The "Ina Teutenberg Show" was over, but another world-class rider took center stage as the going got hilly Wednesday in the 106.4-kilometre journey from Calcinaia town to the summit of Monte Serra in Tuscany. That's no "average" ascent, but the first true "training field"
of a certain Fabiana Luperini, that's where the tiny climber from the Pisa area first learned how to tackle those steepy things. There could be no better place for the past winners of Giros and Tours to find back her ancient form and got back to victory in her nation's bike tour after ten years. The white, red and green jersey wearer made the most out of the same excellent condition that helped her claim the national road race title two weeks earlier, and provided in a(nother) superb performance to get a comfortable victory in the first battle against Edita Pucinskaite, Nicole Braendli and all other top GC contenders. As much as she got herself into a good position to win the war too...
The gruppo stayed together all over the first, easier 40 kilometres, until Denmark's reigning national champion Linda Villumsen Serup earned Team Columbia some more exposure (as if they needed it, after dominating affairs over the past three days...). The peloton let her gain 21 seconds and stay clear for some 17 kilometres, just to swallow her at the foot of the first real difficulty of the day, the Cat.1 Prato a Ceragiola. The bunch broke up on the steep slopes, with Edita Pucinskaite (Lit - Nurnberger Versicherung), Claudia Hausler (Ger - Nurnberger Versicherung), Nicole Brandli (Swi - Bigla Cycling Team), Noemi Cantele (Ita - Bigla Cycling Team), Mirjam Melchers Van Poppel (Hol - Flexpoint), Amber Neben (USA - Flexpoint), Maribel Moreno Allue (Spanish NT), Fabiana Luperini (Ita - Menikini-Selle Italia-Master Colors), Marta Bastianelli (Ita - Team CMax-Dilà), Tatiana Guderzo (Ita - GS Gauss-RDZ Ormu), Monia Baccaille (Ita - Fenixs) and a couple more girls remaining out in front. Maribel Moreno, unlikely to repeat last year's top three result, fell off the pace soon, but it didn't take long for Luperini to make her first move.
Fabiana aimed at testing both her legs and those of the other top players, and she got a positive response: the Italian was first over the top, with Hausler, Braendli, Guderzo and Pucinskaite coming in 22 seconds back. Luperini stayed alone in the lead all through the following descent, but smartly sat up in the flat section leading to Monte Serra and let her pursuers catch her, with the front group later going up to 21 members. That was no bad news for Fabiana though, as it helped her save her legs for the final climb to the line, that allowed her yet another display of climbing skills and and outstanding condition by going on the move again as the race hit the first steeps of Monte Serra. Pucinskaite, Hausler, Brändli, Guderzo and Bastianelli (the rainbow jersey holder hang on as much as she could today) stepped up the chase, with such group down to four when the World Champion was unable to follow the tempo any longer. But Luperini further increased her advantage to 20 seconds about 4 km. from the finish.
Nicole Braendli smiling as she wins the Giro 2005.
A kind of image we're likely not going to see this year.
The time deficit started yo-yoing between 10" and 20" for a while, thus bolstering Pucinskaite's morale. With a good help from excellent teammate Claudia Hausler, the legendary Lithuanian rode away from Guderzo and Brändli (today's performance proved that the three-time overall winner from Switzerland was telling the truth when she said her current form is not nearly as good as it used to be in past editions...) and started her solo chase of the leader. But Edita's hopes vanished soon: the gap moved back to its growing ways, and Luperini was leading by 36 seconds with two miles left. Nothing could stop it from going up to the 54 seconds eventually separating the "star of the day" from her nearest "challenger". The time bonus awarded to the winner extended Luperini's overall vantaggio to a good 57 seconds.
Guderzo rode to a solid third place finish, 01'21" behind her compatriot, while Hausler - caught and dumped by the Italian in the last mile - managed to keep Brandli at bay and snatch fourth. Ina Teutenberg yielded the maglia rosa to Luperini (needless to say, Fabiana is also "Queen of the Mountains") but firmly retained the Cyclamen jersey of the points leader. Claudia Hausler will be wearing white (as the best young rider) in tomorrow's 9.3-km. ITT running over a urban circuit inside Novara city.
