Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) defied the odds after spending 179 kilometres in the day’s escape to take victory on Mount Etna on stage four of the 2017 Giro d’Italia.
The Slovenian had been in the day’s original four-man escape group and was the last man standing from the quartet on the final ascent up the infamous active volcano – the first major climbing test of the 2017 Giro. It’s the 25-year-old’s first victory since winning a stage of the Giro in 2015, and UAE Team Emirates first Grand Tour win.
Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) was the only rider to launch a significant attack from the group of favourites behind Polanc, as racing resumed after the first three stages in Sardinia and Monday’s rest-day transfer. Zakarin placed second behind Polanc with Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) in third to lead the GC group home and take some valuable bonus seconds.
Luxembourger Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) finished in seventh spot to claim the overall race lead ahead of Thomas, at six seconds, and fellow British rider Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) in third, at 10 seconds.
All of the leading GC favourites, including Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), finished in the same group as Thomas and move up into the top 10.
The day’s four-man escape group formed right from the gun in Cefalù. Egenio Alafaci (Trek-Segafredo), Pavel Brutt (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Jacques Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data) and Polanc quickly built up a lead of over eight minutes.
After the flat opening section of the stage and just at the foot the second category climb of Portella, the quartet had six minutes in hand over the bunch.
After the descent, Alafaci lost contact with his three companions and dropped back. Leaving Brutt, Janse van Rensburg and Polanc. Brutt was subsequently dropped on a minor climb before the start of Mount Etna, and then Janse van Rensburg was left behind by Polanc.
Behind, a crash in the peloton on a poorly-marked corner with 17km to go saw riders hit the deck and a couple take the wrong road, including race leader Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors). Several Katusha-Alpecin riders were caught up in the fall.
Having been near the front all day with his team-mates working for Jungels, Gaviria finally let go of the peloton with just 16km until the finish.
Local rider Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) was the first to attack from the peloton, having said that he would in memory of team-mate Michele Scarponi. His move was relatively short-lived, and the bunch reassembled as they chased Polanc.
Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) then made a move with 13km to go, soloing away from the bunch. At that point Polanc was just over three minutes ahead, but there was no team really taking control of the rapidly-dwindling peloton.
Mikel Landa (Team Sky) suffered a badly-timed puncture with 11km to go, with Sebastian Henao swapping his wheel in the absence of the team car. The change took a while and the Spaniard was left with some distance to catch up. Philip Deignan dropped back to pace him back up to the bunch, but with valuable energy expended.
As Polanc hit the steeper part of the Etna, he was evidently feeling the day’s effort, rocking from side-to-side on his bike but still he maintained a lead of over two minutes on the bunch.
Ben Hermans (BMC Racing) moved to the front of the bunch and upped the pace, a move which spelt the end of Rolland’s attack. After a few short-lived moves from Nibali, Jesper Hansen (Astana) and Igor Anton (Dimension Data) – made tricky by a stiff headwind – Zakarin was the next rider to launch an attack.
Into the final kilometre, Polanc had 45 seconds over the bunch and he put everything he had left into powering through the final section to evade Zakarin, and take a memorable win.
After only four stages, the top 10 overall features the majority of the names you would expect to see in the final top 10.
Australian Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) became the first rider to abandon the race after suffering from injuries as a result of crashing on stage three.
The 2017 Giro d’Italia continues on Wednesday with stage five, a relatively short 159km trip from Pedara to Messina which should favour a bunch sprint. The three-week race concludes in Milan on Sunday, May 28.
Giro d’Italia 2017 stage four: Cefalù to Etna, 181km
1. Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 4-55-58
2. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 19 secs
3. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at 29 secs
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ
5. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Astana
6. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb
7. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors
8. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott
9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
10. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, all same time
11. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar
15. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing
18. Mikel Landa (Esp) Team Sky
21. Hugh Carthy (GBr) Cannondale-Drapac, all same time
General classification after stage four
1. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at 6 secs
3. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 10 secs
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
5. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale
6. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar
7. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb
8. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
9. Mikel Landa (Esp) Team Sky
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, all same time