The fourth and "queen" stage lived up to expectations and delighted fans with some moments of epic cycling on the way to the finish line at the summit of Monte Matajur (1,320 metres asl). The 155-kilometer stage getting underway at Pozzuolo del Friuli was won by Croatia's Hrvoje Miholjevic (BK Loborika), that also captured the overall leader's jersey.
The first, flat 90 kilometres saw a flurry of attacks go, but none of them enjoyed a significant advantage over the field. Marco Benfatto (Zalf) won both of today's intermediate sprints (at km. 17 and km. 80 respectively); in between there was a breakaway starring Miholjevic's Slovenian teammate Dean Podgornik (Bk Loborika) plus Italy's Marco Zanella (Mapooro Named), who made their move around km. 20, but all they could gain on the field was 70 seconds. A bit too little for them to stay clear for a long time. Reigning champion Alexander Filippov (Rus - Gruppo Lupi) tried to make his mak also on the 2008 edition at 50 km. from the finish, but the strong reaction from the bunch made his attempt vain. The following ascent (Stregna, Cat. 2) wasn't as crucial as expected, but the descent was: the peloton split and a front group of 26 riders formed, and GC leader Federico Vitali wasn't one of them.
The 26-strong bunch reached the base of the final climb, but the Matajur's steep slopes broke it into pieces, with four riders attacking with 8k to go: Miholjevic, Luca Gasparini (Ita - Pagnoncelli-NGC-Perrel), Robert Vrecer (Slo - Radenska) and Alessandro Bisolti (Ita - Palazzago). Bisolti couldn't follow the tempo set by the Croat for long; Gasparini could, and even dared to launch a late attack three kilometres from the finish. But Miholjevic proved up the challenge of covering such move, and even counter-attacked and put enough time into the two others. Gasparini and Vrecer had to be content with the remaining top three spots.
"I was the strongest today" the stage winner said without feigning modesty "I was aiming for the white jersey, and I knew that this was a tough ascent. My teammates got everything under control today, but they've been doing a great job since the first stage. I want to dedicate this victory to my elder brother (Vladimir Miholjevic), who starts the Giro d'Italia today. I'll be working hard in order to hold onto the jersey tomorrow".
Luca Gasparini was runner-up in the stage and sits in spot number three overall, with Vrecer in between the Italian and the maglia bianca owner: "I tried a late attack but I think I paid the consequences dearly. Miholjevic was definitely better than me today. I'll try and keep my third place tomorrow. The overall victory? I still hope I can get it, but I think it's a hard task. I hope I can recover from today's efforts".
The parcours of tomorrow's final leg, from Trasaghis town to Pontebba over 148.9 kilometres, with two ascents coming halfway through the stage, favours the current GC leader and perhaps also the fastest wheels around, but in a hectic race like this, you never know ...
Pictures from the race HERE
Stage 4: (Pozzuolo to Monte Matajur, 155.1 km): Top 10 Results
1. MIHOLJEVIC Hrvoje (Cro - Loborika) - 03h09'25" (38.869 kph)
2. GASPARINI Luca (Ita - Pagnoncelli) - at 21"
3. VRECER Robert (Slo - Radenska) - at 38"
4. REZMAN Bostjan (Slo - Radenska) - at 01'22"
5. FRITSCH Nicolas (Fra - AVC Aix) - at 01'25"
6. COLOMBO Cristiano (Ita - Palazzago) - at 01'34"
7. IANNIELLO Vincenzo (Ita - Caneva) - at 01'52"
8. DENIFL Stefan (Aut - Austrian NT) - at 02'06"
9. SANTORO Antonio (Ita - Marchiol) - at 02'20"
10. ANDRENACCI Danilo (Ita - Hadimec) - at 02'21"
Complete stage resultsHERE (pdf file)
52nd Giro del Friuli: GC after Stage 4: Top 10 Spots
1. MIHOLJEVIC Hrvoje (Cro - Loborika) - 14h02'16"
2. VRECER Robert (Slo - Radenska) - at 38"
3. GASPARINI Luca (Ita - Pagnoncelli) - at 48"
4. COLO' Alessandro (Ita - Promociclo) - at 01'40"
5. DENIFL Stefan (Aut - Austrian NT) - at 01'46"
6. REZMAN Bostjan (Slo - Radenska) - at 01'49"
7. IANNIELLO Vincenzo (Ita - Caneva) - at 01'52"
8. FRITSCH Nicolas (Fra - AVC Aix) - at 01'52"
9. COLOMBO Cristiano (Ita - Palazzago) - at 02'01"
10 SANTORO Antonio (Ita - Marchiol) - at 02'20"
Full GC after Stage 4 HERE (pdf file)
Points: Standings after Stage 4
1. PIECHELE Andrea (Ita - UC Trevigiani) - 39 p.
2. MIHOLJEVIC Hrvoje (Cro - Loborika) - 25 p.
3. SILAR Uros (Slo - Sava Kranj) - 25 p.
Hot Spot Sprints: Standings after Stage 4
1. BENFATTO Marco (Ita - Zalf) - 15 p.
2. CANZIANI Daniele (Ita - Pagnoncelli) - 11 p.
3. NEGRI Fabio (Ita - Team Aurora) - 8 p.
Mountains: Standings after Stage 4
1. MIHOLJEVIC Hrvoje (Cro - Loborika) - 8 p.
2. GASPARINI Luca (Ita - Pagnoncelli) - 6 p.
3. TRATNIK David (Slo - Radenska) - 5 p.
Young Riders: Standings after Stage 4
1. COLO' Alessandro (Ita - Promociclo)
2. DENIFL Stefan (Aut - Austrian NT) - at 6"
3. IANNIELLO Vincenzo (Ita - Caneva) - at 12"
News courtesy Giro del Friuli.
* 46th Giro Ciclistico del Friuli-Venezia Giulia - Stage One
* 46th Giro Ciclistico del Friuli-Venezia Giulia - Stage Two
* 46th Giro Ciclistico del Friuli-Venezia Giulia - Stage Three