Decisive? No. Dangerous? Yes. Today’s finish is uphill and steep enough to eliminate some sprinters and the race takes a steep descent with several hairpin bends on the finishing circuit.
After yesterday’s chaos today should bring some order. It’s forecast to rain at times but with a break up the road it’ll be near-impossible for the bunch to neutralise the stage.
Stage 4 Wrap
The results show Nacer Bouhanni won and everyone else on the same time… but it’s only half the story. The Frenchman would say he had a broken wheel and then two punctures and chased to get back in the final kilometres. As others fell he rode through the bunch like an acrobat. For the rest of the peloton the stage was a washout, un bagnato. Rain made the roads slippery and the riders started a go-slow. Over on Twitter many fans were understandably annoyed. It’s only rain, right? Well no.
If this was TV, we’d cut to a man wearing a lab coat now to explain it’s not the water, it’s tiny particles on the roads. Italian roads are typically very grippy in the dry but when it rains everything can change, especially in the drier parts. A emulsion of oil, dirt, diesel, oil, and rubber forms with the rain; you don’t get this in, say, Ireland, because the roads are washed almost daily by downpours. The problem with the go-slow was the chaos was live on TV, nobody seemed to know what was happening.
If that’s the theory we saw the practice in action on the last lap. The racing resumed as did the rain and when cornering at speed much of the peloton looked to be riding on ice. Dab the brakes and you went down. The TV cameras picked up three successive crashes leaving a small group to come to the line, mainly comprised of the Giant-Shimano sprint train. But without Marcel Kittel, DNS with a “fever”. Bouhanni timed his move perfectly and won. He punched the air. Everyone else shrugged.
The Route: if Italy is boot-shaped, the race sweeps around the Gulf of Taranto, the foot arch of Italy. Tarantino describes someone from Taranto but for most of the day the race has nothing of Hollywood’s Tarantino, instead it promises a long predictable procession with few changes in pace, cutaway climbs or violent descents. Instead today’s route is more like a James Bond, grand to look at but obvious, you know the ending before it happens. Today it’s sweeping landscapes before a controlled bunch sprint from a reduced group.
After days spent racing by the sea the race heads inland and, being Italy, this means climbing with the first mountain pass of the race. The Valico di Serra san Chirico goes up but gently will not be selective.
The Finish: a hilltop finish in Viggiano, a small town. The town is raided twice, first as practice and second for the finish. Don’t get visions of a Tirreno-Adriatico finish where the race scales the walls of medieval town, today’s a more gentle visit and the finish line is drawn on the edge of town. The race passes the finish line once to head into the village and then starts a descent with seven hairpin bends. The road isn’t narrow but the frequency of the bends means it’s hard to make up position.
The descent over the road drags up to the line first with an easier road, then via a snaking road that is 6% for the last two kilometres on average but more like 4-5% before steeper ramps before the line. There are no sharp bends but the road does twist and turn. Freshly surfaced in 2012, the road is in good condition.
The Scenario: a sprint but from a reduced group. An early breakaway can try its luck but Orica-Greenedge will want to defend the maglia rosa and besides, Michael Matthews is a good pick for the sprint too. This suggests a concerted effort to pull any moves back.
The Contenders: Ben Swift is the prime pick. We’ve already seen him sprinting well but go back to April’s Tour of the Basque Country when the Sky rider won a stage on a far more hilly stage. By deduction and reduction he is the sprinter who can cope with the hills better than the rest… but he crashed yesterday. If he’s aching then Edvald Boasson Hagen is Sky’s obvious choice and a perfect pick too.
Michael Matthews is in the ideal position. He too is fast in these kinds of finish and as race leader doesn’t have to take risks, he can afford to come in the top-5 today just to defend his lead but in doing this he can sit tight until the line. Among the other sprinters Nacer Bouhanni can just about deal with this climb too and the same with Davide Appollonio of Ag2r.
The 6% gradient should be enough to tempt some new names into the mix. Astana’s Borut Božič for example. Fabio Duarte of Colombia is punchy and we might even see Cadel Evans in the mix. Nicolas Roche is another GC contender with a sprint in his legs. It’s said Lampre-Merida pair Diego Ulissi and Damiano Cunego don’t get along, perhaps their overlapping skillset prompts the clash and today’s finish suits both. Bardiani-CSF’s Sonny Colbrelli and Enrico Battaglin are a fast pair. Trek’s Fabio Felline is another name. Finally Europcar’s Tony Hurel is a long outsider, when he turned pro he was promoted as the new Laurent Jalabert but has yet to become Nicolas Jalabert.
|Ben Swift, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Matthews
|Borut Božič, Sonny Colbrelli
|Fabio Felline, Nacer Bouhanni, Enrico Battaglin
|Appollonio, Duarte, Evans, Roche, Hurel
Weather: a chance of rain again, some showers and cool temperatures. There will be a moderate wind of 20-30km/h at the finish blowing from the north meaning a crosswind/headwind as the riders tackle the final climb.
TV: the race is on a variety of TV channels according to where you are in the world. Eurosport is covering the race across most of Europe. beIN SPORT has the rights in the US and France. The promised Gazzetta free stream seems non-existent so there’s cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv for TV schedules and pirate feeds and more.
The finish is forecast for 5.10pm Euro time with the approach to the final circuit starting around 4.30pm.
Giro di Basilicata: this is one of the few world class international junior stage races. Held in the same region as today’s stage, Viggiano often features on the route. Past winners of the race include Matej Mohorič, Gatis Smukulis, Marcel Sieberg and Danny Nelissen… as well as plenty who of others who are presumably working in bike shops, offices and factories today. The 2013 winner was France’s Aurélien Paret-Peintre.