May 13, 2014

Giro Stage 4 Review - Sprint Chaos

The Stage: The shortest road stage of the race at only 118 km and destined to end in a sprint with no categorized climbs after 9 circuits around the city of Bari. As had been the case the previous two stages, Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) was the stage favorite.

Who won today's stage? Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) recovered after a late puncture to win a neutralized stage (more on that below), taking advantage of Kittel's surprise abandonment because of a fever and a slower pace because of awful road conditions on the circuit around Bari that allowed him to regain touch with the peloton before it was too late.

When was the stage won? In the final meters Bouhanni reached the front of the race for the first time after navigating a minefield of crashes and soft pedaling riders that had no worries about time.

When was the stage lost? Despite the abandonment of Kittel, Giant-Shimano are still blessed with some strong sprinters at this race (to say nothing of John Degenkolb who was second in the first stage at the Tour of California) with Luca Mezgec and Tom Veelers. At the very end after crashes, the Giant-Shimano train had both Veelers and Mezgec along with one other rider against two other sprinters. With the rain and the crash, the train slowed down, cautiously attacking the last 2 km, allowing Elia Viviani (Cannondale) and Bouhanni to reach their front group again. From there, another mistake was made as Veelers went too early, wasting his team help that was there and allowing Bouhanni to come around for the win. Needless to say, a healthy Kittel wins this easily.

What matters in the GC race? Nothing at all. With the rain, there was the possibility of crashes determining much in the GC race, but the riders and Giro organizers made the sensible decision to count the times at the end of the second to last circuit around Bari. This allowed GC men and their top level domestiques to cruise along with the peloton and then leave the sprinters to contest the finale. Additionally, time bonuses on the finish line were nullified, meaning there was no chance of a lead change had Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) decided to have a go in the sprint (under normal circumstances Petacchi could have assumed the lead by winning the stage as he was within 10 seconds, the time bonus for winning the stage).

What matters in other competitions?
Points (Red Jersey): With Kittel out of the race, Bouhanni assumed the lead in this competition with the stage win. He leads Viviani by two points and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) by nine. With Kittel's points gone, a climber is a real threat here as well, even though none of them have any points yet.
King of the Mountains (Blue Jersey): Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin) retained control as there were no categorized climbs on the course today (nor was there a breakaway at any point either).
Young Rider (White Jersey): GC leader Michael Mathews (Orica-GreenEdge) continues to own it and his teammate Luke Durbridge continues to wear it as Mathews owns the pink jersey.

Biggest surprise: Race organizers went along with the riders and gave the stamp of approval to the neutralized stage. Considering the often antagonistic relationship these two group have over safety, this is a big shock.

Biggest disappointment: There was still a big crash in the bunch, even with the neutralization. After the times had been taken, the sprint trains came forward to contest the stage win and we ended up with a carnage on the road and a highly reduced sprint involving the Giant-Shimano train, Bouhanni, Viviani, Nizzolo and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida). Everyone else either crashed or chose not to risk contesting this sprint.

What's on the docket tomorrow? A first chance for a different kind of rider. The race finishes with two circuits up a category four climb in Viggiano that included a brief 8% area in the final 500 meters. The stage isn't hard enough to cause GC issues, but it is hard enough that we will get a different kind of sprinter, that of the uphill variety contesting the finish. Expect Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) to try and regain some time lost in the Team Time Trial with the time bonus that comes with a stage win. Additionally, GC leader Michael Mathews is built for these kinds of stages and he likely had this one circled long before he inherited the pink jersey.

Stage 5 Pick: Rodriguez. We don't know his form, but if Rodriguez is in decent form, he is the type of rider that has dominated these type of stages in the Giro and Vuelta the last five years.

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