13/05 - Stage 4 - Giovinazzo to Bari - 112 km

After three wet days abroad, the Giro d’Italia now continues on home soil in southern Italy. Tuesday’s stage is another chance for the fast guys to prove their worth. Anything but a bunch sprint would be a huge surprise.

The route
The day starts in Giovinazzo on the Adriatic coast, just about 20 km outside of Bari where the stage ends. However, the route doesn’t take place alongside the Adriatic Sea. Instead, the peloton heads towards Bitonto before going to Bari. Here, eight laps of 8.3 km await the riders. You can see a detailed map of the entire lap by holding your mouse over the finish area on the stage profile.

There are no climbs on the menu today. However, the riders will be challenged enough when they take on the laps in Bari. There are at least eight difficult turns to overcome. Especially the final part is tricky. With 1.5 km to go, the riders turn right off the big road. This 90° corner onto a small town road, will stretch out the peloton significantly. If you want a chance to win this stage, you have to be near the very front at this point. The roads are narrow and another 90° corner with 1.2 km to go will stretch out the peloton even more.  

After entering the last kilometer, there is yet another sharp right-hand corner coming up. This time, the road is a bit wider and if you still have a teammate left near the front, you may be able to gain a few positions. It won’t be easy though. The final corner comes with less than 400 meters to go. It’s a big left-hand turn. Unless you are Marcel Kittel, you have to be among the first four riders out of the corner if you want to win.

The final 350 meters are straight-out on a big road. It goes slightly uphill which will make for a hard finish. Furthermore, the riders seem to be in for another day in the rain. Despite leaving Ireland, the bad weather doesn’t seem to change. As of Monday, there is over a 50 % chance of rain for the entire day. If this forecast stands, the laps on narrow roads in Bari will be ridiculously dangerous. Let’s hope everybody stays upright.

The favorite
As long as Marcel Kittel still is in this bike race, I will take the “s” off favorites for the remaining sprint stages. Kittel is the best sprinter in the world and he has proven to be a couple of levels above his rivals in the Giro. So far, Giant-Shimano hasn’t been able to get their leadout train to work. Still, Marcel Kittel has won both stages despite starting his sprint from a very poor position. Imagine what it would look like, if Giant-Shimano actually got their leadout right this time. It’s a difficult finish in Bari, especially on wet roads, but as long as Kittel is near the front in the final corner, it’s hard to see who could beat him.

Update: Due to fever, Marcel Kittel didn't take the start today. This opens up the stage completely. Most likely, Cannondale will be the team to take control, which means many riders will be looking for Elia Viviani's wheel in the final. However, as mentioned the last couple of days, we have a lot of sprinters at the same level in this Giro. I'm sure it will be very close in Bari this afternoon.

The best of the rest
The tricky final part of the laps in Bari means it’s very important to be near the front when the peloton turns off the big road alongside the sea. The many sharp corners and narrow roads will stretch out the peloton and there are hardly any chances to gain positions. So far, Cannondale has been very good at keeping Elia Viviani up front. I can imagine they will try to do it again this time. However, Viviani doesn’t have a strong leadout rider at his side. This means, the fast Italian has to search for the wheels of the other sprinters. In Tour of Turkey, this strategy worked out perfectly for Viviani, but so far, he hasn’t been able to show the same kind of speed on the final meters in the Giro. It seems unlikely Elia Viviani can beat Marcel Kittel at the moment, but another podium place should be within his reach.

Team Sky did everything right in the final of stage 2. Edvald Boasson Hagen hit the front at the perfect time leading out Ben Swift. 9 times out of 10, Swifty would have won the stage. Marcel Kittel is simply too strong right now. Still, it proves that Ben Swift is in great shape. The slightly uphill finish suits him very well and if he can stay near the front in the difficult final, he will be fighting for another top place.

Giacomo Nizzolo was very disappointed after Sunday's stage. His team worked well for him but he still ended up in a poor position for the final sprint. I’m sure the Italian will be very eager to make up for this in Bari. Nizzolo is a good bike-handler and he should be able to get through the difficult corners a bit better than some of his rivals. Despite a far from ideal position in the final of stage 1, he still managed to finish 3rd on the stage thanks to a powerful finish. I wouldn’t be surprised if Giacomo Nizzolo made top3 again. The finish definitely suits him!

The outsiders
Despite wearing Maglia Rosa, Michael Matthews isn’t considered as one of the top favorites for the bunch sprints. However, in this field, there are many riders with a solid chance of making podium. The many twists and turns mean this won’t be a high-speed sprint, which is good news for riders like Matthews who can’t match the big power sprinters. Instead, the final 350 meters are slightly uphill and this suits the young Australian perfectly. Bling has his eyes on Wednesday’s stage 5 but I’m sure he will do whatever he can to make a top result today as well.

My super-joker this time is Tony Hurel. In Tirreno-Adriatico, the Frenchman made top10 on two occasions, showing he’s a serious outsider for the bunch sprints. In Criterium International he finished 4th in the opening stage behind Nacer Bouhanni. The tricky finish today suits Hurel well and I think we will see the Europcar rider near the front. In Tour de Romandie, he finished 2nd on stage 2 due to a very powerful finish. So far, in the Giro, Tony Hurel has finished 16th and 13th in the two bunch sprints. He won’t win this stage, but a top10 result should be within his reach.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.