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91st Giro d'Italia - Stage 4 Live Coverage
By Fabio
Date: 5/13/2008
91st Giro d'Italia - Stage 4 Live Coverage

91st Giro d'Italia - Stage Four Live Coverage
By Fabio
Arrivederci, Sicilia. The Corsa Rosa is back onto continental Italy with a stage that suits the sprinters, but a late, small uphill portion could have some impact. Follow all the action here.

graphics courtesy -Gazzetta della Sport

Stage 4 Pizzo Calabro - Catanzaro-Lungomare 183 km
Hi everyone, and welcome to our live coverage of stage four in the 91st Giro d'Italia, a "two seas stage" going from the Tyrrhenian Sea port Pizzo Calabro to Catanzaro Lido, the seaside part of Catanzaro town on the Mare Ionio shores, over 183 kilometres.

With the "Sicilian Trilogy" and it "victims" (Brad McGee, David Zabriskie, and somehow also Riccardo Riccò and Mauricio Soler) over, the peloton makes it to the Calabria region and regains continental Italy in what is meant to be a sprinter's stage (despite the Passo di Pietra Spada climb, a difficulty that comes too early to have a significant impact) with Daniele Bennati hoping to get his second straight victory - appetite comes with eating, you know... -, and other fastmen like Erik Zabel and Robbie McEwen hoping to take their revenge on the Tuscan fastman.

But the last kilometres are undulating enough, and the small ascent leading into downtown Catanzaro could shake things up a little bit and make it harder for those sprinters who just can't climb. That would be Paolo Bettini's ideal scenario at least: the Cricket said that yesterday's sprint was a bit too hard-fought, with a bit too many riders eager too do well. After a couple shoulder contacts he resolved to stay out of the mess, but this morning he talked like he will give it a go at the sprint on the Catanzaro lido seafront.

The peloton climbs from the Tyrrhenian coast on its way to Catanzaro Lido.
Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Catanzaro hosted a Giro d'Italia stage finish as early as in the year 1930 (Luigi Marchisio, the future overall winner, took line honours there). The race got back in town in 1954 - with Nino Defilippis as winner - and 1965, when victory went to the Belgian Franz Brands. Seven years later, on May 27th 1972, another rider from Belgium, a certain Eddy M., started the fireworks by going on the attack as the stage kicked off at Cosenza, but Sweden's Gösta Pettersson stopped him from making his masterpiece complete, and crossed the line first at Catanzaro, with the Cannibal having to be content with second place (for once). Last, and maybe also least, Pascal Hervé was the last guy able to raise his arms in triumph at Catanzaro, a dozen years ago. Three years ago, Catanzaro was start town of the fast leg into Santa Maria del Cedro won by Robbie McEwen in a bunch sprint.

1320 CEST - The stage kicked off about half an hour past midday local time, with Liquigas' Venetian rider Franco Pellizotti still in the leader's jersey, "stage one winner" Christian Vandevelde of USA and Slipstream only a mere second back, and Team LPR's-Ballan Danilo Di Luca sitting in third place overall at 07". Pellizotti's Tuscan teammate Daniele Bennati wears the cyclamen jersey and Team High Road's strong bergamasco Morris Possoni tops the Best Young Rider classification. Stuart O'Grady did not take to the startline today.

Rik Verbrugghe stole the show first: the Belgian veteran racing with the Cofidis outfit attacked in the first kilometres and quickly opened a solid gap over the field. His advantage at the latest check (Maierato, km. 19) was an impressive 05'10".

1330 CEST -  The newest gap update saw the Belgian rouluer and ITT sensation, basically on the move since the flag was dropped, taking his advantage to new heights: Rik Verbrugghe leads the gruppo by 06 minutes, 30 seconds.

Doubts about Riccardo Riccó's and Juan Mauricio Soler's participation in today's stage were cleared as both injured riders showed up at the startline this morning. Riccò, one of the last guys to make it to the sign-on area, reportedly didn't sustain any fracture as he fell yesterday, but "only" a finger dislocation, and is currently racing with a bandaged finger. Still, uncertainty reigns about his future in the race that a few days ago had him as one of the main overall contenders: "let's wait and see how things pan out today. I hope the road and the weather give us a little break. Today's is like a "transfer stage" to me anyway" he said minutes prior to the stage kickoff.

