Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) claimed his first, and what will likely be his most unusual, Grand Tour stage victory at the Giro d’Italia today.
The 23-year-old Frenchman surged past Tom Veelers (Giant-Shimano) in the final metres to claim the win in inclement conditions in Bari.
However, Bouhanni’s victory came at the end of a stage that was memorable for a lack of racing.
Although heavy rain stopped when the peloton began eight laps of an 8.3-kilometre circuit around the Adriatic city, the peloton neutralised the race with just under half the stage remaining because conditions were too dangerous.
Indeed, some riders were taking it so easily that they stopped to sign autographs for fans on the roadside.
Others were not happy with the neutralisation: at one point, race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) was seen to be in a heated debated with BMC’s Manuel Quinziato.
Racing restarted with 40 kilometres remaining, with Cannondale initially setting the pace to approaching the day’s intermediate sprint to help Elia Viviani gain points for the red jersey competition.
However, Orica returned to the front shortly after to keep slow the pace down, before the speed increased once again approaching the finish.
There were two big crashes within the final three kilometres; the second of which ruled Sky’s Ben Swift out of contention, and initally reduced the front group to just six riders. Four of those were from Giant-Shimano.
Bouhanni, who had a bike change within the final 15km was not one of those initially, but managed to bridge to the leaders within the final kilometre.
In the absence of Marcel Kittel, who did not take this morning’s start after coming down with a fever overnight, Giant were working for his normal lead-out man Tom Veelers. The Dutchman started his sprint early, and appeared to be on course to take the win, before Bouhanni overhauled him in the final 50 metres.
“In the last 13km, I flatted,” said Bouhanni. “I had to wait and get a new wheel. My teammate, Pichon waited, then my other team-mate came back to bring me to the front of the group. I was definitely working harder than Giant-Shimano. I had to work hard, I gave it my all to return in the last few curves.”
“In the last 3km, there was a crash, I had to avoid the crash to not crash, all the way over to the left, so I was behind. I had to work a lot to get back.”
Matthews retained his race lead, following a decision to take times for the GC with one lap to go.
Giro d’Italia 2014, stage four: Giovinazzo to Bari, 121km
1. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ.fr in 2-22-06
2. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek Factory Racing
3. Tom Veelers (Ned) Giant-Shimano
4. Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida
5. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale
6. Matteo Montaguti (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale
7. Kenny De Haes (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
8. Luka Mezgec (Slo) Giant-Shimano
9. Bert De Backer (Bel) Giant-Shimano
10. Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Neri Sottoli – Yellow Fluo
Overall classification after stage four
1. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge in 12-28-43
2. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 0-08
3. Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing at 0-10
4. Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge at 0-14
5. Ivan Santaromita (Ita) Orica-GreenEdge
6. Svein Tuft (Can) Orica-Greenedge
7. Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge
8. Cameron Meyer (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge all at st.
9. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 0-19
10. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at st.
Double 2014 Giro d'Italia stage winner Marcel Kittel out of race with fever
Images from a rain-affected stage as the Giro heads back to Italy. Photos by Graham Watson