Giro d'Italia: Aurélien Paret-Peintre powers to victory at Lago Laceno on stage 4
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Aurélien Paret-Peintre (AG2R Citroën) and Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM) shared the honours on stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia to Lago Laceno, with the Frenchman winning the stage and the Norwegian taking the maglia rosa after a hard day out front in the break of the stage.
As expected Remco Evenepoel and his Soudal-QuickStep team let the break and so race leadership go, with Leknessund best placed in the breakaway of the day after a good opening time trial and without losing further time in the early stages.
Paret-Peintre and Leknessund emerged from the seven-rider breakaway on the climb to Lago Laceno, with the AG2R Citroën rider stronger in the sprint after Leknessund gave his all in the hope of taking the race lead.
Evenepoel and the other overall contenders finished 2:01 behind Paret-Peintre and Leknessund, and so the Norwegian’s dream came true. It came down to a handful of seconds and a six-second time bonus for second place on the stage, but Leknessund pulled on the pink jersey.
Evenepoel is now second overall at 28 seconds, with Paret-Peintre third at 30 seconds.
Leknessund also took the best young rider’s white jersey, freeing Evenepoel from all the podium obligations. Indeed, he quickly disappeared to the Soudal-QuickStep team bus.
Paret-Peintre had sensed he could win the stage and so dug deep to chase Leknessund when he tried an attack near the top of the climb. When Paret-Peintre opened up his sprint, he got a gap and had a chance to zip up his jersey and celebrate a big win.
“My main objective this year was the Giro, I just trained a lot for today, for these three weeks,” he said.
“We knew today was a day for the breakaway, so it was an important day for the team because we came to take a stage win and for GC. It was a perfect day for me. The breakaway was super hard to make. After, until the finish was super hard, but I'm super happy.
“I know I'm faster than him, so we collaborate until the finish line. I think he takes the maglia rosa so everybody's happy, maybe.”
Leknessund was emotional and happy.
“I obviously went for the stage and knew that the pink was possible,” he said after shedding a few tears crouched on the ground.
“I made one attack to drop Aurélien Paret-Peintre, but he came back on the descent, and my legs were hurting so much.
“It's super special to be in pink. It's like, that was the goal before the stage, but as everyone knows, it's hard. Cycling is not so easy. To actually make it is unbelievable."
How it unfolded
The riders rode into central Venosa to sign on under grey skies with tension and rain in the air. If stage 3 to Melfi was flat and uneventful for most of the day, stage 4 to Lago Laceno was clearly going to be very different.
Everyone was expecting a fight to get into the early break and perhaps the first showdown between the overall contenders. Remco Evenepoel had hinted he would let the maglia rosa go, and so anyone still well-placed overall but not a true overall contender wanted to try to take pink. Others simply wanted a chance at a stage victory.
As soon as race director Stefano Allocchio dropped the flag to start the stage on the outskirts of Venosa, the attacks began and didn’t stop for two hours. Every rise in the road, every descent and every split in the lined-out peloton sparked an attack.
Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) were active early on, as were Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) and fellow American Joe Dombrowski (Astana Qazaqstan). There were far too many to mention them all. However, every move was chased down by a rival team, again and again, as the riders rolled through the hills to the southwest of Venosa.
For a moment, Evenepoel was in a chase group, then João Almeida was forced to chase with several teammates, as the pace stayed high and some riders, including Evenepoel’s teammate Josef Černý were forced to chase and suffer in the long line of team cars. It was a hard day out for everyone.
The Passo delle Crocelle (7.2km at 5.1%) came after a fast 50 km of racing but only heightened the tension in the race and the determination of the attacks.
Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) and Marco Firgo (Israel-Premier Tech) tried to force a move on the climb, but others closed them down as the King of the Mountain points acted as an extra carrot. Indeed Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) appeared up front and then kicked away to grab the 18 points and extend his lead in the blue jersey competition. The Frenchman is enjoying a moment in the spotlight in his final Giro d’Italia of his career.
The long descent, like much of the first half of the stage, raced in the rain, sparking several crashes. Michel Hessmann (Jumbo-Visma) went down first, then Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech), Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), Luca Covili (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè) and Stefan De Bod (EF Education-EasyPost) tangled together.
Just before, with 95km to race, and ironically on the descent rather than a climb, the break of the day formed in an instant. The overall contender and most breakaway riders were tired and wanted to avoid taking excessive risks in the rain.
Suddenly seven riders got away. In the move were Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Trek-Segafredo), his teammate Toms Skujiņš, Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa), Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic), Nicola Conci (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM), and Aurélien Paret-Peintre (AG2R Citroën).
Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ) tried to chase across alone, but the peloton had decided to let the move go, and he was unable to close the gap on seven riders working together.
The gap rose quickly as the breakaway sensed their chance, and Leknessund realised he could take the maglia rosa. He started the stage just 1:40 down on Evenepoel but would have to mark Aurélien Paret-Peintre, who was only 33 behind him.
With 80km to race, Albanese won the intermediate sprint, with the gap to the peloton at 3:30.
The Valico di Monte Carruozzo climb came soon after, and the riders climbed into the mist in the southern Apennines. The gap was at 4:30 at the start and about the same at the summit as Ghebreigzabhier led the break over the top to score the 18 KOM points. Armirail wisely eased up and slipped back to the peloton.
Another long, gradual descent took the Giro into the Campania region of Italy and closer to Naples, Salerno and especially Lago Laceno.
The valley road allowed the peloton to take a final natural break and take off their rain jackets. Evenepoel finally peeled off his leg warmers while riding at the front and also stopped for a rear wheel puncture. He also opted to change his front wheel in a kind of pit-stop, sparking debate on the reason. Was it for tyres for the now dry roads, for a better gear selection or for lighter wheels?
Whatever, he slowly moved back up to the front. The dip in pace allowed the break to extend their lead out to 5:30 with 25km to go, and so Soudal-QuickStep went on the front, and Černý rode a fast, steady pursuit tempo.
As the attackers started the 9.6km Colle Molella climb up to Lago Laceno, the gap to the peloton was 4:20. The seven knew they would fight for the stage victory. Conci was the first to attack, spitting Barguil out the back. Skujiņš tried to close the gap as everyone suffered after a hard day out front.
Albanese cracked as Ghebreigzabhier, Paret-Peintre, and Leknessund pushed on.
Behind, only 30 or so riders remained in the peloton, with Evenpoel alone after Jan Hirt did a long turn on the front at the start of the climb. Is the Belgian's biggest weakness his team? Ineos Grenadiers seemed to think so and placed five riders on the front to set a high pace. Evenepoel just sat on their wheel and hoped for the best.
With four kilometres to go, Leknessund distanced Ghebreigzabhier and Paret-Peintre, but the Frenchman gradually fought his way back on and was even first to the top of the climb to take the KOM points with 2.9km to race.
The road flattened as they passed the lake edge, and the two even began to play games to avoid leading out the sprint.
Yet as the finish line neared, it proved to be no contest. Paret-Peintre kicked hard, and Leknessund cracked in pain and disappointment.
However, Leknessund soon after he realised he was in the pink jersey, and he became only the second Norwegian to ever wear the maglia rosa, some 42 years after Knut Knudsen.
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