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Having made it into an 11-rider group that escaped in the finale, Ulissi dropped his rivals on the final climb and rode to a solo win in stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia; a brutal course allowed Dumoulin to take second and reclaim the lead

Photo: ANSA / DAL ZENNARO - ZENNARO - PERI

DIEGO ULISSI

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STEVEN KRUIJSWIJK

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TEAM SUNWEB

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TOM DUMOULIN

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UAE TEAM EMIRATES

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10.05.2016 @ 17:58 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) continued his love affair with the Giro d’Italia by claiming a stage win for the third year in a row when he came out on top in a brutally hard fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia. The Italian made it into a strong 11-rider group in the finale and after Valerio Conti had sacrificed himself for his teammate, he dropped his rivals on the climb and held off an elite group of climbers to take the win. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) made a late attack to take second and move back into the race lead.

 

In 2011, a very young Diego Ulissi won a maiden Giro d’Italia stage win under controversial circumstances when Giovanni Visconti was relegated to third in the three-rider sprint. Back then, he made it clear that he wanted to win a stage in a more straightforward manner but he would probably never have believed that it would be the start of a real love affair with his home grand tour.

 

Ulissi had to wait another three years before returning to the top step of the podium but in 2014 he was back on top and better than ever. The Lampre-Merida rider won two uphill sprints before crashing out of the race just after the midpoint.

 

It was later revealed that Ulissi had tested positive for the asthma medication Salbutamol for which he had a therapeutic use exemption but had recorded too high levels. The positive test came after his stage wins and so he kept his victories but he faced an 8-month suspension.

 

It took some time for Ulissi to get going when he returned to the peloton but again it was the Giro that allowed him to return to his best. Last year he again won an uphill sprint to make it four wins in his home race.

 

This year Ulissi has desperately been chasing a win but until today his efforts had been unrewarded. And of course he had to wait until the Giro before he finally opened his account. Today he rode to a memorable solo win in a surprisingly hard fourth stage of the Italian race.

 

After a relatively clam middle part of the race, things had heated up on the final categorized climb with a little more than 50km to go and it was Giant-Alpecin who started the action. The Dutch team went full gas to drop race leader Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) who crested the summit with a delay of 1.29. He found himself in a group with Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and so his teammate Fabio Sabatini and FDJ chased hard in an attempt to bring them back.

 

In the peloton, things calmed down considerably as no one was keen to take the initiative. The slow pace allowed Guillaume Bonnafond and Axel Domont (Ag2r) to escape and while Lotto Soudal started to chase as André Greipel had survived, the pair built an advantage of 15 seconds.

 

With 40km to go, hard work from Sabatini and an FDJ rider allowed the Kittel to rejoin the group which was riding faster as Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) was one of several riders to make an attempt. However, they failed to get clear and so the peloton again came to a standstill. Meanwhile, FDJ captain Alexandre Geniez abandoned.

 

When the gap had gone out to 35 seconds, the attacking started again, with Amets Txurruka (Orica-GreenEDGE), Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida), Pirazzi, Sonny Colbrelli, Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani), Sebastian Henao, David Lopez (Sky), Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep) Preidler, Alessandro De Marchi and Stefan Küng (BMC) being part of a 9-rider group that got clear. A trio with Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Davide Malacarne (Astana) made contact and when six riders with Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) also joined the move, 18 riders had gathered behind the two leaders.

 

The front duo entered the final 30km with a 45-second advantage over the peloton while LottoNL-Jumbo started to chase hard in the peloton. The chasers caught the Ag2r pair and so 20 riders was in front with a 15-second advantage with 26km to go.

 

There was no cooperation in the break and so De Marchi, Pirazzi and Domont attacked. Serry, Wellens, Lopez and Conti joined the trio and it looked like the septet had ridden away.

 

Serry and Domont sprinted for the points in the final intermediate sprint, with Serry coming out on top De Marchi rolling across the line in third, and as the group was working well together and the peloton slowed down, they increased their advantage from 10 to 20 seconds. The slow pace in the peloton allowed Cunego to take off and he quickly bridged the gap.

 

Southeast started to chase and when they had nearly caught the group, they send Matteo Busato across alongside Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff), Pavel Kochetlkov (Katusha), Ulissi and a few more riders.  Meanwhile, De Marchi, Wellens and Domont tried to escape but they failed.

