Skipping from one island to the next has left the centenary edition of the Giro d’Italia to play out the first exchanges between the general classification contenders upon the Sicilian slopes of Mount Etna. An extremely tough summit finish for the race’s fourth stage will come as a shock to the system for many, charging headlong into a 181km trip from Cefalú to Etna, built entirely around the ascent of Portella Femmina Morta and the volcanic finale itself. The peloton are afforded almost 60km to get their legs back into motion after the preceding rest day, and they shall need it once they ride onto the opening slopes of the Category 2 Portella Femmina Morta. Lasting a soul destroying 32.8 km would be enough for many to simply climb off their bike upon its average gradient of 4.5% (max. 8%), but combined with the subsequent rise to Etna, this is one of the worst stages for anyone to experience a bad day in the saddle. The Category 1 climb to Etna’s summit lasts 17.9km and averages 6.6%, but the constant fluctuation of gradients is what will make it so hard for the riders to find a rhythm more than anything else, while the steepest slopes max out around 12%. With the GC riders keeping close tabs on one another, it might be the chance for the breakaway to take the glory, but the prestige of winning this stage in the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia may prove an irresistible honour for some of the race’s biggest names.
Vincenzo Nibali has long been gifted the moniker of The Shark of Messina, his hometown being placed just over an hour away from today’s summit finish and a rare chance for Nibali to take the maglia rosa on his native island of Sicily. Though it may not prove a wise tactical move in regards to the entire three week contest, riders share a great love for winning races or stages close to home and it is that which marks Nibali out as a threat today. With weather forecasts predicting relatively strong winds once again, it could prove tough for the Italian rider to break free of his GC rivals, let alone the fact he has shown little to inspire beyond his Tour of Croatia win so far this year. Regardless, this is a huge opportunity for Nibali to take glory on his doorstep and a strong headwind compacting the peloton may just allow his prowess with decisive last gasp attacks to secure Stage 4.
Thibaut Pinot enjoyed a successful time at the recent Giro del Trentino and has convincing form when it comes to winning major climbing stages such as this. His greatest weapon on Stage 4, where the wind may negate attacks for the most part of the day, is his surprisingly strong sprinting ability compared to those expected to finish alongside him. Though he has improved a great deal in time trials, there is no doubt he shall be fearing the loss of time in the two mid to long distance TTs which feature in this year’s race, making the chance to gain an early advantage here clearly appealing if possible.
Ilnur Zakarin had to endure his dose of bad luck during the opening three days of the race and will now hope nothing but good fortune remains between himself and the last day in Milano. Having already conceded 20 seconds, the Russian rider will be allowed a greater degree of freedom than had been originally anticipated on Stage 4, offering him the chance to regain lost time and take the maglia rosa. His explosive approach to racing stages like this looks ideal, able to open up gaps rapidly with his strong acceleration and also one of the fastest sprinters likely to be present in a lead group on Etna.
Geraint Thomas is fully aware that he needs to capture time over his rival Nairo Quintana at every opportunity possible in order to head into the two crucial time trials able to put time into the Colombian, rather than having to recoup it himself. The Welshman’s showing at the Giro del Trentino looks to be a firm foundation to be entering this grand tour upon and he is not afraid of attacking late in a stage to secure crucial seconds if able to. He should not be dropped by his rivals on the day’s climbs, but whether he is able to distance them is much harder to forecast, especially given the complex team tactics within Sky’s incredibly strong rosta of climbers at the race.
Nairo Quintana seeks to tackle the Giro – Tour double in 2017, so will be wanting to keep his powder dry for as long as possible during these early stages of the race, hoping to deal his damage in the final week to Milano. The Colombian will be entering the contest with the intention of riding himself into his best condition, making attacks as early as Stage 4 seem unlikely, though it will certainly be a tough ask to dislodge him in order to gain time from the pre-race favourite.
Other riders who all show potential for taking the win from either the day’s breakaway or a late solo move are Adam Yates, Omar Fraile, Mikel Landa, Pierre Rolland, Hugh Carthy and Kenny Elissonde.
1st Ilnur Zakarin 2nd Geraint Thomas 3rd Thibaut Pinot
Outsider: Omar Fraile