Time loss means Froome is now nearly a minute off the pink jersey
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Fix All) took victory on the uphill finish at the end of stage four of the Giro d’Italia, holding off Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) on the testing finish into Caltagirone.
Wellens was one of a handful of riders to find themselves with a little daylight heading onto the final climb to the line in the last kilometre, but bided his time well and played it cool as the peloton got back on terms with 400m remaining.
Enrico Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo) put in a huge effort to hit the front with 300m to go, but quickly faded as Wellens was able to accelerate through the final 200m and hold off Woods to the line.
Despite the testing finale and a couple of crashes in the final 10km, there was no change at the top of the general classification with Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) holding on to the pink jersey.
However there was more lost time for Chris Froome (Team Sky), who lost 21 seconds to Wellens on the line and now finds himself nearly a minute off the top of the GC.
How it happened
Stage four of the Giro d’Italia saw the race return to Italian soil after three days in Israel, and the opening kilometres saw three Italian riders get into the day’s early breakaway.
The three Italian representatives were Marco Frapporti (Androni-Sidermec), Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF), and Jacopo Mosca (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia), who were joined by Maxim Belkov (Katusha-Alpecin) and Quentin Jaurégui (Ag2r La Mondiale) to form a five-man break who steadily built their lead over a BMC Racing-led peloton to a maximum of slightly under four minutes.
However, that gap never looked like it was going to threaten the peloton, and came under further pressure as UAE Team Emirates raised the pace with slightly over 100km to go to drop towards one minute.
The team of Fabio Aru came off the gas just as quickly as they’d stamped on it, and the break’s lead then went back out towards three minutes where it stayed for the next 50km as as Frapporti and then Mosca took the two intermediate sprints, while Barbin took maximum points at the top of each of the day’s fourth-category climbs to extend his lead at the top of the mountains classification.
With 40km to go Mitchelton-Scott began to take an interest in the chase as they sent Svein Tuft to the head of the peloton to assist BMC Racing, before the breakaway started to fracture at the front as Barbin and Jaurégui were dropped.
That split did the break little good as the chase hotted up behind, with Bora-Hansgrohe lending a hand to bring the gap down below 30 seconds with 16km remaining, and making the catch just three kilometres later.
With 11km to go an attack by Eduardo Zardini (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia) was followed by Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) – who made full use of the assistance offered up by a race motorbike – before Conti pushed on alone to open a lead of nearly half a minute on the steady uphill run towards Caltagirone.
Behind the peloton was led by Lotto-Fix All and Bahrain-Merida before a crash on a narrow section of road saw Andrey Zeits (Astana) crash into the barriers to split the peloton in two, but with no major contenders appearing to be caught on the wrong side of the crash.
Meanwhile the work of Bahrain-Merida had eaten away at Conti’s lead and the diminutive Italian found himself being caught with three kilometres to the finish.
With Conti caught, Mitchelton-Scott hit the front hard on the final climb to the line, forcing a split in the bunch that looked decisive before Enrico Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo) put in a big effort to pull the peloton back on terms.
Battaglin then surged right to the front but had gone too early as Tim Wellens (Lotto-Fix All) came around the right-hand side and held off Michael Woods (EF Education-First Drapac) for the victory.
Giro d’Italia stage four, Catania to Caltagirone, 202km
1. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Fix All, in 5-17-34
2. Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First-Drapac
3. Enrico Battaglin (Ita) LottoNL-Jumbo
4. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott
5. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, all at same time
6. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott, at 4 secs
7. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
8. Luis León Sanchez (Esp) Astana
9. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
10. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing, in 14-23-08
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 1 secs
3. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 17 secs
4. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Fix All, at 19 secs
5. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana, at 25 secs
6. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors, at 28 secs
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at same time
8. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 34 secs
9. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 35 secs
10. Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar, at same time