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Bouhanni takes his first grand tour stage victory after coming back from a puncture on the penultimate lap and avoiding the many crashes on the slick roads in a partly neutralized finale; Matthews defends lead

Photo: Sirotti

GIACOMO NIZZOLO

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GIRO D'ITALIA

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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NACER BOUHANNI

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TOM VEELERS

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13.05.2014 @ 18:06 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) made several fantastic comebacks in today's fourth stage of the Giro d'Italia to open his grand tour account by holding off a fast-finishing Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) in a sprint finish. Having punctured on the penultimate lap, he rejoined the peloton with less than 10km to go, avoided the many crashes that brought a large portion of the peloton down on the slick roads in the finale and finally closed several small gaps before producing a great sprint to win the stage. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) chose not to contest the dangerous sprint but defended his overall lead.

 

Nacer Bouhanni has been chasing his first grand tour stage victory in the last few years and today he finally got the ball rolling by taking a memorable win on a strange stage to Bari when the Giro d'Italia returned to Italy after its Irish adventure. With 10km to go, however, nothing suggested that he would stand on the podium a little later and several times in the finale he seemed to be out of the running.

 

The rain that had plagued the riders in Ireland, was also falling in Italy and as it rarely rains in the southern part of the country, the roads were extremely slick. Hence, the riders chose to neutralize the first part of the stage and just rolled along until they reached the finishing circuit in Bari.

 

Having done a few laps, the roads were dry and they deemed it safe to make a race. However, the organizers chose to take the time at the penultimate passage of the line due to the dangerous conditions, allowing the GC riders to take it easy while the sprinters would go on to battle for the win.

 

That proved to be an extremely wise decision as the ill fate of the race was that it had again started to rain just as the riders started the final lap. At that point, however, the GC riders had all sat up and it was left to a reduced peloton of lead-out trains to decide the winner of the stage.

 

At that point, Bouhanni already seemed to be out of the game as he had punctured on the penultimate lap and had spent a lot of energy to rejoin the peloton. With the assistance from teammates Laurent Pichon and Arnaud Courteille, he made the junction just before the penultimate passage of the line and now faced a long, hard fight to reach the front.

 

The race had started without Marcel Kittel who had fallen ill overnight, and so all the sprinters were raring to go in the hectic finale. Cannondale took control on the final lap and seemed to have things perfectly prepared for Elia Viviani.

 

With 3km to go, the FDJ were back near the front and they managed to position their sprinter perfectly on Viviani's wheel. However, he suddenly fell back in the group and again seemed to be out of the running.

 

The drama started to really unfold when most of the Cannondale train hit the deck in a corner. In the next turns, more riders went down and suddenly only 6 riders were left in the front.

 

The Giant-Shimano train of Albert Timmer, Bert de Backer and Tom Veelers were lined out ahead of new lead sprinter Luka Mezgec who has Giacomo Nizzolo and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre) on his wheel. Those 6 riders had a big gap over the rest and it seemed to be down to a battle between Ferrari, Nizzolo and Mezgec.

 

Impressively, Bouhanni managed to close the gap inside the final kilometre, drawing along Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol), Viviani and a few more riders. Even more amazingly, he managed to move onto Mezgec's wheel. Timmer and De Backer both swung off and left it to Veelers to lead the group through the final turn.

 

Dramatically, Mezgec dropped his chain when he was about to crash and suddenly Veelers had a big gap that Bouhanni had to close. Veelers realized the situation and did a long sprint as he tried to take a surprise win.

 

However, Bouhanni used his last bit of energy to get back to the Dutchman and he passed him just before the line. Nizzolo came very fast at the end but just ran out of metres and had to settle for 2nd while Veelers took a fine 3rd.

 

Race leader Michael Matthews decided not to take any risks ahead of the stage that he has marked out as his biggest objective for the entire race and so was one of several riders to set up. However, he still managed to defend his lead and heads into tomorrow's stage with an 8-second advantage over Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).

