Stage winner Poland (UAD) and second-place finisher Zakarin (KAT) only able to anticipate Quintana's group in Giro's first mountain-top finish; Movistar Team -with strong Amador- takes care of Colombian, now 6th overall
The vigilance between the main contenders, together with strong headwinds, overshadowed any change of big attacks in the 100th Giro d'Italia's first mountain-top finish in the Monte Etna, end to a 181km stage four starting at Cefalù in north Sicily.
A twenty-rider GC group -including the Movistar Team's Nairo Quintana and Andrey Amador- reached the finish line together, with only two men able to distance the field: Jan Polanc (UAD), stage winner via the early break, and Ilnur Zakarin (KAT), who jumped away with two kilometers from the finish.
An acceleration by Vincenzo Nibali (TBM) under the 3km banner was quickly neutralized by Amador, who led the Blues' great teamwork after coverage from Bennati, Rojas and Sutherland in the flat plus climbing duties from Izagirre, Herrada, De la Parte or a fine Winner Anacona, who followed the moves in the early part of the Etna ascent
Quintana now ranks 6th overall, with Amador in 12th -both 10" behind new pink jersey holder Bob Jungels (QST)- after a good performance from the Arrieta / Chente-led group. Sprinters should be back in the spotlight in Messina on Wednesday (159km, a rolling start to the stage) before the Giro finally reaches the Italian Peninsula on Thursday.
Nairo Quintana: "We got safely through those opening three days, full of stress, and today was a completely different story. Our goal in this first mountain-top finish was remaining close to the main contenders, not to lose any time. The lack of racing days really has an effect on me at this point of the race – I'm yet to reach the fitness level of my main rivals. It was the first serious contact with big mountains since I got back from Colombia, and also a day to see where I stood in the Giro fight. These opening stages and what's left before the Blockhaus on Sunday will surely be good for my good to continue to improve; I think I should be better at the next mountain stage.
"Our controlling work during the final climb was good, especially when Andrey went after Nibali. The climb was tough, evne more so with the strong headwinds, which were the main reason why we didn't see a big selection into the GC group. When Nibali attack, the group was already at a high pace, and we profited from Andrey still riding near the front to keep the move at reach, so I could just follow the wheels calmly. It hasn't been just today, though, but the whole race up to this point: my team-mates have been excellent, and I can't thank them enough for taking care of me.
"Everyone is saying I'm the biggest favourite, but you must never rule the rest out; everyone seems to have really put on big work to reach the Giro in perfect condition, and all guys up there in the main group are talented people. Everyone looked pretty much equal on strength today. Nibali's attack was a good move and showed how much he wants to set the tone; then there's Sky, with Thomas and Landa doing really well and looking like men to beat. Zakarin is also one who showed his legs today; it wasn't easy to make any moves, even more so at the point he did. And Jungels: he really rode strong today and we must keep an eye on him."
Picture (c): BettiniPhoto.net