CALTAGIRONE, Italy (Reuters) - Belgian Tim Wellens lived up to expectations on Tuesday when he won the Giro d’Italia fourth stage, a treacherous 202km ride from Catania with a steep finish, as Chris Froome struggled.
After three opening days in Israel and a rest day, the Giro finally reached Italian soil, with Wellens tipped as a favourite to claim the day’s stage.
The Lotto-Soudal rider was on the right end of a late split and he sustained his effort on an 800-metre climb up an average gradient of almost 10 percent to the finish line.
He beat Canada’s Michael Woods, who was seconds ahead of Italian Enrico Battaglin.
“Our plan today was that everyone would ride for me,” said Wellens. “We saw many comments on the internet saying that I was the favourite. The outcome couldn’t be better.
“Everyone in the team was helping me. The last pull by Adam Hansen was very strong. Tosh Van der Sande put me in a perfect position 500 metres before the end.
“I passed Enrico Battaglin with 200 metres to go but only after the line did I know I had won the stage.”
Britain’s four-time Tour de France champion Froome, who is under investigation by the sport’s governing UCI for a failed dope test at last year’s Vuelta, struggled in the finale and lost some 21 seconds.
“It was a very hard day, very nervous all day, on bad and a bit dangerous roads,” said Team Sky leader Froome.
“I am happy that there were no incidents and now I’m waiting for tomorrow and Thursday’s stage to the Etna.”
Australian Rohan Dennis retained the overall leader’s pink jersey with a one-second advantage over defending champion Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands.
Portugal’s Jose Goncalves, one of the overall contenders, suffered a couple of mechanical problems in the finale and dropped out of the top 10.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ken Ferris