RAI's heroic woman at the start line Alessandra de Stefano, was literally running from one rider to another this morning, didn't miss "Juanma" Soler either: besides saying "good morning everyone", the "climber gentleman" admitted that he had a very bad day in the saddle yesterday and made it to the finish only thanks to the help and support he got from his team mates. He hopes that things may take a turn for the better today, and he can stay in the race, because he came to the Giro in order to make something good, perhaps a show similar to those he staged at Le Tour the past year, and it would be a true pity if he had to go back home before the last week, which will give him plenty of chances to show his skills. The 2007 polka-dot jersey winner is definitely determined to continue his Giro adventure.

1400 CEST - Belgium's Tom Stubbe did not share their same fate instead: the FDJ rider has pulled out of the race after less than 35 kilometres. At the same point of the stage, his compatriot Rik Verburgghe had further stretched out his own advantage to 08'30" (!). An injured shinbone had previously taken yet another Belgian, Dominique Cornu (Silence-Lotto), out of contention after just three kilometres.

1420 CEST - The peloton has not started the chase for real yet. Still, at least the gap stopped growing outrageously like that: it was only 08'41" as the Belgian frontrunner won the traguardo volante at Serra San Bruno (km. 49).

1430 CEST - The race hit the road leading up to Passo di Pietra Spada. Verbrugghe's advantage on the pack went further up to 09 minutes, 15 seconds.

Rik Verbrugghe over the Pietra Spada. Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

1445 CEST - Solo leader Rik Verbrugghe made it to the summit of the Pietra Spada Pass. A couple kilometres earlier the Cofidis-man's advantage had slightly gone down to a little under nine minutes.

1455 CEST - The peloton has crested too, with Italians Daniele Pietropolli (LPR Brakes-Ballan) and Emanuele Sella (CSF Group-Navigare) claiming the other top three spots at the KOM sprint.

1505 CEST - Nothing worthy of mention happened in the last few kilometres, Verbrugghe's new accomplishment aside: the solo escapee took the advantage up to 09 minutes 39 seconds. Less than 100K to go as brave Rik, not new to making the news in this race (he has won 2 stages so far, the 2001 prologue included) winds through the streets of a small town named Stilo.

1515 CEST - Rik Verburgghe continues in his solo adventure, with the pack trailing by some nine minutes. The Belgian made it to the end of the long descent westward to the Ionian Sea coastline.

As if all the fuss concerning the dangerous parcours that came after the "pile-up festival" in the past two days wasn't enough, new polemics were raised this morning, this time about the length of the transfer from Sicily into mainland Italy. Straight after the stage finish and ceremony yesterday, riders had to rush to the ferry that took them onto Calabrian soil. What many thought was going to be a one-hour journey or something like that became a small ordeal of close to three hours; with much of the peloton making it to their respective hotels around 10PM , or even 1030 PM, or even later, thus giving riders the chance to have their dinner and basically nothing else, in most cases not even their usual massage sessions.

Contador climbs near the front of affairs. Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Alberto Contador even joked about it: "yesterday we had a first, long, tough stage, and had to be careful especially in the last 50 kilometres, in the afternoon ... and had a second stage on the ferry later ... for almost three hours. We didn't have the time to recover, and unfortunately some riders could pay a price for that. If today's was a quiet stage, that would be very fine to me".

Quick Step's Andrea Tonti was equally critical, even if a bit less sarcastic: "The transfer was exhausting, we had to do everything in a hurry, to get into the ferry, embark on a trip of two and half hours, then rush to the hotel, then have our dinner, got our massages etc ... and now we're back to the start line.

