This year's Giro has featured stages that are designed to be raced as if on a low boil. They've begun easy and finished hard. The ride from Policastro Bussentino to Serra San Bruno, Stage Four, the longest in the race at 246km (154mi), was one of these. The first 200km (125mi) was flat, with two climbs in rapid succession to shake up the race and bring the favorites to the fore. The kind of stage where climbers like Cannondale Pro Cycling's Damiano Caruso, Cristiano Salerno, and José Cayetano Sarmiento can save their energy by relying on the contenders to control the race until the final climb and unleash a burst of speed to escape the pack and race in to the finish, sprinting in with a small group.
Sure enough, when there's a long day in the saddle, a break goes early while the field takes their time warming up. A group of seven rolled off eight kilometers into the race and rode out to a lead of almost eight minutes after 60km (37.5mi). The Katusha-led field, in service of their race leader, Luca Paolini, held the gap and slowly brought it back, with the remnants of the break finally absorbed with 42km (26mi) remaining, just as the first climb started ramping upwards.
Small attacks flew off the front, but with the field led by anxious teams of race favorites, the escapees flew off the front, rode to a small gap, and were brought back as their energy began to flag.
As the skirmishes between the riders came thick and fast, the weather was deteriorating. Clouds grew ever more ominous until it was raining, and hard, as the riders sped up the last climb, trying to escape the clutches of the Team Sky-controlled field. While Sky kept the pace steady and high, one rider was audacious enough to try an attack. Vini Fantini's Danilo Di Luca, a former Giro champion, struck out on his own. Colombia's Robinson Chalapud attacked out of the field to catch Di Luca and the two were off with 10km (6.25mi) remaining. Quickly establishing a 19-second gap, the twosome crested the final mountain and began the descent in the pouring rain.
Often, heavy rain combined with two escapees who have no design on overall victory is enough for the field to take it a bit easier on the descent, choosing safety over stage glory. Not this time. The field screamed downhill and steadily ate into the lead until the gap was a mere two seconds at the start of the final kilometer. Di Luca wasn't about to give up and he kept going until he was passed in the final 200 meters, with Enrico Battaglin of Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox edging ahead of Fabio Felline and Giovanni Visconti at the line.
Sitting in the team bus, toweling off, and drying out, Cannondale's Caruso, who finished ten seconds off the pace in 40th place, was philosophical if a bit frustrated with the stage. "Long and hard stage in the finale due to the bad weather," he said. "In the final two
KoM's, Sky's rhythm was high and didn't allow many attacks. Also today the feeling in my legs wasn't bad and I thought I'd be able to play my hand for the stage win. I thought I'd be able to mix in with the final sprint. It was small bunch, which was good, but the road was too small to pass."
Tomorrow's Stage Five, 203km (127mi) from Cosenza to Matera, is a return to the flat roads of today's start. It's a day for the sprinters, and another chance for Cannondale's Elia Viviani to bang handlebars with Omega Pharma-Quickstep's Mark Cavendish in a possible rematch of the Stage One finish. But with a small climb topping out 20km (12.5mi) from the finish and a gradual rise to Matera, there are chances for attackers to upset the sprinter's anticipated meal.
Giro d'Italia 2013 Stage 4 Policastro Bussentino to Serra San Bruno 246km
1. Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox - 6:14:19
2. Fabio Felline (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - same time
3. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team - same time
4. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling - same time
5. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ - same time
Stage Results Cannonale Pro Cycling
40. Damiano Caruso (Ita) - 0:00:10
57. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) - 0:00:21
64. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) - 0:00:47
76. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) - 0:05:05
106. Cameron Wurf (Aus) - 0:10:25
124. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) - 0:16:53
128. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) - same time
129. Alan Marangoni (Ita) - same time
179. Elia Viviani (Ita) - same time
1. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha - 15:18:51
2. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling - 0:00:17
3. Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team - 0:00:26
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team - 0:00:31
5. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp - 0:00:34
General Classificaiton Cannondale Pro Cycling
36. Damiano Caruso (Ita) - 0:02:38
46. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) - 0:03:04
62. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) - 0:08:50
72. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) - 0:11:35
112. Cameron Wurf (Aus) - 0:24:20
117. Elia Viviani (Ita) - 0:25:44
122. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) - 0:25:56
123. Alan Marangoni (Ita) - same time
124. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) - same time