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89th Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 6-28, 2006

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Stage 4 - Tuesday, May 9: Wanze - Hotton, 193 km

Live Commentary by Jeff Jones with additional reporting from Anthony Tan and Les Clarke

Live report

Live coverage starts: 14:30 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:30 CEST

07:30 CEST   
Preview: A hilly stage south of Liege with two climbs from the Ardennes classics, Cote de Wanne and Stavelot-La Haute Levee in the first half, but things could come back together in the rolling last half for the sprinters.

14:33 CEST   
Welcome back to sunny Belgium for the final Wallonian stage of this year's Giro d'Italia, a 193 km journey between Wanze and Hotton. Both towns are not too far from Seraing, where the race started on Saturday, but we won't be visiting it again. There are two climbs (GPMs) today, the Cote de Wanne (km 83) and Haute Levee (km 94), and the 110 Gazzetta sprint is after 98.2 km in Francorchamps. There are normally some other cash primes as well.

The sad news this morning was that Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and Christophe Brandt (Davitamon) will not start in today's stage. Petacchi broke his kneecap in a crash yesterday, while Brandt broke his elbow. Petacchi's absence deprives the Giro of one of its two star sprinters, while Brandt will be missed among Robbie McEwen's Davitamon-Lotto train, as well as by his local fans.

The stage started at 12:02 and it took until 10 km before a breakaway was established: Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), Patrick Calcagni (Liquigas), Jurgen Van De Walle (Quick Step-Innergetic), Grischa Niermann (Rabobank), and Alessandro Bertolini (Selle Italia) attacked and got a gap. After riding 42.9 km in the first hour and averaging 40.8 km/h after two hours, they have 6'11 on the peloton. They haven't managed much more than that today.

14:47 CEST   
At the Haute Levée climb, the lead group is 6'20 ahead of the peloton.

14:51 CEST   
I wasn't actually lying when I said it was sunny in Belgium today. The weather is quite reasonable, with a south easterly wind blowing and temperatures of about 17 degrees. Most importantly, it's not raining.

14:55 CEST    100km/93km to go
The lead group reaches the "110 Gazzetta" sprint point in Francorchamps, with Casar taking the points ahead of Calcagni and Van de Walle. This competition is not simple, as points are awarded for not only the 110 Gazzetta classification, but also the points classification.

The "110 Gazzetta" honours the organising newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, which was founded 110 years ago. In the past this was called the InterGiro.

15:00 CEST    110km/83km to go
The leaders increase their gap to 6'45 over the bunch, where maglia rosa Stefan Schumacher's Gerolsteiner team has been doing the job, along with Davitamon-Lotto, which will fancy a win for McEwen today.

Graeme Brown (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

15:04 CEST   
We spoke to Rabobank sprinter Graeme Brown today, who must fancy himself a chance in the likely bunch sprint finish.

"Obviously today Robbie's the man, so if I can be on Robbie's wheel then that's definitely the key," he told us. "That's half the battle - getting on his wheel. If I can get on a good wheel then I'll have a good result; my finish line is getting on the wheel first, then going from there. It looks like a tough day - the first 110 kilometres looks pretty hard."

What about you Giro aspirations? Preparation for later in the season, or a big target?

"I wouldn't say it's a big target; if I can win something then it's awesome, but it's a lot of good experience and if I can get through the entire Giro it'd be great. A bit unrealistic, but I'm going to try my best because it's really for the future - if I can get through the Giro it's really good for my legs next year. Basically I'm going to try and race it like a ten-day tour and then hold on from there."

In the stage 2 finish, what happened there? "It was a perfect finish for Robbie, really - and he made it look like a perfect finish for Robbie. I just had a bad position and tried to move up and nearly crashed myself and the bunch, but hopefully I can have a better position today."

15:06 CEST    115km/78km to go
The Gerolsteiner train is working pretty well, with Matthias Russ on the front driving it through the countryside that is familiar from Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Russ pulls off and slots back into the train, and another blue-clad rider comes through. Preben Van Hecke is up there for Davitamon-Lotto.

15:11 CEST   
Hiekmann does a short turn, then Van Hecke comes through on a short climb.

The results of the two climbs today: The Cote de Wanne was won by Casar, from Van de Walle and Bertolini. The Haute Levée saw Casar lead Bertolini and Niermann over the top. That should give Casar the mountains jersey at the end of the day.

