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There were five hours of nothing, then five kilometers of everything.
Stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia had a very long-burning fuse Tuesday, but when it finally sparked, the explosion was felt through the pack.
Overnight race leader Filippo Ganna was well out the back by the time the bunch hit the steep slopes of the decisive Colle Passerino, and Joe Dombrowski and Alessandro De Marchi duked it out for the stage win and the GC lead respectively.
Not far down the road, the pack of favorites lit up, blowing out an early shuffle of the virtual classification. A “super six” has gone off the front, some are grinding in the grupetto, while many threaten just beneath the surface.
So what exactly is going on ahead of stage 5’s sprint showdown? Here’s Jimbo’s virtual GC:
Jimbo’s virtual GC ahead of stage 5
- Aleksandr Vlasov: Jimbo’s GC leader
- Remco Evenepoel: +4
- Hugh Carthy: +14
- Egan Bernal: +15
- Mikel Landa: +25
- Simon Yates: S.T
- Giulio Ciccone [NEW ENTRY!]: 32
- Romain Bardet: +39
- Domenico Pozzovivo [NEW ENTRY!]: +41
- Dan Martin: +44
- Pavel Sivakov: S.T.
- Daniel Martínez [NEW ENTRY!]: +46
- Pello Bilbao: +48
- Vincenzo Nibali: +51
- Marc Soler: +52
- Jai Hindley: +56
- Emanuel Buchmann: +1:05
IN THE GRUPPETTO:
- George Bennett: +1:46
- João Almeida: +4:14
Off the front: The super six
Aleksandr Vlasov, Remco Evenepoel, Hugh Carthy, Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa, Simon Yates
And if they did back one of this “super six,” they’ve been proven right.
Landa did what Landa does, punching away in the drops in the none-too-Basque bleak conditions. Landa’s move pulled out Vlasov, Carthy and Bernal, and the four climbing kings crossed the line together, the first of the GC guys. Evenepoel and Yates led the next group home, 11 seconds back.
What a team! 💥
Exciting day at the @giroditalia as @JTratnik took 5th place on the first uphill finish. @MikelLandaMeana showed his GC ambitions with an attack on the last climb after strong support from the team!#RideAsOne #Giro
— Team Bahrain Victorious (@BHRVictorious) May 11, 2021
Evenepoel’s early TT gains gave him the padding to stay toward the top of the classification pack, and the GC’s “super six” all now sit within 25 seconds of each other.
“The effort I had to do was short and intense, something that I didn’t do for some time now,” Evenepoel said after the stage. “I didn’t want to explode and lose too much time, so I rode at my own pace. I think I managed it well, losing just a few seconds.”
Although the sextet are just seconds ahead in the virtual GC, they boast the form and potential to winch their way further ahead of their classification rivals in the weeks to come. Evenepoel played it cooler than his 21 years should afford, and Bernal showed glimmers of his former Tour de France fettle.
“I’m here to enjoy and regain the confidence I had in 2019,” Bernal said. “A day like today got me back on track. I had no pain, no problems. And I had the right legs to follow the others when they attacked, and even try my luck.”
Bernal and Evenepoel now have to hope their injuries hold strong for another 17 days. And with Almeida out of the picture, Evenepoel is now Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s centerpiece.
How far can Remco go? Stay tuned to find out, because his race isn’t going to get any easier, particularly with Bernal and Landa lurking as landmines in the pack. Landa has his ever-reliable co-leader Pello Bilbao sitting just a few seconds down on the top-6, while Bernal has rising talents Pavel Sivakov and Daniel Martínez – new addition to the virtual GC – as foils. The numbers could work in their favor – if they play their cards right.
Off the back and (probably) out of the GC
George Bennett, João Almeida
Sorry to say it, but yes.
In fact, Almeida is now so far away from the race trophy that he’ll need to be sending it smoke signals. The Portuguese cracked first when the pace hotted up Tuesday and went backward, fast. Almeida is now 4:14 down on Vlasov, and certainly won’t be bettering his fourth-place from last year – but he could still prove pivotal in Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s tactical playbook this month.
Bennett was next to blow after Almeida. The Kiwi had been hoping to better his career-best eighth place at the Giro, and could do that still. However, at 1:46 down already, it’s hard to see Bennett having the horsepower to bother Bernal and the “super six” for the rest of the race.
The pouring rain and low temperatures saw Bennett suffering Wednesday, and there’s more of the wet stuff on the way this week. But his team hasn’t given up all hope just yet.
“It definitely was not a good day. It didn’t go as we had hoped and expected. The circumstances were difficult because of the bad weather. George was affected by the cold in the end,” said Jumbo-Visma DS Addy Engels. “In the end he loses a minute and a half on the first GC guys … On such a climb that is a lot, but a lot can still happen in three weeks.”
Giulio Ciccone, Romain Bardet, Domenico Pozzovivo, Dan Martin, Pavel Sivakov, Daniel Martínez, Pello Bilbao, Vincenzo Nibali, Marc Soler, Jai Hindley, Emanuel Buchmann
From Giulio Ciccone at 32 seconds through Emanuel Buchmann at just over one minute, there are nearly a dozen riders still well within striking distance.
Veterans such as Nibali, Bilbao and Martin could yet claw their way back toward Vlasov and Co, but if Martin is looking to top his career-best 4th place grand tour finish or Nibali is hoping for a third pink jersey, they would need to be off the front already.
Yes, “The Shark” has proven he can tip a race on its head through Giri past. But the 36-year-old’s fins don’t beat as strong as they used to.
“It was a hard day; I don’t hide that I suffered,” he said. “I had to defend myself and looking at how it went, I’m fairly satisfied. I think today could have ended worse for me. It was the first hard stage of the Giro, but the gap was limited. Let’s continue on.”
— Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team (@Q36_5ProCycling) May 11, 2021
Giulio Ciccone, Domenico Pozzovivo and Daniel Martínez didn’t feature in the post-stage 3 analysis, but do this time. How come? Because along with the likes of Nibali and Martin, these tier-two contenders could possibly make a top-6, but a podium? No signore.
Next shakes to come Friday, Sunday, Monday
The GC picture could look a lot different Monday night. After a sprint stage Thursday, stages 6, 8 and 9 could all see moves and the opportunity to really shake the tree.
Stage 6 Friday will be the first major summit finish of the race, and while the steady diesel climb to San Giacomo may not see race-defining rumbles in the GC, it could make for a taste of things to come. After another day for the fastmen Sunday, two tricky stages in the Appennines on Sunday and Monday could cause carnage.
Keep watching, ‘coz the Giro is only just warming up.