Welcome to today's bulletin - the action has ramped up and we all probably need a lie down, so without further ado I'll jump straight in. Here are your hyperlinks if there's anything in particular you're looking for, otherwise feel free to browse through the lot. Happy reading!
Today in review
After a long weekend of family commitments and general busy-ness today was the first stage I was able to sit down and fully absorb. I revelled in the idea of a day sat writing other things while the stage quietly unfolded in the background, ready to tune in whenever things got interesting. Here I sit, hours later, wondering when I’ll be able to eat, drink, or even tear my eyes away from the screen.
It was always going to be an interesting day: the weather had turned, with moody skies and intermittent rain, and so had the mood, tension as the unknowns outweighed the knowns: would the breakaway manage to get a gap? Would Remco try and surrender the maglia rosa? And if so, to whom? Who would step up and provide the comedy content we are all craving? Either way, a change was gonna come, as the race shifted up a gear.
The early stages were as suspected: all out chaos. A determined Ben Healy was one of a number of riders to put in early attacks, before a big group got away including Stefan Kung who looked up for a day in the break. Already riders struggled on the unclassified climb, David Dekker’s pain face on display after just 20km or so, the ciclamino jersey Jonathan Milan dangling out the back. Over and over Soudal-QuickStep decided they were not happy with the composition of the front group and chased it down, the promising group brought back as QuickStep fought to reel themback in along with Intermarche who had missed out while Jayco Alula tried to disrupt the chase. Many competing goals made for a dynamic and ever-changing race which refused to settle.
With the chase disorganised and the front group fracturing, yet another climb beckoned. Quickstep had been on the back foot – a mechanical for Pieter Serry, Davide Ballerini and Josef Cerny dropped. It seemed as though they were undecided over whether Remco actually did want to let the jersey go or not.
A reprieve. 25km down and everyone came all back together. A long descent followed and a split in the bunch, with a big front group containing Roglič. Remco’s group came back to them and it was UAE Team Emirates’ turn to be distanced, with Almeida finding himself caught out and chasing back on with three team mates. 40km had elapsed now, with no sign of a breakaway.
50km. Utter carnage as the attacks began coming once more. Ben Healy was still a key aggressor, surely the rider of the day up to that point. Kung was still interested, as was Bauke Mollema, appearing for the first time, capable of completing the GT trilogy this Giro.
Soudal-QuickStep appeared to be tiring as they approached the first category 2 climb, in increasingly wet conditions. We came tantatlisingly close to a 4-man break creating a gap but it was not to be. 60kms down, riders took on some fuel and then the climb. The rain drenched the road and fog descended, the tarmac slick and treacherous.
The first King of the Mountains, AG2R’s Paul Lapeira, became the first rider to abandon the Giro. 176 became 175.
As the summit of the first climb grew closer we caught sight of maglia azzura Thibaut Pinot for the first time. He popped up, poached the KOM points, and drifted into the mist once more. From there followed a long, scary descent, the riders taking it tentatively for the most part, all stretched out along the road. We had no idea where anyone was. It was a job trying to remember to eat and drink (for me, not the riders). It's early in the stage AND early in the race and already I’m tired. I consider a nap. we’re all going deep and it’s only stage 4.
Just when we’d given up hope of it ever happening, a breakaway finally formed, almost halfway into the stage, with 90km to go – 85km to form a break. Utter madness.
What the cycling gods give with one hand they take with the other; the blessed occurrence was quickly followed by a crash – Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech) looking to be the worst affected, a huge shame given how good he looked earlier in the stage.
Yet blessed relief still washed over us, and the riders, quite literally, as the peloton collectively relieved itself on the roadsides of Italy. The breakaway was composed of the following riders, helpfully summarised by Bence Czigelmajer:
Oh, and Nicola Conci.
Team Jumbo-Visma must have done something bad in a past life as yet more ill luck befell them, Michel Hessman sliding out on a wet corner - he seemed to be OK. This after yesterday's Kuss death-wish DIY mechanical, in which he tried to take himself out – almost successfully, as apparently he hurt his hand AND crashed on his subsequent fight to return to the bunch. Wrap them in cotton wool, someone - please?
The gap varied from around 4.30 to 3.30 as the group worked well together, with Soudal regrouped at the front of the bunch and controlling the pace for Remco who was STILL wearing his leg warmers.
He eventually stripped down (with incredible levels of skills and poise, naturally) just as his team seemed to make the final decision that he would give away the maglia rosa, allowing the gap to stretch out to almost 6 minutes. The winner would almost certainly now come from the seven riders in the breakaway group.
They fell away one by one on the final climb – first Barguil, then Conci and Skujins in pursuit but falling away. Back in the bunch, INEOS amassed at the front, pushing the pace, apparently in a last minute bid to possibly try to pressure Evenepoel into retaining the maglia rosa. At the front it was down to two, after Amanuel Gebreigzabhier lost the wheels of Andreas Leknessund, who was riding himself into pink, and Aurélien Paret-Peintre, who was busy remonstrating with the Norwegian, trying to encourage him to put in his fair share of work.
Paret-Peintre was able to hold his nerve in the two-up sprint for the line, taking a fantastic win for his AG2R team who had sustained the first loss of the race, and by far the biggest win of his career so far - just his third pro win and his first Grand Tour stage.