15:14 CEST    123km/70km to go
Grischa Niermann (Rabobank) is the best placed rider in the break, sitting in 47th place at 1'11. He is thus the virtual maglia rosa for now. The gap has come down from a maximum of 6'55 to 5'57, thanks to the work of Gerolsteiner and Davitamon.

Music was afoot
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

15:16 CEST   
The third hour has seen the average drop to 39.7 km/h, as the climbs slow things down a bit.

The marching band is back at the finish...

15:22 CEST    128km/65km to go
The gap has shrunk to 5'20, with the light blue Gerolsteiner train being assisted by two Davitamon riders now.

Saunier Duval moseys on up to the front of the peloton, presumably with Simoni in tow. Yes, he's there. There are a couple of Milram riders up near the front, but they are leaderless today, alas.

15:23 CEST   
In the breakaway, Niermann does a strong turn, trying to keep the group's chances alive.

15:28 CEST    135km/58km to go
The sunshine will be welcomed by the riders after a couple of wet days in the saddle. Nearly all are in short sleeves. Yesterday's stage was incredible near the finish, with the bunch racing along in the wet at 60-70 km/h towards the final climb.

Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis) has abandoned.

15:32 CEST   
Casar now rolls through for his turn, with Calcagni on his wheel. The group's lead is just 4'30 now.

Gianni Savio in the Selle Italia team car is having another good day. This is the third out of three stages that he's had a rider in the break. Missaglia, Illiano
and today, Bertolini.

15:38 CEST    141km/52km to go
There are now three Davitamons interspersed among the Gerolsteiner blue. Schumacher sits in about 10th wheel, clad in his maglia rosa. Simoni is right up there next to him - he lost 29 seconds to Schumacher yesterday after being caught behind a crash near the finish.

15:39 CEST   
Paolo Savoldelli, the first maglia rosa of this year's Giro, is sporting a pink back number too.

The difference between the front five and the bunch is now 3'45. It's pretty relaxed in the middle of the peloton.

15:42 CEST    143km/50km to go
Jose Rujano is also near the front of the bunch. He lost 55 seconds yesterday in that chaotic finish. Cobbled climbs in the wet aren't really his thing. But a dirt road on a ski slope might suit him better...

The lead rider in the peloton nearly hits a race moto as he takes a corner somewhat faster than the moto. They do ride close to the riders in Italian races.

15:43 CEST   
The breakaways pass some cows, while big bad Bert Roesems leads the bunch 3'30 behind.

15:44 CEST    145km/48km to go
The leaders again: Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), Patrick Calcagni (Liquigas), Jurgen Van De Walle (Quick Step-Innergetic), Grischa Niermann (Rabobank), Alessandro Bertolini (Selle Italia). Best placed is Niermann, who was 1'11 down on GC at the start of the stage.

15:45 CEST   
Matthias Russ rides up to the front of the bunch with bidons for his teammates. The peloton scares the cows as it races by.

15:47 CEST    148km/45km to go
Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step) moves up to the front, clad in the purple points jersey. He was a favourite to win yesterday, but could only manage fourth. It's harder than it looks to sprint uphill on wet cobbles, snaking around corners. Actually it looks pretty hard.

Henk Vogels is up the front for Davitamon, who are gradually marshalling all its men in front. Another win for McEwen would be good going into the team time trial.

15:48 CEST   
Cyclingnews spoke with CSC's Jens Voigt before today's fourth stage to Hotton, and the German was in a relaxed mood, enjoying a quick short black coffee. "It's more or less hiding and saving energy for the day, he said. "It's probably going to be a bunch kick today - Petacchi's out, so McEwen's the only real super sprinter here - there are a few other fast guys, but no one that can really match McEwen, I'd say," he added.

"He's got a really good chance to win - he's in Belgium and from a Belgian team, so they're going to take charge of things," explained the experienced CSC rider, before adding that, "Gerolsteiner wants to keep hold of the jersey, and the other sprinters' teams are going to join in, so it wouldn't really make a lot of sense to go [out alone]."

15:50 CEST    153km/40km to go
The leaders have just gone under the 40 km to go banner, but their advantage is continuously shrinking. Bert Roesems is on the front of the bunch again, and has it pegged to 2'45.

15:54 CEST    157km/36km to go
The leaders aren't going to last long at this rate. The chasing tempo is quite hard, thanks to Gerolsteiner and Davitamon. Sven Krauss does a turn then drops back, hurting a bit.

