FDJ’s Nacer Bouhanni turned in a bravura performance in winning Stage Four of the Giro d’Italia. The 23-year-old French sprinter punctured a tire with 13 kilometers left, and was left with only a single teammate, and then mercifully, a second, to try to pull him back up to the flying peloton.
Bouhanni caught the pack just as it entered the last of eight laps around an 8.3-km course in downtown Bari, Italy. It took him six minutes to catch the pack, and another eight to get to the front, where he arrived with only one thousand meters left.
Just after he arrived near the front, Bouhani then had to ride well off the course to avoid a huge crash which wiped out most of the leading Cannondale squad and many other front-runners. He made it back while behind him more riders hit the pavement, but was not up front where Giant-Shimano’s Tom Veelers started his sprint about 250 meters from the line.
Despite having ridden flat out, and faster than the rest of the race, for 14 minutes, the young Frenchman still had the legs left to overtake Veelers 50 meters out and power home for the win—his first in a Grand Tour.
“I really thought I’d never be able to get back onto the peloton,” Bouhanni told EuroSport.com. “The team rode fantastically to get me back again. In the last lap it was very slippery I was close to falling myself—a couple of times actually.
“When we got to the final straight I had to give everything, and luckily I won.”
Trek’sd Giacomo Nizzollo also caught Velelrs just before the line to take second, while Lampre’s Roberto Ferrari finished fourth, and Cannondale’s Elia Viviani picked himself up off the pavement and sprinted back to take fifth.
Stage Four was the shortest road stage of the 2014 Giro at only 112 km: a short run on the open road from Giovinazzo to Bari and then eight 8.3 km laps around that city.
Unfortunately for the riders and fans alike, the rain which had soaked the race in all three stages in Ireland crossed over to Italy with the racers.
Riders saw that the roads were so slick and the course so technical that it would be foolishly dangerous top race the eight laps in the city. Instead, they decided to only ride the final lap at racing speed, and to take the General Classification times at the start of the final lap. This would keep the GC contenders from having to risk themselves at the front of the peloton just to fight for a few seconds advantage.
While the fans were certainly disappointed to only see one lap of full-on racing, the outcome justified the choice: Coming into the final turn the entirety of team Cannondale hit the pavement, taking many other riders with them, and several more crashes occurred in just those final five hundred meters. Had there been breakaways and chases through those eight laps, the carnage would have been much, much worse.
Part of the reason for the problems was that in Southern Italy it rarely rains, so the roads are not designed to shed water. On top of that, the rain was light and intermittent, so instead of washing away all the oil on the road surface, the water formed a sort of slick coating, making the pavement much more treacherous than if it had been washed clean by a hard rain.
Race leader Michael Matthews of Orica GreenEdge kept the Maglia, Rosa, the pink jersey, crossing the finish line safely well after the sprinters finished their fight.
“From the start it was really slippery. Straight away we had a chat in the bunch and decided to neutralize the race. It’s a long tour and we all need to stay safe out there,” he told EuroSport.
Stage Five, 200 km from Taranto to Viggiano, will feature the first real climbing of the Giro, with the Cat 3 Valico d. Serra di San Chirico, and two Cat 4 climbs in Viggiano, the last being an uphill finish. The pink jersey will likely change hands here, and a few of the GC contenders which lost time in the team time trial might try to gain some back.