 

There was no cooperation in the break but they maintained their 10-second advantage as the peloton rode slowly. However, that changed with 20km to go when Movistar hit the front with the entire team, with Rory Sutherland setting the pace.

 

Conti and De Marchi surged clear from the front group and had a 20-second advantage with 18km to go. They were joined by another 9 rider and so Conti, Ulissi, Wellens, Serry, Lopez, Kochetkov, Preidler, McCarthy, De Marchi, Pirazzi and Busato formed an 11-rider group with 15km to go.

 

Conti sacrificed himself for Ulissi to maintain a 20-second advantage over the peloton where Movistar rode hard. That was too much for Kittel who was one of many riders to get dropped from the bunch.

 

Coni’s hard work allowed the front group to hit the Via del Fortino climb with a 30-second advantage and Ulissi went hard right from the bottom. He shared the work with Pirazzi and only Wellens, Kocehtkov, Preidler and Busato could keep up.

 

In the peloton, there was a huge fight for position and it was Astana that won the battle, leading the group onto the climb. They set the pace on the lower slopes and didn’t respond when Moser took off.

 

Movistar started to chase in the peloton and had reduced the gap to 20 seconds when Ulissi upped the pace again. This time no one could keep up with the Italian, with Preidler and Kochetkov giving chase.

 

In the peloton, things heated up when Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) attacked but neither that move nor the subsequent attack from the Dane worked. However, the fast pace created a huge selection as only 20-25 riders had survived. Surprisingly, Ryder Hesjedal (Trek) was dropped and he found himself in a chase group.

 

The peloton caught Preidler and Kochetkov just before the top, meaning that only Ulissi was still ahead as they started the descent. Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) tried to take off but Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) shut it down.

 

Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani) had made the selection and so he asked Pirazzi to up the pace. However, the Bardiani rider didn’t get any help and after he had reduced the gap to 10 seconds with 3km to go, his progress stopped.

 

The gap was still 10 seconds with 2km to go, and when Pirazzi swung off, the group almost came to a standstill. That allowed Fuglsang to make a small attack before Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuikStep) started to chase, trying to set Brambilla up for a stage win.

 

With 1km to go, the gap was still 10 seconds and it was clear that it was too late. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) attacked from the group and approached fast from behind but Ulissi had enough of a gap to allow himself to sit up to celebrate his win. Dumoulin led Kruijswijk across the line 5 seconds later while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the sprint for fourth one second later.

 

Dumoulin may have missed out on the victory but his second place allowed him to move back into the race lead and he now has a 20-second advantage over Jungels and Ulissi. He should have a less stressful stage tomorrow when the riders will tackle a very long 233km stage. There is just one categorized climb but there is barely a single metre of flat roads. However, the final 50km are mainly descending and so the sprinters will be aiming for a chance to sprint on the uphill finishing straight.

 

A lumpy stage

After two sprint stages and the early rest day, it was time for the first hilly stage when the riders travelled 200km from Catanzaro to Praia a Mare. After a relatively flat star, the riders tackled two category 3 climbs in the second half. The San Pietro ascent was the final of those and came just 49.6km from the finish. From there, the terrain was rolling but the main difficulty was the steep Via del Fortino climb that averaged 7.7% over 1800m and included sections of 18%. From the top, only 8.7km of flat and descending roads were left.

 

The 196 riders that had reached the finish in Arnhem two days ago were present when the peloton gathered for the start under a sunny sky. Unlike in the first two stages, there were lots of attacks in the beginning but it still didn’t take long for Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF), Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing) and Matej Mohoric (Lampre-Merida) to get clear.

 

Brändle makes it across

As the peloton slowed down, they quickly got an advantage of 2.54. Meanwhile, Matthias Brändle (IAM) had taken off in pursuit and he was just 45 seconds behind the leaders.

 

Brändle made the junction just as Nippo-Vini Fantini started to chase hard after having missed the break. After 25km of racing, they had brought the gap down to 2 minutes, with five riders gathered on the front.

 

Grosu tries to bridge the gap

At the 38km mark, there was just 1.22 left of the advantage when Boem beat Rosskopf and Mohoric in the first intermediate sprint. Elia Viviani (Sky) beat Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Kristian Sbaragli (Dimenion Data) in the battle for fifth place.

