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Having found himself in the early break, the massive-motored Italian punched away from the escape group as the peloton looked destined to make the catch. The 24-year-old duly time trialed his way to the line to win by 17 seconds over a charging bunch of disappointed sprinters and puncheurs that had been hoping for victory on the grinding uphill finish in Saint-Siffret.
Christopher Laporte (Cofidis) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora Hansgrohe) took second and third respectively, while Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) finished in the bunch to retain his GC lead with one stage remaining.
“With about 20 kilometers remaining, it looked like the breakaway had a good chance of being caught, but following some attacks out of the peloton, the pace in the leading group increased and they gained significant momentum,” Ackermann said. “After Ganna took the honors, we fought for the rest of the podium places. I ended up finishing the stage in third place, a satisfying performance which shows that my form continues to improve.”
Having taken an offensive strategy with two men in the break on stage 3, Ineos Grenadiers positioned Ganna into the early attack along with Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Alexys Brunel (Groupama-FDJ), Ludovic Robet (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles), and Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix). The fivesome combined well to lead the bunch by around two minutes through the opening hours in the rolling terrain of the Gard province.
Behind the escapees, B&B Hotels and Lotto-Soudal were active in bossing the bunch as they looked to set up sprinter Bryan Coquard and overall GC leader Tim Wellens respectively.
As the race rolled through the local laps that closed the stage, teams including EF-Nippo and Total Direct Energie began to mass at the front to set up fast-finishers for the grinding 1.1km, 5.6 percent haul to the line.
With a weight of teams adding to the pursuit, the break’s gap tumbled to 20 seconds with 20km to go, at which point Alberto Bettiol (EF-Nippo), Niki Terpstra, and Pierre Latour (both Total Direct Energie) bridged from the bunch to the escapees. As the peloton moved to within 10 seconds of the newly reinforced breakaway, Ganna struck out with 9km to go and left his former companions for dust.
— LukeStar (@luca_ste00) February 6, 2021
With the narrow streets and road furniture of finish town Saint-Siffret stifling an effective chase, Ganna pulled out a 20 second lead over the remainder of the escape, who looked to give up as the peloton finally made the catch inside the final 5km.
With victory in the bag, Ganna was able to sit up in the final hundred meters to relish his debut victory of the season.
The race closes out with an 11km ITT on Sunday that packs a short uphill finish. Ganna is odds-on favorite to take the win on a course tailor-made for him, though at nearly three minutes down on Wellens, is unlikely to pose a threat to GC.
“Today was a fantastic day, the legs felt great and we’ll see tomorrow if I can ride like I did today,” Ganna said.
The time trial ace indicated he may look to more specifically target the GC in events flatter than this week’s hilly Bessèges race.
“In the next races we will see if I can be closer to victory in the general classification,” he said. “For the moment I want to finish the race well tomorrow. If I see that there is a more favorable race for my characteristics, flatter and with less elevation, I can try to target the GC.”
Étoile de Bessèges stage 4:
- Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers): 3:22:57
- Christopher Laporte (Cofidis): +0:17
- Pascal Ackermann (Bora Hansgrohe): +0:17
Étoile de Bessèges GC after stage 4:
- Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal): 13:40:54
- Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo): +0:44
- Mads Würtz Schmidt (Israel Start-Up Nation): +0:46