Italy?s Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) won the fourth stage and took the pink jersey at the Giro d?Italia on Wednesday on the first uphill finish of the race at Montevergine di Mercogliano near Naples.
Briton Charly Wegelius and his Liquigas team mates controlled the bunch in the decisive section of the climb and then Di Luca accelerated to the line, beating Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) in the sprint.
With his team mate and early leader Enrico Gasparotto finishing with the sprinters after a nasty crash mid-stage, Di Luca now leads the Giro and pulled on the pink jersey. His team mates Franco Pellizotti and Andrea Noe are second and third at 26 and 35 seconds.
Thanks to third place Damiano Cunego moved up to sixth place at 54 seconds, while Paolo Savoldelli (Astana) lost 40 seconds on the climb and slipped from third to eighth overall at 1-07.
?It was a great a stage for us and I have to thank the team because I only had to do the last 200 metres,? Di Luca said.
?I gave it everything and managed to hold off Ricco and the others. I?ve got the pink jersey again which is great and I think this is the strongest I?ve ever been in my career but it?s hard work leading the Giro and if we tried to defend the pink jersey my team mates would be tired and I?d be on my own in the mountains when I need them most.”
?After winning the team time trial last Saturday we decided to hold on to the race lead until today?s uphill finish but now there isn?t another decisive stage for eight days, so from tomorrow our tactics are going to change.?
RAIN CAUSES HUGE CRASH
A rain shower and greasy roads sparked a series of crashes with at least 50 riders on the ground including Gasparotto and world champion Paolo Bettini after 85km. Di Luca landed on his rear and other riders were battered and bruised but South Africa?s Ian McLeod was the worst off and was taken to hospital with a fractured collarbone and rib.
The bunch eventually came back together and caught the early break before an attack by Mexico?s Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio (Panaria) sparked the battle on the gradual 17km climb to the finish. Perez Cuapio was caught near the top and then Liquigas took over and perfectly lead out Di Luca who finished off the job perfectly to give Liquigas their second stage win.
Di Luca?s decision to abdicate the race lead means other riders will go on the attack to try and take the race lead during Thursday?s 173-km fifth stage from Teano to Frascati near Rome. A small climb near the finish could upset their plans but Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and Robbie McEwen (Predictor) are favourites to win their second stage of the 2007 Giro d?Italia.
GIRO D?ITALIA: STAGE FOUR RESULTS
1 Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) 154km in 4-22-42
2 Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) at same time
3 Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) at same time
4 Andy Schleck (CSC) at 3secs
5 Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) at 3secs
6 Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) at 6secs
7 Luca Mazzanti (Ceramica Panaria Navigare) at 6secs
8 David Arroyo Duran (Caisse d?Epargne) at 7secs
9 Emanuele Sella (Ceramica Panaria Navigare) at 13secs
10 David Zabriskie (CSC) at 13secs
82 Charles Wegelius (Liquigas) at 2-49
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FOUR
1 Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) 14-26-10
2 Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) at 26secs
3 Andrea Noe? (Liquigas) at 35secs
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) at 35secs
5 Andy Schleck (CSC) at 53secs
6 Damiano Cunego (Lampre) at 54secs
7 David Zabriskie (CSC) at 1-03
8 Paolo Savoldelli (Astana) at 1-07
9 Eddy Mazzoleni (Astana) at 1-07
10 Andrey Mizourov (Astana) at 1-07