Strangely enough, the one that replied to such criticisms was Tonti's teammate and capitano Paolo Bettini: "Well, we are here at least. Sure it would be a pleasure to everyone if the hotel was just 200 meters from the finish line, but riders are used to complaining, you know. The transfer was long and exhausting, but the route has been known since early December. There was all the time to take a look at everything, and not just at where the KOM sprints are. Everything was fine yesterday morning, then everything turned bad in the evening ... hmm ... I think there are better reasons for us to be on strike than these. This is not cycling's biggest problem.

Caisse d'Epargne bring their captain back after a flat on the climb.
Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

If the legendary veteran Andrea Noè is nicknamed "Brontolo" (which basically translates into "the complainer" ) it must be for a reason. So how could the 39-year-old from the Milano area waste the chance to grumble about something? "Bettini? Well, different riders may well have different opinions. I've raced 15 Giros, and usually we had a rest day after such transfers. We were told the trip was going to take one hour and a half. In fact it took three hours. But that's okay, we go ahead. We are here to honour the race".

Gilberto Simoni is well-known as a rider accustomed to speak out and always say what he thinks. But this time his statements were (unusually) prudent: "Yes, it was exhausting. But we were all in the same boat. If anyone had made it to the hotel much earlier than the others, I would be upset, but it didn't happen. All of us basically got there at the same time".

1528 CEST -  Rik Verbrugghe is passing through the town of Monasterace (from the Greek Monasteraki, "little Monastery"), whilst the peloton just left Stilo town behind. The gap keeps hovering around nine minutes. The average speed after three hours was 34.3 kph.

1537 CEST - The TV cameras are busy showing Riccardò Ricco and his "finger bondage". The Saunier Duval overall-man is riding comfortably inside the field. Apparently no major problems for him in this ... er ... transfer stage.

1541 CEST - The group have reached the feeding zone. Verbrugghe stays over nine and a half minutes ahead of them.

1547 CEST - Rik Verbrugghe, now crossing the small town (about 2,250 people) of Santa Caterina dello Ionio, has been away all by himself for over 110 kilometres. Still, he has legs good enough for him to ride at 46.75 kph. The bunch are currently keeping themselves busy eating and drinking what they picked up at the feed zone, and keep a much lower speed (31.79 km/h). All of the above resulting in a distance-gap of 7,753 metres.

1555 CEST - The distance gap rose to 8412 metres, but Liquigas finally picked up the pace back in the field. The peloton are racing at close to 49 kph on wet roads (it looks like it stopped raining just a while ago). But Verbugghe's speed is well over 50 kph, and the time gap is up to 10'50", so they're not getting anything closer if things continue like that.

1602 CEST - Rik Verbrugghe might even start taking into account the possibility of accomplishing a masterpiece. But certainly not that of taking the Maglia Rosa: the Belgian was about 18 minutes down to Pellizotti on GC at the startline. The bad news for him is that Zabel's Milram and Danilo Hondo's Serramenti Diquigiovanni-Androni have just joined the chase machine at the front of the pack.

1607 CEST - The chase has apparently started for real now, and the "distance-gap" fell under 8,000 metres. Rik Verbrugghe winds through Badolato Marina, the finishing line is still 55 kilometres away.

1618 CEST - As the going got rainy at Soverato town, Rik Verbrugghe can still count on a nine-minute advantage with about 45 kilometres to go.

Danilo Di Luca was amongst those interviewed before the stage got underway: "Unfortunately transfers have always been part of the game, especially in the first week, and we should get on with that. The Maglia Rosa? I will think about that in the Pescostanzo stage. I know that other guys like Riccò have eyed that stage too, but he has gotten one victory already, so it's my turn now" the reigning champion said with a smile. In the meantime he kept himself trained by beating Davide Rebellin in a close tennis table match. "He's good even at playing table tennis" said Rebelin in "awe". :).

1627 CEST - The distance-gap has been cut down to about five kilometres: Rik Verbrugghe just went under the 45k-to-go banner. The bunch did the same, but with 45 kikometres left for them. And that is no small gap. If it wasn't for the Catanzaro ascent, the Belgian would have many more chances to make it.

Our live coverage continues in Part Two.

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