Tuesday 16 January 2018

Giro D'Italia Diary: 'I'm ninth overall but it's too early to get excited'

Tuesday May 10, Stage 4: Catanzaro to Praia a Mare (200km)

Diego Ulissi celebrates his stage win. LUK BENIES/AFP/Getty Images
Diego Ulissi celebrates his stage win. LUK BENIES/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Having left our hotel early this morning for the short drive to today's start in Catanzaro, we drove onto an old viaduct two kilometres from the town with an hour and a half to spare.

For the next 45 minutes or so a traffic jam on the bridge left us peering out the windows of the team bus into the 300m chasm below and hoping the structure would hold until we got off it.

At the Giro, after the initial big team presentation the day before the race, the organisers introduce one team to the crowd every day before the start.

Today was our turn, so that also ate into our time before the stage start and, in the end, we just about had enough time to fit in the team briefing while we got changed before heading to the line.

With a very lumpy end to today's stage, we knew there was a possibility a late attack could succeed today and that some of our rivals could slip away on the final climb 10km from the finish.

The day's goal was to keep team leader Mikel Landa near the front on the climb and try to follow any moves that went there.

After a long neutralised section this morning, there was a huge battle for the opening 15km or so, before four riders eventually went clear and began to open a gap.

For some reason there had been a spate of punctures in the peloton by then, with my German team-mate Christian Knees among the victims and there were a lot of riders out the back so most of the teams seemed content to give the lead quartet a bit of rope and a lot of the bunch took the opportunity to stop for a quick pee.

Like they say in the Tayto ad though, there's always one, and today that one was the Nippo-Vini Fantini team.

Having failed to get a man into the early move, the Italian team went to the front and put the hammer down, causing a mild panic among those peeing at the back.

Even after we scrambled to regain contact with the peloton, the Vini Fantini guys spent the next hour on the front, in the hope that they could bring the gap down enough for one of their riders to jump across to the break.

We covered over 50km in the first hour today and about 20km later the gap came down to about 10 seconds.

But none of them could bridge across so they gave up the ghost and the four escapees ploughed on, opening a maximum lead of around four minutes.

After the Etixx-Quickstep team of race leader Marcel Kittel set a steady tempo over the first climb of the day after 120km, a series of badly lit tunnels led us to the bottom of the next ascent.

Lit by old style lanterns, the flames of which would have been better served on a table in a romantic restaurant, I could barely see my front wheel in any of them and I was glad to come out the other side in one piece.

In an effort to get rid of sprinter Kittel, the Giant-Alpecin team of second overall Tom Dumoulin led us over the next climb after 150km, but even though they managed to drop the big German, he regained contact when things eased up again after the descent.

It was here though that the race sparked into life. We had Sebastian Henao and David Lopez in a chase group of about 15 for a while before we hit the short but very steep final climb with 10km to go.

With the front group disintegrating on the slopes ahead of us, the Astana and Movistar squads hit the front and began to split the peloton, with about 20 guys going clear near the top.

Just 400m later, the rider in front of me let the wheel go but I managed to get around him and myself and Mikel just made it into the lead group.

With Diego Ulissi soloing to victory five seconds ahead of us, I was hoping to give it a better shot in the sprint for second place but ended up 10th on the stage.

I'm up to ninth overall now, 37 seconds behind new leader Dumoulin but today's final climb was only a kilometre and a half long, so I'm not going to get overexcited about my form just yet.

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