"Everything went fine today. I built up a solid advantage over Pucinskaite and the others. I know that Edita is a great rider against the clock, and so are other girls, but tomorrow's stage is quite short, so I hope I can limit my time losses. Two demanding stages (that suit my skills) are coming Friday and Saturday, and I'm okay, with a good team around to help" smiling Luperini commented after the stage.
Stage 4 (Calcinaia to Monte Serra, 106.4 km): Top 10 Places
1. LUPERINI, Fabiana (Ita - MENIKINI-SELLE ITALIA) - 02h54'06"
2. PUCINSKAITE, Edita (Lit - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 02h55'00"
3. GUDERZO, Tatiana (Ita - GS GAUSS RDZ ORMU) - 02h55'27"
4. HAUSLER, Claudia (Ger - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 02h55'46"
5. BRANDLI, Nicole (Swi - BIGLA CYCLING TEAM) - 02h55'50"
6. MORENO ALLUE, Maribel (Spa - SPANISH NT) - 02h56'26"
7. KIRCH, Rosane (Bra - MICHELA FANINI-RECORD) - 02h57'21"
8. SANCHIS CHAFER, Ana (Spa - SPANISH NT) - 02h57'27"
9. POLIKEVICIUTE, Jolanta (Lit - CHIRIO-FORNO D'ASOLO) - 02h57'33"
10. NEBEN, Amber (USA - TEAM FLEXPOINT) - 02h57'39"
19th Women's Tour of Italy - GC after Stage 4: Top 10 Places
1. LUPERINI, Fabiana (Ita - MENIKINI--SELLE ITALIA) - 12h46'12"
2. PUCINSKAITE, Edita (Lit - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 12h47'09"
3. GUDERZO, Tatiana (Ita - GS GAUSS RDZ ORMU) - 12h47'38"
4. HAUSLER, Claudia (Ger - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 12h48'01"
5. BRAENDLI, Nicole (Swi - BIGLA CYCLING TEAM) - 12h48'02"
6. MORENO ALLUE, Maribel (Spa - SPANISH NT) - 12h48'53"
7. KIRCH, Rosane (Bra - MICHELA FANINI-RECORD) - 12h49'43"
8. POLIKEVICIUTE, Jolanta (Lit - CHIRIO-FORNO D'ASOLO) - 12h49'53"
9. SANCHIS CHAFER, Ana (Spa - SPANISH NT) - 12h49'55"
10. NEBEN, Amber (USA - TEAM FLEXPOINT) - 12h49'56"
Points - Standings after Stage 3
1. TEUTENBERG Ina Yoko (Ger - COLUMBIA WOMEN)) - 45 p.
2. WILD Kirsten (Hol - AA-DRINK CYCLING TEAM) - 30 p.
3. BRONZINI Giorgia (Ita - TITANEDI-FREZZA-ACCA DUE O) - 26 p.
4. GILMORE Rochelle (Aus - MENIKINI-SELLE ITALIA) - 22 p.
5. LUPERINI, Fabiana - MENIKINI-SELLE ITALIA)- 15 p.
Mountains - Standings after Stage 3
1. LUPERINI, Fabiana (Ita - MENIKINI-SELLE ITALIA) - 21 p.
2. HAUSLER, Claudia (Ger - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 13 p.
3. GUDERZO, Tatiana (Ita - GS GAUSS RDZ-ORMU) - 11 p.
4. PUCINSKAITE, Edita (Lit - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 11 p.
5. BRANDLI, Nicole (Swi - BIGLA CYCLING TEAM) - 9 p.
Young Riders - Standings after Stage 3
1. HAUSLER, Claudia (Ger - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 12h48'01"
2. SANCHIS, CHAFER Ana (Spa - SPANISH NT) - 12h49'55"
3. BASTIANELLI, Marta (Ita - TEAM CMAX DILA) - 12h51'07"
* 19th Women's Giro d'Italia: Prologue, Stage 1 & 2
* 19th Women's Giro d'Italia: Stage 3