Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ.fr this afternoon won the sprint in Bari to win Stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia to win his first Grand Tour stage on a day that will be best remembered for a rider’s strike that neutralised the race as a result of the danger posed by slick roads on a technical closing circuit in the capital of Puglia.
Trek Factory Racing’s Giancomo Nizzolo finished second, wih Giant-Shimano’s Tom Veelers, overhauled by Bouhanni inside the closing metres as he faded fast, came third.
With no time bonuses awarded either at the intermediate sprint or the finish line and the time for the stage taken as the riders headed through the bell to commence the final lap, Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Mathews remains in the overall lead.
The Australian’s team had kept him near the front of the peloton and out of trouble throughout the short 121 kilometre stage from Giovinazzo, which concluded with eight laps of an 8.3km circuit in Bari.
Once he was safely onto the final lap and assured of retaining the race lead, Matthews, with an eye on tomorrow’s stage to Viggiano which he has said he is targeting, dropped back.
On a day when there had been no attacks by common agreement among the peloton, as the speed was ratcheted up during the closing kilometres it became evident why the riders had been so reluctant to race today as a series of crashes brought a number of men down.
As a result it was a small group that contested the finish, among them Bouhanni who had been paced back to the peloton by his FDJ.fr colleagues following a bike change with less than 15 kilometres remaining.
Missing from the stage start this morning was points classification leader Marcel Kittel, whose Giant-Shimano team said he had a fever.
After wins in Belfast on Saturday and Dublin on Sunday, had the German sprinter won today, he would have achieved the notable distinction of taking three consecutive stages in a Grand Tour in three different countries.
After the stage, Bouhanni said: “13 km from the finish line, I suffered a puncture and a broken rear wheel, I had to stand at the side of the road waiting for help, and then change bikes.
"My team-mate Laurent Pichon waited for me, but it still took us took an entire circuit to catch up, and we rejoined the group only on the last circuit. As a team it took everything we had.
“In the closing kilometres, there was a crash on a right-hand bend. I managed to avoid it by swerving left, and luckily I had my team-mate [Sebastien] Chavanel ahead of me, and with his help I managed to regain the leaders. Coming out of the final curve, I had maybe 20 metres to make up on the rider ahead of me, and I just gave it everything.
Bouhanni takes over the maglia rossa, and said: “I have the points jersey now, and I think to win the points competition in a Grand Tour is a great thing. I’ll defend it to the best of my abilities, and try to win more sprints.”
Matthews, who remains race leader, said: “I had the pink jersey, so everyone was coming to ask my opinion about how to proceed in order the keep the race safe.
"The best idea was definitely to neutralise it until we reached the circuit, which we did. Then, on the final circuit, the conditions were bad, really icy, so the best decision was to neutralise the race and let the sprinters sprint if they wanted to, but without time bonuses, and that is what the commissaires decided. Instead of 5 or 6 on the ground, it could have been 100, so the decision of the commissaires was the safest option.”
Speaking of tomorrow's stage, he added: “Coming into this race, the coming two stages were my main goals. I’ll be going 100% to win tomorrow’s stage and keep the jersey for the team.
"We’ve worked so hard over the past couple of stages days to keep the jersey and, in any case, the stage really suits me in my current form. I’m not in great sprinting form, but I’m in my best climbing form, so I think it’s more suited to me that to other riders, so it’s my main goal.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.