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PRATI DI TIVO, Italy (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) jumped away in the final kilometer to win the queen stage at Tirreno-Adriatico on Saturday and vault into second overall.
Meanwhile, Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) managed a strong fourth-place finish in stage 4 to take the leader’s jersey from teammate Mark Cavendish, who was dropped early on.
“I’m really happy with that victory. It was a really good day for us,” said Froome, who now sits just four seconds off the overall lead. “I only ended up doing a kilometer in the wind myself. It really was an armchair ride. To have the guys there who were with me on the climb — Rigo [Uran], Sergio [Henao Montoya] and Dario [Cataldo] — to have them pulling for me when guys like [Vincenzo] Nibali and [Alberto] Contador are attacking is a really good feeling.
“I think everyone was hurting up at the top there. I had a little bit left to go in that last K and that was down to the work that was done by the rest of the guys during the day.”
Kwiatkowski, meanwhile, said he was happy to keep the leader’s jersey within the team.
“Tirreno-Adriatico was one of my main goals for the beginning of the season, but I couldn’t have expected before that I could take the leader’s jersey today,” Kwiatkowski said. “There are a lot of big champions here like Contador, Froome, and Nibali. I didn’t believe that I could maybe stay with them before today. But my team did such a great job from the first stages into today, so that I could believe in myself and do my best on the final climb to keep the leader’s jersey in our team.”
Bagging the breaks
With 10km remaining in the 173km leg from Nami to Prati di Tivo, Tomasz Marczynski (Vacansoleil-DCM) was the last man standing from a daylong break that also contained Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Anthony Roux (FDJ) and Francesco Failli (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia).
But Team Sky was on a mission, and the black-and-blue juggernaut swept him up too, popping rider after rider off the back in the process and slashing the lead group to less than a dozen riders.
With 4km to race Sky remained firmly in charge of the lead group, with Henao, Uran and Froome on the sharp end of things. Nibali (Astana), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) rode in the middle with Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) biding his time at the back.
With 2.7km to go Contador attacked up the right side of the road, quickly taking five seconds on the group. But he couldn’t hold it — Mauro Santambrogio (Astana) and Nibali rode up to him to make it a lead trio with a slight advantage over the Sky group.
Froome fires it up
In the final kilometer Nibali attacked — but so did Froome, who shot up from behind and past the leaders. He held his advantage to the line to win the stage in 4:41:31, six seconds ahead of Santambrogio and 11 seconds ahead of Nibali.
“I had faith in my teammates,” said Froome. “When they work like that it makes my job easy.”
When the overall was calculated, Kwiatkowski had the lead by four seconds over Froome, who started the day in 31st spot at 34 seconds down. Nibali sits third at 16 seconds.
“We have a really hard stage tomorrow and until now everything went good,” said Kwiatkowski. “I don’t know what I can expect from the others, but I will do my best to try and keep the jersey. I think I can get a lot of help from my teammates and I will focus on not losing too much time tomorrow, or the day after.”
Froome’s strong showing bodes well for his chances at the Tour de France, where he will lead Sky as reigning champion Bradley Wiggins concentrates his attention on May’s Giro d’Italia.
The last two winners of Tirreno-Adriatico have gone on to shine in the Tour, with Evans winning it in 2011 and Nibali taking third last year behind Wiggins and Froome.
Though he sits just four seconds off the race lead, Froome conceded that taking the jersey from Kwiatkowski will be “a tough fight.”
“Kwiatkowski is maybe a surprise leader but he’s definitely shown that he’s got the form to be up there in that leadership position. It’s going to be hard to prize that off him but we’ll take it one day at a time and do everything that we can,” said Froome.
Stage 5 is a 230km leg from Ortona to Chieti.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Tirreno-Adriatico.