Tirreno-Adriatico, stage 4: Landa takes stage honors, as Caruso leads GC

Mikel Landa captured the fourth stage of Tirreno-Adriatico in Sassotetto, as Damiano Caruso took over the lead in the general classification.

Mikel Landa took his first victory of 2018 and thus, the first win in his new team colors on Saturday after he switched over to Movistar from Team Sky during the offseason. Landa had the most energy in the tank at the end of a grueling day at Tirreno-Adriatico, which saw the riders tackle a 14-kilometer climb to the finish in Sassotetto.

Landa outsprinted Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) to take the victory. However, it wasn’t enough to take the lead in the general classification, as Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing) donned the blue leader’s jersey at the end of the day.

“I realized that Sky outnumbered us in the front group, so I decided to wait a little bit,” Landa said of his tactics on the final climb. “When [Miguel Ángel] Lopez attacked it was a bit far from the finish line. I let other riders do the work and wait for the right time to go for a final attack. I’m on a new team. I’m in a good shape. This makes it a good start for the 2018 season.”

Previous race leader Geraint Thomas (Sky) had a mechanical in the final few kilometers of the climb and was forced to change bikes. Team Sky had spent most of the six-plus hour stage on the front of the peloton in support of Thomas. Chris Froome had already been dropped for the general classification contenders group when Thomas’ mechanical occurred. When Froome saw Thomas on the side of the road, he waited for him. Froome then did his best to pace Thomas to the finish and reduce the time loss. Thomas dropped to fifth overall, 26 seconds behind new race leader Caruso.

“I didn’t exactly expect to be back in the lead today, but I felt good in the last climb,” Caruso said. “I was convinced I could have a good race today. It’s a big result for me to take the jersey at the top of a mountain like this. [Sunday] we have another hard stage. We might try to take another opportunity with Greg Van Avermaet to do something big to put me in a good position before the time trial.”

Top-10 stage 4

  • 1. Mikel Landa, MOVISTAR TEAM, in 06:22:13
  • 2. Rafał Majka, BORA – HANSGROHE, at 0:00
  • 3. George Bennett, TEAM LOTTONL-JUMBO, at 0:00
  • 4. Fabio Aru, UAE-TEAM EMIRATES, at 0:06
  • 5. Ben Hermans, ISRAEL CYCLING ACADEMY, at 0:06
  • 6. Tiesj Benoot, LOTTO SOUDAL, at 0:06
  • 7. Romain Bardet, AG2R LA MONDIALE, at 0:06
  • 8. Wilco Kelderman, TEAM SUNWEB, at 0:06
  • 9. Adam Yates, MITCHELTON-SCOTT, at 0:06

Top-10 overall

  • 1. Damiano Caruso, BMC RACING TEAM, in 17:14:49
  • 2. Michal Kwiatkowski, TEAM SKY, at 0:01
  • 3. Wilco Kelderman, TEAM SUNWEB, at 0:11
  • 4. Mikel Landa, MOVISTAR TEAM, at 0:20
  • 5. Geraint Thomas, TEAM SKY, at 0:26
  • 7. George Bennett, TEAM LOTTONL-JUMBO, at 0:33
  • 8. Davide Formolo, BORA – HANSGROHE, at 0:34
  • 9. Tiesj Benoot, LOTTO SOUDAL, at 0:36
  • 10. Domenico Pozzovivo, BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM, at 0:41

The fourth stage of the 2018 Tirreno-Adriatico was the queen stage of the race. The stage began in Foligno and travelled 219 kilometers to the summit finish at Sassotetto, just above the town of Sarnano. The 14.2-kilometer climb to the finish had an average gradient of 5.8-percent with a maximum gradient of 12-percent.

It was a long slog to the final climb for the peloton on Saturday, as the road never seemed to be flat. The riders were constantly climbing or descending and not all of the climbs were categorized. Six riders formed the breakaway on the stage and they built themselves a hefty advantage of over six minutes, but they never truly stood a chance at victory. Team Sky was too focused to let the breakaway slip up the road too much.

Nicola Bagioli (Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini), Antoine Duchesne (Groupama-FDJ), Alexander Vlasov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Jacopo Mosca (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia), Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy), and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) were the riders in the breakaway.

Midway through the stage, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) came to grief on one of the descents. The Dutchman would remount his bike, but abandoned the race shortly after.

With seven kilometers remaining the peloton was altogether on the final climb with Astana setting a brutal pace. Their pace greatly reduced front group and soon many of the GC contenders were left on their own. The pacemaking dutifully set-up Miguel Ángel Lopez to attack and the rider nicknamed “Superman” jumped away with 5.4 kilometers remaining. It was a bold move so far from the line and it received no immediate reaction from any other riders. Team Sky took over at the front of the group.

However, soon others attacked and the race was on. Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) and Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy) bridged to Lopez, as well as Majka. The group powered along, as Team Sky controlled the contender’s group some 15 seconds behind.

With about three kilometers to go, Majka attacked as the road steepened. His move caused Lopez to explode, as he nearly came to a standstill on the road. Meanwhile, Landa had attacked the Team Sky group and flew past Lopez.

Bennett attacked out of the chase group and bridged to Landa and company, as well. The front group was extremely disorganized though, attacking each other instead of working together with race leader Thomas behind.

Thomas soon came to grief, as he had a mechanical that required him to switch bikes. The Welshman didn’t lose too much time and had the assistance of Froome to reduced the time loss.

Landa proved to have the quickest finish kick to beat Majka and Bennett to the line. A host of other contenders including Aru, Hermans, Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) finish six seconds behind.

Not all was lost for Team Sky on Saturday, as Michal Kwiatkowski sits second overall. He is only a single second behind Caruso and Sunday’s stage could suit Kwiatkowski.

Sunday’s fifth stage travels 178 kilometers from Castelraimondo to Filottrano. The stage will finish with two 16-kilometer circuits around Filottrano. The race will divert 500 meters before the finish line on the first lap, so the riders will be unable to preview the final climb to the line. The Muro di Filottrano and its nearly 16-percent gradients will be covered three times and it comes just five kilometers before the finish. The climb is followed by a challenging and narrow descent before the final kick to the line. Though the climb isn’t suited to the pure climbers, the general classification contenders will need to pay attention, as gaps could form in the sprint to the line.