 

Tomorrow the nature of the race changes as the 203km stage from Taranto to Viggiano offers the first summit finish of the race. After a flat start, the race goes up a category 3 climb and reaches its climax on a hilly finishing circuit that will see the riders tackle a category 4 ascent twice, with the race finishing at the top after the final passage. Only the final kilometre is steep with a 6-7% gradient and so it is a stage that is expected to suit the puncheurs.

 

A flat circuit race

After their long travel, the riders got a gentle reintroduction to racing in today's fourth stage of the race as they were set to tackle the shortest and easiest route of the entire race. The 112km stage brought them from Giovinazzo to Bari and consisted of a short flat run to the finishing city where the riders did 8 laps of a 8km finishing circuit that was flat and extremely technical.

 

The riders had hoped to have better weather for the Italian stages but by the time they rolled out for their late start, it was again in wet conditions. As the road were extremely slippery, the riders made the decision to neutralize the race and so they just rolled along at a steady pace for the first part.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE up the pace

A lot of discussion was going on but an agreement was made to set a steady pace until they reached the circuit where they would assess the situation based on the nature of the circuit and how wet the roads were. With 95km to go, Orica-GreenEDGE put Svein Tuft an Luke Durbridge on the front and they made sure to set a solid pace that allowed them to get to Bari within a reasonable time.

 

OPQS briefly lend a hand with Thomas De Gendt but otherwise it was left to Orica-GreenEDGE to do all the work. Tuft and Durbridge were joined by Cameron Meyer, Pieter Weening and Michael Hepburn and those five riders swapped turns on the front for a long time.

 

The race is again neutralized

As they reached the finishing circuit, the roads were dry and Orica-GreenEDGE decided to really up the pace. They strung the peloton completely out as they did their first lap of the circuit, with the 5 Orica riders riding hard on the front, clearly to the frustration of Joaquim Rodriguez who questioned their reasons.

 

The battle for position had now really started but with 55km, it started to rain very slightly. Matthews shouted to his teammates to stop and the race was again neutralized.

 

Back to racing

It was only a few drops though and the roads were still completely dry. After a lot of discussion in the peloton, it was communicated by the organizers that all time bonuses would be cancelled and that the times would be taken at the penultimate passage of the line.

 

With 46km to go, Durbridge and Tuft went back to the front to again up the pace as the race was now again on. The peloton again got completely strung out and the battle for position was fully on.

 

Viviani wins the intermediate sprint

After the fourth lap, the riders contested the intermediate sprint and so Cannondale moved to the front. They gave Viviani a full lead-out and he beat Nizzolo, Ferrari and his teammate Daniele Ratto to score 10 points while Ben Swift (Sky) had to settle for fifth.

 

Tuft and Durbridge went back to work and from there they set a hard pace for most of the final part of the stage while behind, all the big GC teams made sure to stay in a good position. As they headed onto the penultimate lap, the sprint trains also started to organize themselves while Albert Timmer (Giant-Shimano) was extremely unfortunate to suffer a puncture on both wheels.

 

Puncture for Bouhanni

With 14km to go, disaster struck for Bouhanni as he suffered a very untimely puncture. While most of his teammates gathered at the back of the peloton, ready to help him back to the front, Pichon and later Courteille fell back to help him rejoin the peloton.

 

In the bunch, Durbridge and Tuft had ended their work and so Weening and Mitchell Docker took over the pace-setting. Just before the start of the final lap, Bouhanni rejoined the group while most of the peloton decided to sit up when the time was taken.

 

Puccio attacks

With 5km to go, Salvatore Puccio (Sky) hit the front and as his teammates slowed down, he got a gap with Nicola Boem (Bardiani). Weening struggled to close it down and it wasn't until the Cannondale train took over that they were brought back.

 

Paolo Longo Borghini did a massive job for Cannondale while Bouhanni suddenly was back near the front and managed to position himself on Viviani's wheel. When Michel Koch took over on the front, however, he dropped back and again seemed to be out of the running.

 

That was when the Cannondale train and most of group slid out in a corner and when the dust had settled, only riders remained in contention. Bouhanni was nowhere to be seen but then made his fantastic comeback to take his first grand tour stage victory.

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