The breakaways ride past another bunch of cows. There is a big bovine presence in today's stage.

15:57 CEST    159km/34km to go
Through Malmedy now, and it's a beautiful afternoon in Wallonia. The countryside is very green in this part of the world, and there are many cows. They probably outnumber the spectators today.

15:59 CEST   
The bunch descends, paced as always by Davitamon and Gerolsteiner. Schumacher looks good in his pink helmet and jersey, but has opted for the team issue light blue shorts today. It wouldn't surprise us to see him in an all pink skinsuit in Thursday's team time trial.

16:02 CEST    160km/33km to go
It's down to 1'40 as the bunch flies past 35 km to go. This break will be lucky to last until 20 km left.

Roesems, Van Hecke and Kuyckx the riders for Davitamon in front of the bunch, while Moletta leads the Gerolsteiner train.

16:02 CEST    161km/32km to go
In the front group, Niermann does another turn, then Casar and Van de Walle roll through, not lasting long on the front. Bertolini is hurting, sitting in fifth wheel and not rolling through much.

16:05 CEST    162km/31km to go
The average speed after four hours has nudged above the 40 km/h mark: 40.378 km/h, to be precise.

16:08 CEST    163km/30km to go
At 30 km to go, the gap has fallen to 1'18. The leaders aren't working so well together.

But now the bunch has sat up a bit, with Gerolsteiner taking a drinks break. It's never good to catch the break too early, because that opens it up for counter attacks from fresh riders, which can be hard to control. With riders already in front, there is less incentive for others to attack unless they can be sure they can catch and drop the leaders. That's easier on a mountain stage, rather than a flat one.

Hopefully this explains why flat stages are pretty boring formulaic. And why we need cows and marching bands.

16:10 CEST    167km/26km to go
It's time for a stretch in the peloton, as the road heads down again towards the finish in Hotton. 1'16 is the gap.

16:12 CEST   
Bertolini is now doing a bit more work in the break. Meanwhile, Sven Krauss has come up to give bidons to his teammates in the peloton. The battle for position hasn't really started yet.

16:13 CEST    169km/24km to go
It's exactly a minute as the bunch files under 25 km to go banner, in pursuit of the five man break that has been clear since km 10.

16:16 CEST    171km/22km to go
Stef Clement (Bouygues) moves up to the front, and maybe asks for the pace to be lifted a bit. Easy to say when you're in the slipstream :-) Saunier Duval is prominent near the front, still smarting from yesterday. There are a few Credit Agricole riders near the front too.

Krauss and Roesems swap off in the front of the peloton, and now the gap is under a minute.

16:17 CEST   
Lombardi and Gustov protect Ivan Basso, keeping him out of harm's way at the front. He lost a little bit of time yesterday, but not really to the other GC riders.

16:19 CEST    174km/19km to go
Now T-Mobile gets to the front for a bit, with Jörg Ludewig. With Korff and Pollack, they have two good sprinters.

16:20 CEST    175km/18km to go
Alberto Loddo (Selle Italia) can sprint too, but he's at the front a bit too early.

Frantisek Rabon is another T-Mobile jersey in front, while Lombardi continues to nurse Basso.

16:22 CEST    176km/17km to go
And there are a few Milram jerseys up there. Some cows take note of those.

Milram has Mirco Lorenzetto and Alberto Ongarato as substitute sprinters for Petacchi.

16:22 CEST    177km/16km to go
Rabon does a pull, then Roesems again, keeping the tempo quite high as the peloton bears down on the breakaway.

16:23 CEST   
The bunch can see the break now, and it's only half a minute.

16:24 CEST    178km/15km to go
The break goes under 15 km to go and is still working pretty well. They've been in front for nearly 170 km.

Clement (Bouygues) takes a turn in front of the peloton.

16:26 CEST    179km/14km to go
It's down to 10 seconds and falling fast. The break is caught. Well, Niermann and Van de Walle keep it going for a bit longer, but it's wasted effort. A magenta train passes them.

Bertolini's heart rate was 149 of a max of 180 just then.

16:28 CEST    181km/12km to go
T-Mobile has three riders leading now, with Ludewig, Kessler and Davis up there.

A word on the wildlife: we haven't spotted any three-headed chickens today, nor any nuclear power stations.