The GC group rolled in two minutes later. Mission accomplished as far as QuickStep were concerned, despite a difficult start to the day, as Remco is relieved of the jersey and to a rival who shouldn’t pose too much of a problem in the long run. A result which, perhaps on paper, matched expectations. But what a way to get there.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 5 – Wednesday 10th May – Atripalda – Salerno – 171km (Flat)
Calling this one a flat stage seems more in keeping with the profiles of La Vuelta, as the riders head south from Altripalda to Salerno on the Amalfi coast, via a great many ups and downs, the first one a cat 3 test arriving after just 5km or so, which could see the bunch split as the breakaway fights to establish itself. From there, there’s heaps of uncategorised climbing to contend with – almost 2000m across the day – meaning that the sprinters’ teams will have to work hard if they hope to contain the breakaway and force a bunch sprint. A second cat 3 climb will lead the peloton into the final 50km of the race which is downhill all the way to the coast.
WHAT TO EXPECT: a close-fought battle between breakaway and bunch as the sprint teams fight to bring them back.
HOT TIP: It's Mads time. After coming close twice, I can't see Pedersen missing out again.
Lena's Giro Antipasti
Tomorrow’s stage will see us enter the Campania region with its stunning coastline. I’ll have to admit here that I didn’t exactly know the origin of the 'Tirreno' part in the name of the famous Italian one-week spring race, Tirreno-Adriatico (if you haven’t seen it, give it a try next year. It’s usually very exciting and has the coolest trophy I’ve ever seen).
The Adriatico part was quite clear. The Adriatic sea shares its name in Italian, English and German. However it’s a different game with its western counterpart which is the Tyrrhenian Sea in English.
Tyrrhenian and Tirreno are very close and maybe I was just a bit slow but it took me ages to connect the dots.
The Tyrrhenian sea has been contested through history. With it bordering what are today Italian, French and Tunisian territories it’s no surprise that different territorial powers tried to exert their influence. However, between the fall of the western Roman Empire and the founding of the modern Italian state no one managed to control it wholly.
Century-long territorial struggles are no real suprise with the Tyrrhenian Sea including not only the Strait of Messina which connects the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian Sea but also the Strait of Bonifacio and the Strait of Sicily. The geography alone made it the ideal birthplace of kingdoms and empires.
And the Tyrrhenian Sea saw many with its mild but rain-filled winters and hot summers: Etruscans, Greek colonies, the Carthagenians, the Romans and even Byzantine trade outposts, several Italian Sea republics, the Kingdom of Naples and many more.
And the name? The ancient Greeks called the Etruscans Tyrrhenoi. And since the Romans' language of choice for politics, nobility, cultures and education was Greek so the sea, too, was named in Latin: Mare Tyrrhenicum. Which gifted the words to its various daughters and they to their cousin languages. Modern Italian just customised it a bit to fit their flow and pronunciation and Mar Tirreno was born.
Canzone dell'Amore Infinito
9: Stage 4: Alex Blum and the Roadside Quartet - Flowers and a Brand New Shirt
‘A black cloud risin’ out on the horizon, I want to feel you erupt’ a sultry voice croons over the dusty groove. And boy, did it erupt against the looming rainclouds!
The first two hours of today almost deserves an entire jukebox by themselves, but I’ll stick with throwing in this vintage-vibing bit of 2023-Americana that captures what the entire breakaway battle was about today.
Flowers for the stage win (congrats to APP & AG2R) and a potential brand new (pink) shirt for a lucky (Norwegian) rider. It looked to be touch-and-go for a while, but it happened, and the lyrics feel fitting too…
10: Stage 4: The Donnas - Take it off
Yeah yeah, we talked a lot about Remco wanting to get rid of the jersey, but let’s face it; we talked FAR more about us wanting to get him out of his full-on wintery attire…
In the end he managed both, but seemingly got rid of all his teammates as well. Guess you can’t win ‘em all, always, even if you’re Remco. Unless you’re the DJ finding an excuse to add one of your all-time favourite tracks on a wardrobe-related whim.
The Watch Zone
Keeping an eye on a few riders in particular...
Young rider watch: imagine my delight when, despite not hogging the limelight as he wasn't in the breakaway, our Giro baby, Matthew Riccitello came in 12th position! Stretching his climbing legs and proving that he's here to mix things up, Riccitello jumps up to 7th in the young rider classification. Get in!
EF watch: Oh, what a day it almost was for the writebikerepeat sponsored team of the Giro. Such a promising early start with Healy and Cepeda in the first move, Healy belligerent on the attack and then Stefan De Bod trying his luck a bit later. Sadly though, when the break finally went none of them were there, and De Bod was caught up in a crash. What a rollercoaster.
Carthy and Uran finished with the main peloton while the rest of our wily bunch of warriors lost shedloads of time and will likely try their luck in future breaks.
Oh, and if Ben Healy doesn't win most combative rider, we riot.
With so much breathless action to follow, there was barely any time to gather our thoughts, so just a couple of things for you today.
First a big happy birthday - or more accurately buon compleanno to EOLO-Kometa's Lorenzo Fortunato, who turned 27 today.
Loved this post comparing the two likely protagonists of this year's race:
And the new maglia rosa Andreas Leknessund is all of us in this lovely video from the jersey presentation.