France’s Nacer Bouhanni sprinted to victory on stage four of the Giro d’Italia after managing to stay upright on a wet and crash-strewn finale in Bari.
The FDJ rider tiptoed his way to the front of the field heading into the final 500m and then powered to a narrow win over runner-up Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) and third-placed Tom Veelers (Giant-Shimano).
They were among the few riders still in contention after a late rain shower had turned the road surface into an ice rink and caused two crashes in the final 1.5km.
The whole day had been marred by the weather, with early rain prompting the peloton to neutralise all but the last 30km of the stage due to concerns over safety.
Matthews retains pink
It was also agreed that the times for the general classification would be taken at the end of the seventh of eight laps of an 8km finishing circuit, and with race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) crossing the line in the peloton, the Australian will once again wear the pink jersey on stage five on Wednesday.
Matthews said afterwards: “From the start it was really slippery and, straight away, we had a chat in the bunch and we decided to neutralise the race, just for the safety for us. It’s a long tour so we have to do what we have to do to get through these stages as safely as possible.”
The rain stopped in the middle part of the stage and the roads began to dry out, but when the heavens opened again with around 5km remaining, conditions swiftly became treacherous and riders almost immediately began skidding off their bikes.
One tight right-hand turn with around 1.5km to go saw two crashes that took out the trains of both Team Sky and Cannondale, who had been on the front of the peloton.
The second incident also held up the teams behind, which left only six riders – four from Giant-Shimano – at the front of the race going into the final 1km.
With stage two and three winner Marcel Kittel having abandoned the Giro due to overnight illness, Luka Mezgec became the Dutch squad’s designated sprinter, but when he suffered a mechanical problem on the final corner, it was left to lead-out man Veelers to go for the win.
Bouhanni, however, had fought his way back into contention and Veelers didn’t have the raw speed to hold off the late charge of the Frenchman, who picked up his first stage win in a Grand Tour.
Bouhanni, who had earlier had to chase back to the peloton following a bike change, said: “In the last lap it was very slippery. I was close to falling a couple of times. I got to the final straight and luckily I won.”
Stage four result
1 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ, 2:22:06
2 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek Factory Racing, same time
3 Tom Veelers (Ned) Giant-Shimano, st
4 Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida, st
5 Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale, st
6 Matteo Montaguti (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale, st
7 Kenny Dehaes (Bel) Lotto Belisol, st
8 Luka Mezgec (Slo) Giant-Shimano, st
9 Bert de Backer (Bel) Giant-Shimano, st
10 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Neri Sottoli, st
1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge, 12:28:43
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, +8
3 Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC, +10
4 Ivan Santaromita (Ita) Orica-GreenEdge, +14
5 Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge, same time
6 Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge, st
7 Svein Tuft (Can) Orica-GreenEdge, st
8 Serge Pauwels (Bel) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, +19
9 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, +19
10 Julien Vermote (Bel) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, st