After spending an unforgettable day in pink, Marcel Kittel keeps the red jersey.
A very relaxed Marcel Kittel came this morning to line up for stage 4, his first on Italian soil in two Giro d'Italia starts. Already winner in Nijmegen and Arnhem, general classification leader and holder of the red jersey, with more than 100 points into his pocket, the 27-year-old German went at the signature point joined by his teammates who were instrumental in the victories he scored last week-end, and received a warm welcome from the thousands of fans gathered in Catanzaro, the start city of Tuesday's 200-km long stage.
At noon, the riders rolled off on the packed roads of the town, with Marcel at the front, enjoying his special day in the maglia rosa, to which he matched the helmet, the shades and even the tape on his handlebars. The opening kilometers of the neutral zone were calm, but things changed as soon as the flag dropped, with several riders trying to go into the breakaway. This meant the peloton rode very fast in the first hour, recording a crazy average speed of 50 kilometers, which made attacks almost impossible.
Eventually, four men – Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF), Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling), Matej Mohoric (Lampre-Merida) and Joey Rosskopf (BMC) – got a substantial margin and as soon as their advantage hit four minutes, Etixx – Quick-Step took the charge in the peloton. The escapees' gap began to drop, but it once again went up on the first categorized climb of the day. There, Astana and Movistar pushed a really hard pace, which led to Marcel Kittel being dropped and losing 1:40. Despite the gap being a considerable one, the maglia rosa holder managed to come back to the bunch thanks to the help of Fabio Sabatini and Matteo Trentin, as well as an impressive set of skills on the fast descent from Bonifati.
On the second climb of the day, a strong group of ten riders, which included Pieter Serry, got clear and put 30 seconds between them and the chasers. Serry was among the most active, taking some long pulls and even winning the last intermediate sprint, at Scalea. Then, before the tough Via del Fortino (1700 meters at an average of 7.7%), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) broke clear and opened a 20-second margin, which proved to be enough for the final eight kilometers, as he cruised in Praia a Mare and nabbed the win, a couple of seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), who took back the pink jersey, and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo).
After attacking on both the last climb and on the descent, 28-year-old Gianluca Brambilla came home fifth – one of his best results of the season in a World Tour race – while Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels, who concluded the stage in the same time as his teammate, jumped to second in the overall classification and climbed on the podium in front of the fans at the end of the day to get rewarded with the white jersey for the best young rider of the race.
Even though he lost the maglia rosa, Marcel Kittel was all smiles in Praia a Mare, as he is still leading the red jersey rankings thanks to the points he scored on Saturday and Sunday, when he took back-to-back victories: "It was a memorable day. The people who came to watch the race were unbelievable, cheering for us and shouting our name from start to finish. This shows just how much they love cycling and seeing them today made me even prouder to be here and have the jersey on my shoulders."
The first German rider in 10 years to lead the Giro, Marcel Kittel admitted that he hadn't the easiest of days on the lumpy roads of southern Italy, but despite suffering and losing the maglia rosa, he still remained upbeat: "We honoured the pink jersey, but the final was very hard and so it turned out to be really difficult for me, also because we experienced high temperatures. I am a little bit sad, but losing the jersey wasn't a surprise, because the whole day was an up-and-down affair on a difficult parcours, totally different than the one in the Netherlands."
Now I will continue to give my best in the following stages and ride with big confidence in myself and the team
Italy seems to smile to Bob Jungels this season in the same way the ancient gods smiled to the heroes who set off from home to conquer the world and carve their name in the history books. After completing Tirreno-Adriatico on the podium and winning the best young rider classification, the 23-year-old found himself again in the white jersey and on the podium of one of the most prestigious races in the world: "It's my first Grand Tour with Etixx – Quick-Step and I can already call it a success. It was a special day, but also a difficult one, made even harder by the other teams on the last climb, which was a nasty one. I am happy not only for taking the jersey and seeing that I have a good shape, but also for doing such a good job on a very difficult stage. It's great to be on the podium of the Giro d'Italia."
Also Gianluca Brambilla, who is riding his home race for the fifth time, took a lot of confidence out of Tuesday's result: "I tried on the downhill because I wanted to see if someone will join me in order to go after Ulissi. I did my best and could also count on the help of Bob, who worked hard and stretched the peloton in the final, but Diego was really strong and deserves our congratulations. As for me, I'm happy with my performance and the feeling I had on the climb. Let's see now what the future will bring."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele