A huge win for Joe Dombrowski
Joe Dombrowski wasn’t a favourite to take victory on stage four of the Giro d’Italia 2021, even after he made it into the day’s 25-rider breakaway.
The 29-year-old US pro had just three victories to his name before the stage, all from the lower tier but prestigious Tour of Utah.
After showing promise early in his career, Dombrowski never delivered a major victory after his overall win in Utah, but that all changed in Sestola.
Battling the awful weather conditions, the UAE Team Emirates rider played a beautiful hand in the final, sensing that his breakaway companion Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation) would be the strongest, following his wheel and riding away in the final 3km to take a huge victory.
Dombrowski’s win, his first at WorldTour level in his ninth year as a pro, will be a memorable one for US fans - could this mark the start of a new era in his career?
De Marchi in pink as GC contenders lay in wait
Always attentive to a breakaway opportunity, Alessandro De Marchi’s presence at the head of the race on stage four was a clear indicator that this move could succeed.
The Italian veteran has never won a stage of his home Grand Tour, and sadly the opportunity eluded him once again, as he fell 13 seconds behind Dombrowski by the finish.
But there was a consolation prize for the 34-year-old, and it’s a big one.
De Marchi came away with the maglia rosa, taking over from his compatriot Filippo Ganna who sacrificed himself for his Ineos Grenadiers team, as De Marchi now leads the race with a 22-second advantage over Dombrowski in second.
It was an overwhelming feeling for De Marchi, as he realised he had done enough to secure the race lead, and with a flat stage to come one day five he should be able to enjoy the jersey for at least two days.
Bernal shines as some favourites lose time
Stage four looked to be a potential general classification opportunity, with a collection of tough climbs stacked back-to-back in the second half of the course, and a challenging gradient leading up to the line.
As the breakaway extended its advantage throughout the day, it looked as though the GC contenders may be saving themselves for later in the race, but with 2km left Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) decided to light things up from a small group of climbers.
While a handful of riders followed the Colombian, including Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nipp), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana). the move may have caught some his rivals off guard.
Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) was the most notable rider to miss out on Bernal’s sneak attack, as he lost around 11 seconds by the finish.
Evenepoel was followed across by Simon Yates (BikeExchange), Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), and Romain Bardet (Team DSM), all losing a small chunk of time.
But there was a bigger blow for Deceuninck, as Evenepoel’s co-leader João Almeida fell out of the bunch of favourites and dropped out of overall contention, losing four minutes by the finish.
Vlasov is now the best-placed among the GC favourites, with Evenepoel eight seconds behind, while Carthy and Bernal are just a further 10 seconds behind.
Filippo Ganna bows out of the race lead
The question for Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) has always been when he would lose the pink jersey, rather than if.
While stage three was likely to be a challenge for the Italian TT star, who weighs upwards of 80kg, Ganna was able to comfortably survive the day with his race lead in tact, but it was stage four that finally put him out the back of the peloton.
It came as no surprise to Ineos Grenadiers, who put the time trial world champion on the front of the bunch early in the stage to carry their team leaders Egan Bernal and Pavel Sivakov safely to the climbs in the second half.
After a remarkable day in the saddle, leading the bunch for most of the day, Ganna was finally forced to admit defeat 20km from the finish, sitting up and letting his race lead vanish in the process.
But even if Ganna had been able to maintain his place in the peloton, he still would have lost his race lead as the new leader was destined to come from the breakaway, with the GC teams letting the escapees off the leash to hold the pink jersey for now.
Ganna will continue to steer his team through the Italian landscapes, before his next chance at a TT victory on the final stage in Milan.
Weather causes havoc for riders and for broadcasters
Spring in Italy never disappoints, as the weather switches from blistering heat to torrential downpours from day to day.
Stage four of the Giro d’Italia was defined by the latter, as riders faced 187km of miserable conditions on the hills of Emilia Romagna.
As riders donned their waterproof jackets and settled in for a long day in the rain, the weather also took its toll on the broadcast.
Early in the day TV pictures were sporadic at best as the commentators were forced to improvise, as we weren’t able to see any race footage from the camera motos out on the course, instead the broadcasters were forced to resort to static shots of the finish in Sestola, and replays from the opening stages.
Despite the treacherous conditions and the tight, winding roads, the peloton kept safety at the forefront of the minds, and fortunately there were no major crashes.
That played into the advantage of the breakaway, which was more able to nimbly navigate the twists and turns of the region and extend a significant advantage over the bunch.
But with rain scheduled to last for the rest of the opening week, the weather may have a long term impact on the race if riders begin to fall ill in the cold and wet.
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