday and so will be less a test of nerve and skill and more about brute force and teamwork where riding tempo can pay. It looks like a finish for the likes of Lampre’s Filippo Pozzato, or say Vacansoleil-DCM’s Grega Bole and Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF). But take your pick from a rider able to get in a move and finish fast.
Weather: cool, the temperature will be 17°C (62°F) which is a pleasant day in March rather than the norm for May. Rain showers are possible. Most relevant is the tailwind, a gentle 15km/h for the final climb but important as the bunch will speed up.
TV: if you can’t find it on TV, cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv are the go-to sites. The live feed starts at 3.10pm Euro time, but the climbing only starts around 4.00pm. The finish is expected around 5.15pm.
Local info: the finish is named after Bruno, a German hermit who became a saint. He founded a monastery and the town grew up around it. Monks often sought out isolated places and the Carthusian monks are also found in the French Alps and are visible when the Tour de France rides by.
Word of the day: borraccia meaning water bottle. Some riders claim the further south they ride, the more the locals shout borraccia! borraccia! to get a souvenir water bottle. There aren’t enough to go around of course but when a rider has emptied the bottle, a well-targeted throw can ensure a child goes home with more than a memory from the day.