Nicolas Roche: 'It was like trying to ride on a wet sheet of glass'
Tuesday April 13, Stage 4: Giovinazzo to Bari (121km)
As today's stage was the shortest of the race, at just 121km, I decided to go for a little spin on my own after breakfast this morning. I rode for 25 minutes one way on a quiet flat road before turning around and riding back to the hotel for my pre-stage meal.
There was no real scientific reason for my early morning ride apart from the fact that I was up early and as we had a rest day yesterday, I thought it would be nice to get out and spin the legs for a while.
I took it pretty easy though and, to be honest, I enjoyed it.
After three days of racing in the rain in Ireland, we were all looking forward to some sunshine when we arrived in Italy yesterday.
Unfortunately though, the rain seems to have followed us here to Bari and started spitting at us just a few minutes into the stage, when, combined with the road surface, it made things really dangerous.
Unlike Ireland, the tarmac here has very little grip and is very shiny once it gets wet. In the rain, it's like trying to ride on a wet sheet of glass.
Following a few crashes at the back of the peloton just after the start, the Australian Orica GreenEDGE squad went to the front and, setting a sensible tempo, spread themselves across the road, signalling their intent to get their race leader Michael Matthews at least as far as the finishing circuit in one piece.
After riding into Bari, we were due to complete eight laps of an 8.3km circuit, which had five corners in the last kilometre, but with the roads so dodgy, there was a lot of confusion in the peloton.
We all knew that if we rode full pelt on each lap of the finishing circuit, with all the corners involved, there would be a huge likelihood of crashes and nobody wanted to come down in the last shower.
Some of the older Italian riders like Paolo Tiralongo of Astana, Luca Paolini of Katusha and Omega Pharma Quickstep's veteran sprinter Alessandro Petacchi had words with the motorbike commissaire (referee) as we negotiated the first couple of laps and there was talk of cutting the race short or neutralising the stage.
With five laps to go, Luke Durbridge of Orica GreenEDGE rode ahead of the peloton and went into one of the corners fast to see what the grip was like. Seconds later he was back in the bunch, sitting upright and making a 'time out' sign with his hands to signal that he still didn't think it was safe enough to ride full gas.
After more rolling discussions we were told on our earpieces that we had to finish the stage, but that our time towards the General Classification would be taken as we crossed the finish line going out on the penultimate lap.
Although this meant that those hoping to be in contention for the overall classification in three weeks' time could ease up on the last lap and ride safely to the end of the stage, it also meant that you had to stay alert and not lose any time before then.
I had team-mates Ivan Rovny, Evgeni Petrov and Chris Anker Sorensen beside me and although we tried to keep near the front and give ourselves a bit of room to keep out of danger on the corners, it wasn't easy.
With the roads drying out a bit, the tempo upped considerably in the last few laps and with the peloton in one long line, there was still a bit of confusion among us non-sprinters as to what to do as we went through for the bell lap.
There was a bit of hesitation as guys looked around to see who was easing up and who wasn't and for a few seconds I had that niggling doubt that I'd heard wrong and was worried that if I sat up and lost time it would count against me in the overall standings.
Soon though more and more of the GC contenders, including overall leader Matthews, began to look over their shoulders and slow down, opting to ride safely to the finish as the sprinters contested the stage win.
By now, Orica GreenEDGE had been replaced by the Italian Cannondale team, who ramped up the pace again in an effort to get their sprinter and Olympic track champion Elia Viviani into position for the stage win. But the heavens opened again in the last 5km, causing the whole Cannondale lead-out train to wipe themselves out at the front of the bunch on a right hand bend with 2km to go.
Four more guys fell, separately, a few bike lengths behind the Italian quintet when their wheels simply slid from under them, and with 1200m remaining, Belkin rider Jetse Bol slammed himself into a roadside barrier on another wet left hander.
The three crashes in the final 2km saw just six riders contest the sprint, with Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ taking his first Grand Tour stage win into Bari.
Although it was a short stage, today would have been a really tough day if the roads had stayed dry.
The few laps that we did do flat out were really fast and, if it had been dry, it would have been even quicker and there could have been big splits in the peloton at the end of the stage.
I think a lot of the climbers were happy that it rained today as they could have lost more time on such a fast, tight circuit than they will tomorrow on the uphill finish.
We have three climbs along the way tomorrow, including a 7.5km uphill finish, so I'm expecting it to be the first little test for the overall contenders and I think we could see a new pink jersey by the end of the stage.
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