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Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) landed his first victory of 2023 by winning stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico, fending off Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep) and Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) in the uphill sprint in Tortoreto.
Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) took hold of the blue jersey after previous leader Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) was distanced with 2.5km remaining, but Roglič lies just six seconds behind and looks poised to lay down a marker on his road to the Giro d’Italia.
The outcome might have been very different, of course, had Roglič’s teammate Wout van Aert not crashed when he tried to squeeze through a gap ahead of the final climb, bringing the unfortunate Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) down with him.
Both men were able to remount, but the incident forced a late change to Jumbo-Visma’s plans, with their focus now switching firmly to Roglič on the 4.5km haul to the line.
Roglič bided his time when Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) surged with 800 metres to go, and even when he did hit the front with 400 metres remaining, he realised it was a touch too early and allowed Victor Lafay (Cofidis) to take up the reins.
When Roglič’s finishing effort eventually arrived, however, there was an air of inevitability about it. The shoulder surgery that prolonged his off-season has clearly done little to blunt his gifts on an uphill finale like this.
Alaphilippe, who had ignited the stage by attacking on the first time up the finishing climb with 35km to go, closed rapidly here but had to settle for second place, while Yates took third ahead of Wilco Kelderman (Jumbo-Visma) and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers).
“Our plan was to go for a result today, definitely, but I was not the first plan,” Roglič explained. “Normally, we would go with Wout, but he was unlucky. I just had luck that I was a bit more on the left side, so I avoided the crash. We quickly changed the plan, and I could go for it in the end.”
Kämna, who is flanked by Aleksandr Vlasov and Jai Hindley in a strong Bora-Hansgrohe line-up, had not expected the stage to prove so demanding before the start, but he revised his opinion after the first lap of the 17.1km finishing circuit, realising that he could yet divest Ganna of the overall lead.
“To be honest, I was underestimating the stage. I didn’t think the final was so hard,” Kämna said. “But when we went over it the first time, I was then sure it was going to be really hard and there was maybe even a chance to take the jersey.”
Kämna carries a lead of six seconds over Roglič into Friday’s pivotal summit finish to Sassotetto, while the UAE Team Emirates duo of João Almeida and Brandon McNulty lie at eight and 13 seconds, respectively.
How it unfolded
The 217km run from the hilltown of Greccio, slung amid the Monti Sabini, and the coastal town of Tortoreto was essentially a stage of two distinct parts. The first, which climbed past Amatrice and then dropped towards the Adriatic coast, was animated by a five-man break. The second, which saw the race take on three laps of a breathless, 17.1km finishing circuit, was ignited by Alaphilippe’s aggression.
The day’s early animators were Davide Bais (Eolo-Kometa), Filippo Magli (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè), Mads Würtz Schmidt (Israel-PremierTech), Valerio Conti (Team Corratec) and Lucas Eriksson (Tudor), but their buffer was wiped out by the peloton before they reached Tortoreto for the first time with a shade over 50km to go, approaching via a more gentle climb.
The tone changed dramatically when the race tackled the first of three ascents of the finishing climb with 35km to go, when Alaphilippe accelerated forcefully from the peloton. Van Aert and Yates were the first to respond, bridging across just as Alaphilippe crested the summit, and another fifty or so riders would join them soon afterwards.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) were among the riders distanced, which doubtless encouraged Jumbo-Visma – who had all seven of their contingent in front – to maintain a brisk tempo. Although Van der Poel and Girmay fought their way back on during the next lap, it was already apparent that the climb to the line was beyond their range, and both men were dropped on each of the successive two climbs.
More surprisingly, Pidcock lost contact with the front group on that penultimate ascent, even if the Briton also managed to scramble down the descent and latch back on in the closing kilometres, where he worked to keep Ganna placed at the head of the bunch before his late tangle with Van Aert. Mercifully, both riders were able to finish the stage, chatting amiably after they remounted and soft-pedalled towards the line.
A severely reduced peloton had taken the bell with 17.1km remaining, and the high speed on the last lap meant that there was little scope for attackers to forge clear before the final, 4.5km haul to the line.
Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa) and Damien Howson (Q36.5) attacked with 1.7km remaining, but they were swept up in the final kilometre, where Carthy attempted to break clear with Geoghagan Hart on his wheel.
The day’s prize, however, would fall to Roglič, who was a late addition to Jumbo-Visma’s line-up, having initially expected to start his season at the Volta a Catalunya. After passing the first test, he will look with confidence to the next at Sassotetto.
“It’s always nice to win,” he said. “It’s fantastic to see how I recovered. We worked hard, there were a lot of sacrifices from my family and the people around me. It’s just nice to be back and enjoying it.”
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