The Giro d'Italia is known for its high mountain passes like the Gavia and Stelvio in the third week, but followers forget about its early traps. On a sticky, hot day in Calabria, when the race resumed in Italy after its Dutch start, the favourites rode to their limits and some lost time, including 2012 champion Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo).
Italian Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) escaped over the final small climbs to win the fourth stage in Praia a Mare along the Tyrrhenian coast and its large sea caves.
Behind, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) dropped the other favourites by one second. Dumoulin gained enough to re-take the pink jersey from Marcel Kittel (Etixx–QuickStep).
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Sky's Mikel Landa and others finished with faces you would see during those famous high-mountain stages. Hesjedal looked worse, and for good reason. He lost 37 seconds.
"Definitely, it was harder than I imagined," Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale) told Cycling Weekly while catching his breath riding on the turbo trainer.
"We had an idea more or less how it was going to be, we had looked over all the details beforehand. But it was hard from the start because the group made a hard pace even after the escape went. It was fast all day. Team Giant made a hard pace. The race started to explode, and the last 50 kilometres were just painful."
The coastal climbs only reached a maximum of 409 metres, but the frequency of them along with the 28°C heat and pace drove cyclists to their limits.
Sprinter Kittel suffered as expected. The TV also showed the stars grimacing, especially when they attacked the final uncategorised climb above Praia a Mare. The road kicked up to 18 per cent in two spots, but Colombian favourite Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) said that he felt that the grades were higher
"Looking at all the faces, we were all suffering in the heat,” Landa told Cycling Weekly. “My face looked pained? I was suffering like always!”
The 26-year-old Spaniard was gapped at the start of the climb, but Nicolas Roche hauled him back to his rivals soon after. "I didn't have the best feelings today, but I saved the day, that's the best thing. We are looking ahead."
Hesjedal warmed down on his turbo trainer about 200 metres from Landa’s Sky bus. He spoke little, and the words he said indicated that it was best to approach him another day.
"He wasn't one of the favourites, but he's always there in the first 10," added Landa. "He's dangerous, so it's better that he lost time."
Hesjedal slipped to 28th overall at 1-17 minutes. Dutchman Dumoulin gained the most today. Finishing second, he earned a six-second bonus to add to his one-second gain and moved up by seven seconds.
Dumoulin leads the overall by 24 seconds on Kruijswijk in fourth, 26 seconds on Vincenzo Nibali in sixth, 31 on Alejandro Valverde in seventh, 37 on Chaves in 10th, 40 on Urán in 12th and 47 on Landa in 16th.
Urán, who fought through snowy passes to second overall behind Nairo Quintana in 2013, added: "There's still much to cover in this Giro".
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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