* If anyone understands quite what happened on stage 4 today please contact the Podiumcafe with any and all information at firstname.lastname@example.org because we would dearly want to know ourselves. In the meantime here is some attempt of making sense of it. *
Dissecting what actually happened on stage 4 to La Spezia will most likely go on for some time unless something equally spectacular happens on the Abetone stage, which seems highly unlikely to say the least. It was a day with an up and down profile that promised to be interesting from the start which was probably to plan since RAI elected to show the whole stage. Perhaps they were more expecting gorgeous tourist footage than a'bloc racing though but that is what we got. It started as the normal km 0 attacks to get in the early breakaway, a break that had at least a decent chance since the course was so complicated. Quite soon the whole thing turned sour though for Orica and the big teams who were hoping for a manageable little group to get away that they could control during the day. Too many, too strong riders jumped off the front and neither Orica, Sky or Tinkoff seemed willing or able to stem the stream of attackers.
Pretty soon 25-30 riders were off the front as the first climb commenced and the gap grew fast. Among the attackers were big names like Kreuziger, Chaves, Pellizotti, Szmyd and a handful of other strong allrounders. Orica, Tinkoff, Sky and Astana were all represented which may explain why no one felt the need to control the peloton. Tinkoff DSs would also later say that the info they got from radiotour was scarce and incorrect and therefore the break got a bit out of hand. And out of hand it got. The gap was out at around ten minutes before Tinkoff decided to at least do something, putting two workers on the front to control the gap. This only happened after the continuous attacking up front had split the breakaway with Kreuziger oddly on the back-foot in the chasing group. This created another absurd situation of a team working on the front in both the breakaway and the chasing peloton.
The situation on the front was continually changing as riders pinged off the front and new groups formed and merged. The chase was lackluster and the gap hovered at 8-9 minutes until Astana suddenly sprung into action on the second of the stage's three Cat 3 climbs, with about 60 kms to go. With all the riders they had in the peloton they set a blistering pace and started to chip away at the lead of the frontgroup. After the brutal first half of the stage their forcing had an immediate effect on the peloton as well and it was not long until riders were flying out the back, including the race leader Matthews who had to see his chances of defending the jersey disappear. A group of 20 of the strongest was soon all that was left and of those, 7 were Astana and they kept hammering. As the race zoomed past the Cinque terre and approached La Spezia the lead was dropping quickly. Seven minutes became five and by the time they descended into town for the first pass of the finish line the gap was down to 3 minutes. "All" that remained was one 16 km lap out of town with a pass over the Biassa climb and a descent to the finish.
Coming into town Cannondale's Davide Formolo had attacked the frontgroup where cooperation was less than perfect and the intense stage had sorted the wheat from the chaff. Formolo had clearly been the freshest over the penultimate climb and even though he never got a huge gap the chasers, Visconti and Moinard followed by the rest weren't looking threatening as they took on the last short but steep climb of the day. More menacing was the flying group of favorites, led by the Astanii frothing at the mouth that swallowed up everything and everyone from the big breakaway. As they hit the steepest bits an anticipated attack came from Fabio Aru who was followed by Contador and Porte but put most everyone else in the red. This was pretty much the first time we saw Porte in action all day as Sky had ridden 100% anonymously up until that point. Uran was the most notable victim who was forced to drop off. Aru & co joined up with teammates in the break up front and the new group chased down the decent to catch the fighting Formolo. The gap at the summit was 45 seconds but even a furious chase could not entirely catch the young Italian who held them off to win his first Giro d'Italia stage in brilliant style.
Orica's Simon Clarke along with his teammate Chaves was the one in with a chance to take the Maglia Rosa if he could stay with the favorites until the finish. On the Biassa climb he was forced to see them ride off despite fighting furiously. Chaves hung on and looked like the one who might save the jersey but Clarke was not about to give up when he had come so close and on the final descent he gave everything and managed to reconnect. In the final sprint, 22 seconds behind Formolo, he also took what he probably thought was the stage win but what he was celebrating turned out to "just" be the race lead. As for Chaves he might have another chance to take pink on the tomorrow's Abetone stage if he didn't leave too much on the road today.
|5||CHAVES RUBIO Johan Esteban||COL||OGE||3:48:21||0:22|
|9||CONTADOR VELASCO Alberto||ESP||TCS||3:48:21||0:22|
Conclusions from the lunacy
Looking at the result list you don't really get the sense what an extraordinary stage this was. Yes, a few names like Uran and Van den Broeck lost 42 seconds on GC and we saw a gruppetto that just barely got in under the timelimit but it doesn't look so bad at first glance. Keep in mind though that this was Stage 3 and just about all the secondary GC riders lost time. Niemec lost 2:56 on Formolo, Izagirre 4:22, Hesjedal 5:25, Kruijswijk 8:27, Intxausti 9:21, Anton 13:15, Betancur 13:15 and Zakarin 17:23. This was basically a slaughter of the lower ranks. Everyone we thought might make an outsider appearance has been wiped off the map more or less. Movistar in particular had a shocker and are now chasing stages even if they had a wealth of GC options just three days ago.
The biggest oddity tactically during the day was the play among the big teams. Team Sky and Astana let a guy like an in-form Kreuziger gain 9 minutes before they even blinked. Sky just sat tight and allowed everything play out without any reaction. Of course everyone is expecting Tinkoff to be all-in for Contador in this Giro but still, letting a man of Kruziger's caliber get that far up the road is a huge gamble. Astana finally flinched and when they did they just went supersonic with a show of strength that was aweinspiring. That display must have either put the fear of death into the opponents or else they were smiling quietly at the amount of energy the Astanii were wasting and how this is going to cost them in the stages to come, maybe already tomorrow. For now though they look the vastly superior team.
All the three bigs looked good today when it came down to a bit of a face-off on the Biassa climb, while Uran fell off the pace. Judging by today we should have a pretty clear podium but it's important to keep in mind that when we come to more conventional mountain stages we may see a very different picture. Uran also has the long TT as his ace in the hole so today may not mean too much in the long run. Already tomorrow we might see another picture. You feel privileged when you get to see stages like today and if the rest of the Giro is anything near what we so today it's going to ba a magical three weeks.