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Tuesday’s stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia saw this year’s pink jersey hopefuls attacking each other on a climb for the first time. The Colle Passerino with its 9.5% average gradient proved to be a boon for some and a worrying indicator for others. When the dust (or mud, rather, on such a rainy day in Italy) settled in Sestola, a few big names had padded their GC chances while others had lost out.
Five GC riders crossed the finish line together 1:37 down on stage 4 winner Joe Dombrowski (UAE-Team Emirates) and 1:24 down on new race leader Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation), and that quintet comprises the list of clear winners on the day in the overall battle. Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) was the first of those GC riders to pull away from the group on the day’s final climb, with Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) the next to attack, and then Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) followed.
The group would hold on to the finish to pick up 11 seconds on a group containing Simon Yates (BikeExchange), Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), and Romain Bardet (DSM). It wasn’t a huge gap, but it wasn’t a huge climb either. In addition to taking 11 seconds, the five riders in Bernal’s group made statements too.
Bernal, who has been dealing with back issues for months, was one of the biggest question marks coming into this Giro, but he looked dangerously comfortable on Tuesday. If that continues through the race, his already short odds as the race favorite will only get shorter. Carthy also looked good, making an early statement that he is going to pick up right where he left off in the Grand Tours after finishing third at last year’s Vuelta.
Ciccone has staked his claim to being Trek-Segafredo’s top GC choice for this race. The team brought Vincenzo Nibali and Bauke Mollema to the Giro, but Nibali lost 34 seconds to Ciccone on the day and Mollema arrived nearly 14 minutes down. Landa, despite his predictably lackluster showing in the opening time trial, showed that he belongs in the favorites’ conversation with a strong ride.
And of each of the five big winners on the day, Vlasov is now in the best GC position. Having delivered a strong performance in the opening TT, Vlasov now sits 1:24 back on De Marchi and at the top of the list of bona fide overall hopefuls. The 25-year-old Russian abandoned last year’s race early on with stomach issues, but the first few stages of the race are going quite well for him so far in 2021.
João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was far and away stage 4’s biggest loser. Having finished fourth overall last year, he came into this race expected to share team leadership with Evenepoel. Four days into the Giro, his GC hopes have gone up in smoke; Almeida was dropped with a few kilometers still to go on the Colle Passerino and never recovered, arriving over four minutes behind Bernal’s group. Evenepoel may not have hung with Bernal and Co. on the day, but he looked fine, so he is clearly the top GC option at Deceuninck now.
George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) also struggled on the final climb. Finishing 1:29 down on Bernal, he’s not totally and completely out of the GC picture now, but it was not a good sign for the climbing specialist to lose so much time on the Giro’s first climbing stage.
To a lesser extent, you could say the same thing about Jai Hindley (DSM), who lost 34 seconds on the day. Worse for Hindley’s GC hopes, he has a teammate who now sits 17 seconds ahead of him on GC in Bardet. DSM might not make the call just yet to support only Bardet, but Hindley will need to do much better on the next climbing stage to prove that he deserves that support.
Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) are in the same boat. The Ineos Grenadiers said that Sivakov would be a co-leader for this race alongside Bernal, but Bernal may have already shown enough for the team to focus its efforts on him. Nibali could conceivably be hoping to ride his way into form over the course of the race after his buildup period was derailed by a broken wrist, but Ciccone is clearly hungry for results.
We’ll close it out with Simon Yates (BikeExchange). It may seem a bit unfair to put him in the losers column when he finished together with Evenepoel and Bardet, but the fact of the matter is that Yates entered this Giro as the bookies’ second favorite behind Bernal and in what appeared to be excellent form. That form was not readily apparent on Tuesday. Yates is by no means out of it after just one day of losing 11 seconds to his rivals, but this was a missed opportunity to stamp his authority on the race.