Team Sky's Chris Froome has won the queen stage of the 2013 Tirreno Adriatico at Prati di Tivo and move second on GC with a decisive late attack, having earlier refused to panic after Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff went on the offensive. He now lies second on GC, four seconds behind Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Michal Kwiatowski, who finished fourth today to take over the race lead.
Approaching the flamme rouge, it appeared that Froome, still supported at that point by Team Sky colleague Rigoberto Uran, had a big task ahead of him if he was to catch the three men ahead of him on the road. Contador had attacked ahead of an intermediate sprint with a little under half of the 14.6 kilometre climb still to go, but the group swiftly reformed.
The Spaniard went again with two and a half kilometres left, and this time Astana's Vincenzo Nibali and Mauro Santambrogio of Vini Fantin-Selle Italia responded. Froome, however, kept his cool, riding his own tempo behind Uran before putting in a lightning-quick burst of speed with a little under a kilometre to go to surge past his rivals and cross the line ahead of Santambrogio, with Nibali third.
Kwiatowski finished fourth and swaps the best young rider's white jersey for the maglia azzurra of race leader, replacing his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team mate Mark Cavendish.
“I’m really happy with that victory it was a really good day for us," reflected Froome afterwards. “I only ended up doing a kilometre in the wind myself. It really was an armchair ride. To have the guys there who were with me on the climb – Rigo [Uran], Sergio [Henao] and Dario [Cataldo] – to have them pulling for me when guys like Nibali and Contador are attacking is a really good feeling.
“I think everyone was hurting up at the top there," he went on. "I had a little bit left to go in that last k and that was down to the work that was done by the rest of the guys during the day.
“It’s going to be a tough fight. Kwiatkowski is maybe a surprise leader but he’s definitely shown that he’s got the form to be up there in that leadership position. It’s going to be hard to prise that off him but we’ll take it one day at a time and do everything that we can.
“There is some great momentum behind the team at the moment with the guys doing so well at Paris-Nice," added Froome.
"There’s a great buzz around the team and we want to try and carry that along. There’s a really great feeling over here and morale is high. Watching the guys do the business in Paris-Nice yesterday [when Richie Porte won the stage and took the leadership of the GC] just motivated us all the more to do what we did today.”
With that big ascent looming at the end of the 173 kilometre stage from Narni - 14.6 kilometres at an average gradient of 7.1 per cent, hitting 12.1 per cent in places and with 22 hairpin bends to be negotiated - expectations that battle would be joined between the big name GC riders in a star-studded field were fulfilled.
Ahead of that long final climb, BMC Racing, the team of 2011 winner Cadel Evans, had led the peloton down the preceding descent. Immediately the road headed uphill, however, Team Sky deployed their by now familiar tactic of moving to the front to set a high tempo that sought to discourage attacks from Froome's rivals.
The four men who had made up the day's breakaway started the climb with an advantage of a little over a minute and a half's advantage over the main group, and one by one they were picked off, Tomasz Marczynski of Vacansoleil-DCM the last man swept up after Astana's Fredrik Kessiakoff, Francesco Failli of Vini Fantini-Selle Italia and Anthony Roux of FDJ had all been caught.
Even on the early part of the ascent to Prati di Tivo, Andy Schleck's miserable start to the 2013 season continued as he lost contact with the GC group, the RadioShack-Nissan rider dropped even before the likes of team mate Fabian Cancellara and Cannondale's Peter Sagan.
By the time the front riders were halfway up that final ascent, the group had been whittled down to nine riders, three from Team Sky, with the Colombian pairing of Uran and Sergio Henao still riding in support of Froome. Contador and Nibali were also there, but Evans and Rodriguez had been dropped.
The latter managed to get back across with the help of Katusha team mate Daniel Moreno, but would not figure in the finale, and instead it was Froome who underlined, as he had done in the Tour of Oman last month, just why he is said to be the rider Contador most fears.
Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 4 result 1. Chris Froome Sky 2. Mauro Santambrogio Vini Fantini-Selle Italia at 6" 3. Vincenzo Nibali Astana at 11" 4. Michal Kwiatkowski Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 13" 5. Chris Horner RadioShack-Leopard at 15" 6. Alberto Contador Saxo-Tinkoff at 15" 7. Rigoberto Urán Sky at 20" 8. Wouter Poels Vacansoleil-DCM at 43" 9. Joaquim Rodríguez Katusha at 43" 10. Roman Kreuziger Saxo-Tinkoff at 58" Overall standings after Stage 4 1. Michal Kwiatkowski Omega Pharma-Quick Step 2. Chris Froome Sky at 4" 3. Vincenzo Nibali Astana at 16" 4. Alberto Contador Saxo-Tinkoff at 30" 5. Rigoberto Urán Sky at 33" 6. Chris Horner RadioShack-Leopard at 40" 7. Mauro Santambrogio Vini Fantini-Selle Italia 8. Jonathan Castroviejo Movistar at 1:04 9. Roman Kreuziger Saxo-Tinkoff at 1:16 10. Joaquim Rodríguez Katusha at 1:16
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.