 

After 53km of very fast racing, the gap was only 30 seconds and this meant that Nippo-Vini Fantini tried to send Eduard Grosu across. He reduced the gap to just 9 seconds before he cracked. While the gap again started to grow, Eugert Zhupa (Southeast) launched an unsuccessful attack from the peloton.

 

Nippo-Vini Fantini give up

Nippo-Vini Fantini of course topped their effort and so the gap quickly went out to 4.08. However, the plan didn’t work for the Italian team as Grosu was now 1.25 behind the leaders and so they again hit the front, bringing the gap down to 3.13.

 

After 88km of racing, Grosu was brought back by his teammates who had reduced the gap to 2.30 after two hours at an average speed of 46.1km/h. However, Nippo-Vini Fantini finally gave up and disappeared from t he front.

 

Etixx-QuickStep in control

After the fast start, the peloton calmed down and it was Etixx-QuickStep that took control. They made sure that the gap never got big and as they entered the final 90km, the escapees only had an advantage of 2.30.

 

David de la Cruz and Lukasz Wisniowski did the early work for the Belgian team and kept the gap at around 3 minutes until the fight for position started as they approached the Bonifati climb. Giant-Alpecin, FDJ, LottoNL-Jumbo and Katusha gathered their troops on the front but it was Wisniowski who led the bunch onto the climb 2.20 behind the leaders.

 

Puncture for Landa

Things calmed down on the ascent as Wisniowski was content to set a steady pace that allowed Kittel to get as easy to the top to the possible. The Pole led the group all the way to the top while Mikel Landa (Sky) suffered a puncture but easily got back with the help of Mikel Nieve.

 

As the escapees approached the top, the battle for the KOM points started and it was Mohoric who tried first, making two accelerations inside the final kilometre. After a small standstill, Rosskopf launched his sprint early and as he unclipped, Boem briefly seemed to be out of the battle. However, the Italin was in a class of his own and easily beat the American, with Mohoric rolling across the line in third.

 

Giant-Alpecin come to the fore

The slow pace meant that the gap had gone out to 3.42 when Wisniowski led the peloton to the top. However, it was still too much for Matteo Pelucchi (IAM) who was the first rider to get dropped from the peloton.

 

The gap stabilized around 3.50 as they headed down the descent but things changed with 65km to go when Giant-Alpecin asked Tom Stamsnijder to work on the front. Sharing the job with Wisniowski, he reduced the gap to 2.50 as they entered the final 60km. However, it was a short-lived effort and soon it was again Wisniowski doing all the work.

 

Giant-Alpecin go full gas

As they approached the San Pietro climb, the fight for position again started and it was Katusha that took control with 55km. Maxim Belkov strung things out and as a consequence, the gap was only 1.10 at the bottom of the climb.

 

Giant-Alpecin wanted to get rid of Kittel and so they upped the pace on the climb. Albert Timmer went full gas and immediately sent rider out the back door.

 

Kittel is dropped

Brändle was dropped from the break and was quickly swallowed up as Georg Preidler took over the pace-setting. Elia Viviani (Sky) and Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) were the first sprinters to get dropped and it didn’t take long before a big group with Kittel and Matteo Trentin also lost contact. Giacomo Nizzolo (Trel) survived a bit longer but he was dropped too.

 

With 51km to go, Preidler had brought the break back after Mohoric had made one final attempt to stay clear. The Austrian kept riding on the front and didn’t respond when Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) and Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) attacked in the fight for the KOM points. The former easily won the sprint and then the pair waited for the peloton where Preidler was first across the line.

 

Astana take control

The Kittel group crested the summit with a delay of 1.27 while Astana took control of the peloton on the descent. Valerio Agnoli rode fast towards the bottom while FDJ and Etixx-QuickStep started to chase hard in the Kittel group as the German had company of Arnaud Demare.

 

Kittel and Fabio Sabatini rode so fast on the descent that they almost gapped the rest of the group and as they hit the flat roads, they were just 40 seconds behind. The peloton almost came to a standstill as Agnoli just set a steady pace and when they hit the flat road, Astana even stopped their work. That allowed kittel to rejoin the group but in the end, the stage was too hard and it was Ulissi who came away with the goods.

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