Giro d'Italia 2018: Tim Wellens climbs to Stage 4 win as Chris Froome loses time
Belgium’s Tim Wellens timed his attack to perfection to win a lumpy Stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia in the Sicilian hilltop town of Caltagirone ahead of Canada’s Michael Woods and the Italian Enrico Battaglin. Britain’s Chris Froome was caught out in a late split and conceded 21 seconds to his rivals.
Belgium's rider of team Lotto Tim Wellens celebrates as he crosses the finish line and won the 4th stage of the 101st Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, between Catania and Caltagirone
A pulsating finale to the 202-kilometre stage from Catania saw Wellens (Lotto-Fix All) secure his fifth win of the season by dominating the 18 percent ramp to the finish as Australian Rohan Dennis (BMC) retained the pink jersey after the first of three demanding days in Sicily.
'What a finish' - Wellens storms to Stage 4 victory
Dennis preserved his slender one-second lead over Dutch defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) as Wellens moved up to fourth place in the general classification, 19 seconds off the summit and two-seconds behind Britain’s Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
The impressive Yates took fourth place in the stage ahead of Italy’s Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) before Yates’s Czech team-mate Roman Kreuziger led a chasing group over the line four seconds down on the leaders.
'What Wellens did was unbelievable' - Van der Sande
This select chasing group included the likes of Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain Merida), Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) and Dumoulin – but not the four-time Tour de France champion Froome.
A crash with 7km remaining had split the pack on the approach to Caltagirone and numerous riders struggled to fight back on as the peloton strung out on a series of twists, turns and fast, technical downhills ahead of the decisive ramped final kilometre.
Badly positioned going into the final kilometre, Froome, along with Colombia's Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), was distanced and lost 21 seconds. Froome now trails Dumoulin by 54 seconds on GC.
After three days in Israel and the long journey back to Europe on Monday, the 101st edition of La Corsa Rosa resumed with an Ardennes-style slugfest through the hills of Sicily – as achingly beautiful as the roads were relentlessly unforgiving.
Five riders – Quentin Jauregui (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Marco Frapporti (Androni-Sidermec), Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF), Maxim Belkov (Katusha-Alpecin) and Jacopo Mosca (Wilier-Triestina) – broke clear shortly after the start in Catania to build up a maximum lead of just under four minutes under the hot Sicilian sun.
Italy’s Barbin beat compatriot Frapporti over the summit of both of the day’s categorised climbs to extend his lead in the maglia azzurra king of the mountains competition – either side of some hefty pace-setting from the UAE Team Emirates team of Italian national champion Fabio Aru.
Just before the half-way point of the stage, Aru’s army soared to the front to blow the peloton apart with a considerable rise in tempo. As a result of this huge injection of pace on an uphill drag ahead of the feed zone, the pack split into numerous groups as the gap of the leaders tumbled down to under a minute.
But things settled ahead of the second climb as Barbin restored the status quo and the gap stretched back out to almost three minutes. The calm would not last long. Barbin and Frenchman Jauregui were first to call it a day before the final three escapees were swept up with 16km remaining.
Martin has nightmare with bike on side of road
With numerous riders suffering a string of inopportune punctures – and the pace high on a gradual descent towards the rolling final kilometres – the race became very nervous. Portugal's Jose Goncalves (Katusha-Alpecin) required two bike changes and never made it back, dropping out of the top 10 by the end of the day.
Meanwile, Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) latched onto an attack from compatriot Edoardo Zardini (Wilier-Triestina) to build up a gap of 25 seconds before being reeled in with 3km remaining.
By now the Lotto-Fix All and Mitchelton-Scott team-mates of Wellens and Yates were piling the pressure on the front of the pack after a pinch-point in the road resulted in a crash for Andrei Zeits (Astana) which split the peloton.
Froome was the most high-profile victim of this incident – and the 32-year-old was unable to rejoin his GC rivals on the chaotic approach to the town centre of Caltagirone.
Wellens backed up some expert pacing from team-mates Adam Hansen and Tosh van der Sande by jumping onto an attack by LottoNL-Jumbo’s Battaglin inside the final 200m. The 26-year-old puncheur then held off the chasing Woods of EF-Education First to secure the second Giro stage win of his career.
“It feels much more special because I wasn’t sure if I was going to win in the closing metres and when I crossed the like it just felt so good,” Wellens said.
“Adam and Tosh were very strong today. First Adam pulled before the final climb and then Tosh did the perfect lead-out. With 200m to go I went full gas. I didn’t look to see was there. But then I saw Battaglin come through and I put myself on his wheel and then came through at the right moment.”
Key moments, Stage 4: Wellens triumphs in classic finish
For his part, Dennis came through his first major test in pink with flying colours to retain his race lead over Dumoulin.
“It’s never easy to ride in Sicily and it’s been the hardest stage so far,” the 27-year-old said. “The next two days are going to be hard. Tomorrow is a lot like today whereas Etna on Thursday will be a real test for the GC riders and I’ll be able to see where I’m at compared to them.”
Wednesday’s 153km Stage 5 from Agrigento to Santa Ninfa is another lumpy affair with three Cat.4 climbs in a hilly second half before another similarly ramped finish.