Joe Dombrowksi took victory on stage four of the Giro d'Italia after a hellish day in the saddle as Alessandro De Marchi came second just a few seconds behind, meaning the Italian is the new race leader.
Dombrowski (UAE Team Emirates) attacked on the climb in the final 4km to drop his fellow breakaway partners and solo to victory but he was not able to take the needed seconds on De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation) to take pink.
The stage took place in torrid weather for the entire day with a huge breakaway of 25 riders getting away after a very fast 45km at the start, with several riders in the break at just over 30 seconds down on Filippo Ganna's (Ineos Grenadiers) pink jersey.
Most of the final 75km was all about Rein Taaramäe, Quinten Hermans (both Intermarché), and Chris Juul-Jensen (BikeExchange), who raced out front, but they were caught by Dombrowski and De Marchi in the closing 4km.
Back in the peloton the favourites went on the move with Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) going first followed by Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Hugh Carthy (EF-Nippo), and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech).
That group finished 11 seconds ahead of the likes of Simon Yates (BikeExchange), Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), and Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation).
João Almeida (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) was the contender who lost most on the day, dropping around six minutes on the stage winner after a very tough day, meaning his general classification hopes are all but over.
How it happened
It was another wet day for the riders on stage four of the Giro d’Italia 2021, with the race starting in in Piacenza before tackling multiple climbs with the final half of the race, topping out with just over a kilometre to the finish line in Sestola after 187km of racing.
Two riders, Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-Assos) and Quinten Hermans (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), went away first before a huge group joined them making up an escape around 25 riders with some of the big overall classification teams getting riders in there meaning they didn’t need to chase.
The peloton let them go after a very fast first 45km of racing, but they had to keep an eye on the gap as there were several riders under a minute down with Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) the best placed at 32 seconds down on Ganna.
This quickly saw Astana-Premier Tech start chasing for their leader, Vlasov along with Ineos Grenadiers with 140km to go with the time gap quickly going out to just over six minutes.
After the first categorised climb of the day, the Castello di Carpineti, three riders went away with Hermans following an attack by Juul-Jensen along with Hermans’ team-mate, Taaramäe with 74km to go.
Behind, the peloton was still being controlled by the pink jersey Ganna with all the GC protagonists just behind him as the rain continued to pelt down on them.
When the gaps came through the leaders had pulled out a 40-second lead on the chasing group of 22 riders who only had Oliveira, Koen De Kort (Trek-Segafredo), and Campenaerts doing the work as the rest sat on.
That first climb caused a few riders, including stage two winner Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), to lose touch but the peloton was split in half due to the pressure put on by Ganna on the descent with several riders really struggling to drag themselves back.
But the valley at the bottom meant that the groups came back together again with 58km to go. The leaders had managed to pull out a minute gap over the rest of the break with a big gap back to the Ganna-led peloton at 6-20.
Taaramäe and Hermans were working hard with each other as Juul-Jensen sat on the wheels as the gap headed towards seven minutes, even with Ganna sitting on the front of the peloton powering it along.
On the second categorised climb of the Montemolino, the three up front turned into two with 45km to go as Hermans lost touch as the gradient kicked up to 14 per cent at its worst.
But, the pace was clearly good from the leaders as they had almost two minutes on the chasers and just over eight minutes on the peloton that was still being led by Ganna.
The pace was being ripped up by Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation) in the second chasing group behind, breaking it down into small groups of four or five riders as they caught Hermans. Taaramäe went over the top of the climb first ahead of Juul-Jensen.
De Marchi went over the top with Louis Vervaeke (Alpecin-Fenix) and Dombrowski as they started their hunt for the leaders. They were soon joined by six others on the descent as the gap dropped under a minute.
Back in the peloton Deceuninck - Quick-Step came to the front with Mikkel Honoré and James Knox looking after Remco Evenepoel, making sure the gap didn’t go out too far alongside Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers.
Bahrain Victorious came to the front with Matej Mohorič and Rafael Valls and they ripped the peloton to bits with 20km to go, dragging the time gap down to 6-20 to the two leaders as they worked for their leaders. Deceuninck - Quick-Step continued to sit just behind them followed by the rest of Bahrain and Ineos Grenadiers.
All the leaders' jerseys were dropped by the peloton aside from the white jersey of Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma) as Ganna had finally done his job part way up the penultimate climb of the day.
On the descent towards the final climb of the Colle Passerino, Evenepoel called his team to the front yet again as they pushed the pace. Taaramäe took three bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint at the base of the climb but they only had 1-05 on the chasers and 4-36 back to the fast-moving peloton.
Just before the start of the climb, the lead in the peloton changed yet again as Bahrain-Victorious retook control as they and Deceuninck continued to jostle for position onto the Passerino.
De Marchi and Oliveira worked hard with Dombrowski to try and drag themselves back within a chance to take the stage and the pink jersey with just 32 seconds gap at 5km to go. De Marchi’s pace dropped Oliveira bringing the gap down and putting himself into the virtual pink jersey.
Almeida was the first of the big names to lose contact on a day that should’ve suited him very well. He continued to tap out at a pace but he continued to lose the group.
With 4km to go Dombrowski and De Marchi caught and attacked Taaramäe and Juul-Jensen as Dombrowski dropped everyone as the last winner in Sestola, Ciccone, attacked the peloton three minutes back down the road.
Dombrowski was able to then solo to the line for victory, but De Marchi kept the gap small enough to take second and the overall lead of the race.
Behind, Landa was the first of the favourites to have a go on the attack with Ineos Grenadiers jumping straight onto the front and chasing but Landa looked strong and quickly bridged across to Ciccone. Vlasov attacked again with Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) following.
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) jumped across with Hugh Carthy (EF-Nippo) but there was no sign of race favourites Simon Yates (BikeExchange), Evenepoel, Jai Hindley (DSM), or Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo).
The Bernal group eventually finished 11 seconds ahead of the group containing Yates and Evenepoel to take a slim advantage on the first climbing day of the 2021 Giro.
Stage five should see the GC riders have a bit more of a relaxed day on a pan-flat stage which only sees 200 metres of acending over the 177km between Modena and Cattolica with the route almost a straight line from start to finish.
Giro d'Italia 2021, stage four: Piacenza to Sestola (187km)
1, Joe Dombrowski (USA) UAE Team Emirates, in 4-58-38
2. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 13 seconds
3. Filippo Fiorelli (Ita) Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè, at 27s
4. Louis Vervaeke (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, at 29s
5. Jan Tratnik (Slo) Bahrain Victorious, at same time
6. Attila Valter (Hun) Groupama-FDJ, at 44s
7. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, at 49s
8. Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar Team, at 57s
9. Rein Taaramäe (Est) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, at 1-33
10. Chris Juul-Jensen (Den) Team BikeExchange, at 1-36
General classification after stage four
1. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 13-50-44
2. Joe Dombrowski (USA) UAE Team Emirates, at 22s
3. Louis Vervaeke (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, at 42s
4. Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar Team, at 48s
5. Attila Valter (Hun) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-00
6. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, at 1-15
7. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at 1-24
8. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 1-28
9. Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education-Nippo, at 1-37
10. Hugh Carthy (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-39
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