16:30 CEST    183km/10km to go
Rabon powers away in front as Di Luca positions himself next to some Liberty riders near the front. Now Milram and Quick.Step challenge for the lead. Davitamon hasn't formed its train yet. Bettini is in about 10th wheel.

Ludewig leads through Barvaux at 10 km to go.

16:31 CEST    184.5km/8.5km to go
Masses of people are here to watch the Giro come through, and that's always heartening. Ludewig and Rabon pour on the pace, and the bunch lines out behind.

Schumacher is well placed on the left of the bunch, towards the front.

16:32 CEST    185km/8km to go
It's a long, thin line at the back of the peloton, but in front it's still bunched.

Milram has got its train happening for probably Lorenzetto. Schumacher is relatively isolated from his teammates.

16:32 CEST    186km/7km to go
Verbrugghe (Cofidis) moves up with Ekimov on his wheel, then Savoldelli. Schumacher has dropped back a bit. Bettini looks good as he sits next to Savoldelli and Baguet.

16:33 CEST    187km/6km to go
Milram is definitely trying to lead out Lorenzetto, now Christian Knees does his turn on the front. Where is Davitamon? Not here yet.

16:34 CEST   
Wielinga (Quick.Step) takes a turn and has teammate Scarselli on his wheel. Bettini could take the maglia rosa today with a very good sprint.

16:35 CEST    187.5km/5.5km to go
Jens Voigt (CSC) attacks! Nice move, but it's going to be hard...

16:36 CEST    188km/5km to go
Voigt gets a small gap under 5 km to go as the road goes uphill slightly. Less than five seconds, with Quick.Step still on the front.

16:36 CEST   
Voigt works hard to increase his lead, but the bunch isn't going to give him anything. Now Milram ups the tempo.

16:37 CEST    189km/4km to go
Jens Voigt is hanging on, just.

AG2R moves Vaitkus up next to Bettini.

16:37 CEST   
Voigt is caught before 4 km to go.

16:38 CEST    189.5km/3.5km to go
McEwen is looking comfy towards the front. He knows how to time his sprint.

Milram and T-Mobile are leading it out, with mostly Milram on the front. Schumacher is up there, sitting in the wind.

16:38 CEST    190km/3km to go
Philippe Gilbert (FDJ) is moved up by his team, then Baguet (Quick.Step) pumps on the pedals at 3 km to go. That's a good turn.

16:39 CEST    190.5km/2.5km to go
Baguet has even split the Milram train, and gets a little gap as the others find it hard to fold his wheel. Now Rik Verbrugghe attacks, but gets nowhere.

16:40 CEST    191km/2km to go
Milram takes over in front, passing Verbrugghe. McEwen has chosen the T-Mobile riders to sit behind though. But he has Vogels protecting him. Graeme Brown is up on his wheel, next to Bettini.

16:40 CEST    192km/1km to go
Sacchi leads the bunch up to 1 km to go.

16:41 CEST   
Sacchi pulls off, leaving more blue jersey. But it's not the same without Petacchi. Two Milrams left. Bettini is behind McEwen, who is on the Milram train. Then T-Mobile winds it up on the right.

16:41 CEST    193km/0km to go
McEwen waits, is boxed in a little bit, but then finds a gap and wins the stage!!! Bettini second, then Loddo. Schumacher keeps the pink jersey.

16:47 CEST   
Pollack was very frustrated with his fifth place. He went too early today, way too early. But McEwen rode a great sprint to win again. Bettini gained more time, but it wasn't enough to take the pink jersey, as he needed 47 seconds.

16:49 CEST   
And so ends the Giro d'Italia in Belgium. Tomorrow, the riders will transfer to Italy for Thursday's team time trial between Piacenza and Cremona. Until then, farewell!


1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                                 4.38.51
2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic                             
3 Alberto Loddo (Ita) Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni               
4 Axel Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) Ceramica Panaria-Navigare                
5 Olaf Pollack (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                         
6 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Team Milram                                   
7 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française des Jeux                                 
8 Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) AG2R Prevoyance                                      

General classification after stage 4

1 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner                              14.52.25
2 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team             0.13
3 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner                                    0.23
4 José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears     0.29
5 José Luis Rubiera Vigil (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team      0.31
6 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile Team                                       
7 Bradley McGee (Aus) Française des Jeux                                    
8 Francisco Perez Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears          0.32
9 José E. Gutierrez Cataluna (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems               0.33
10 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic                            0.35


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