Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the first mountain stage of the Giro d’Italia atop Mount Etna, beating Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) in a sprint after the two emerged from the 14-rider attacks of the stage.
López banged his handlebars in anger but had the consolation of taking the race leader’s maglia rosa. He is the first Spanish rider to wear the pink jersey since Alberto Contador in 2015. He leads Kämna by 39 seconds.
Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) finished third at 34 seconds and is third overall at 58 seconds. Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto Soudal) beat Mauri Vansevenant (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) to finish fourth at 2:12 seconds.
The overall contenders stayed together in the exposed final kilometres of the climb through the lava, with Richie Porte guiding his Ineos Grenadiers team leader Richard Carapaz. He then sprinted to the line, bringing home the select group at 2:37, with Simon Yates near the back.
However, the BikeExchange-Jayco rider is fourth overall at 1:42.
Missing from the GC group were Miguel Ángel López (Astana Qazaqstan), who abandoned due to a hip and thigh injury at the start of the stage, while his teammate Vincenzo Nibali and Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) were distanced in the second half of the 22.8km climb to the finish.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) finished 22:54 behind, with other sprinters further down.
Kämna took time out from WorldTour racing for the second half of the 2021, even opting to miss the Tour de France despite having won a stage the year before. But he rediscovered his love for racing while riding the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race in October. He showed he was back to his best by recently winning a stage at the Tour of the Alps.
“It was a super hard day, especially the last climb. It was really long and hard,” he said, pulling on the blue mountains jersey after his stage win.
“I almost thought I lost it when López had more than 30 seconds and I could just make it to bridge, I just made it. Then I tried to recover a little bit for the sprint and it worked out really well.
“I’m so happy to already have the stage win in the pocket. For our team it’s super great to have an early victory that relieves a lot of pressure. I think for us everything is on the right way.”
López appeared disappointed not to win the stage and has still to take his first professional victory but the maglia rosa was ample consolation.
“I’m so happy to take the jersey. I don’t believe this moment and I need to enjoy tomorrow, today, and every moment with the jersey,” he said almost in tears.
“I tried to go on the hardest part because that’s where I can make the difference. I tried but Kämna took me in the last two or three kilometres and we fought for the sprint. I tried to fight for the victory but it was so difficult but I have the jersey and I’m so happy now.
“I don’t know how many days but for sure I will enjoy it day-by-day with the jersey.”
López will wear the maglia rosa for Wednesday’s 174km fifth stage from Catania to Messina. The stage includes the Portella Mandrazzi climb to the north of Mount Etna after 75km but the final 80km are on flat roads around the Sicilian headland before the finish in Messina celebrates its prodigal son Vincenzo Nibali and then crosses to the mainland for stage 5 in Calabria.
How it unfolded
The riders were happy to feel the warm Sicilian sun on their backs as they lined up overlooking the Mediterranean in Avola for the start of the 170km stage to Mount Etna. They had been met by rain and low clouds on arrival from Hungary on Monday but the smoking summit of the volcano could be seen from a distance as the riders prepared to roll out.
Unlike the opening stages in Hungary, there was a real sense that the breakaway would be allowed to go clear and so the tension and speed were high on the road through the Val di Noto and as they passed the stunning Baroque buildings of Noto.
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) was the first to attack and was joined by four other riders but they were soon brought back as the road climbed into the hills and the sprinters suffered down the back.
A grab for the brakes and a crash saw Simon Yates go down on his right knee, while Miguel Ángel López (Astana Qazaqstan) also abandoned due to a hip and thigh problem that he had kept hidden since the start of the race. Another crash was sparked by a race motorbike on the twisting roads. There is never a quiet day in the Giro d’Italia.
The breakaway of the day formed via a series of attacks, with Mauri Vansevenant (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) keen to get away and show his climbing talents. He was joined by Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) and Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Biniam Girmay and even Mathieu van der Poel tried to attack from the peloton but were pulled back. However, Valerio Conti (Astana Qazaqstan), Davide Villella (Cofidis), Gijs Leemreize (Jumbo-Visma), Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto Soudal), Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) joined the move, as did
Rémy Rochas (Cofidis), Diego Camargo (EF Education-EasyPost), Alexander Cataford (Israel-Premier Tech), Erik Fetter (Eolo-Kometa) and Stefano Oldani (Alpecin-Fenix) all managed to jump across after a big effort.
The peloton tried to block the road and deter the attacks, with Lilian Calmejane (AG2R Citroën) going deep in a solo move to eventually get across to the attack.
The 14-rider group eventually settled and began to work together after a fast 20km. The gap to the peloton quickly rose to 4:30, then 6:30 and even 10:30 after 35km, making Vansevenant the virtual maglia rosa.
As Yates dropped back for some pain-killing spray on his knee, Ineos picked up the chase with Bahrain Victorious. Ben Swift and Salvatore Puccio did the hard work for Ineos and Carapaz, while Jasha Sütterlin worked for Bahrain and leader Mikel Landa.
They helped bring the gap down to eight minutes with 100km to race on the gradual descent towards Catania and kept it there as the race passed to the west of the sprawling city and looked to Etna ahead of them. As the pace eased, even the riders had a chance to enjoy the spectacular Sicilian countryside, still green in the late Italian spring.
Calmejane lead the attack through the first intermediate sprint and huge crowds in Paternò with 43km to go, with the gruppo compact and in control at 6:40.
The climb to Mount Etna officially began with 22.8km to go but the roads turned upwards with 30km on the lower slopes. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) was the first to ease up and be distanced with 28.5km to race, soon followed by other sprinters, including Cavendish.
Van der Poel also soon surrendered his maglia rosa with 19.5km to climb, preferring to save his legs for later in the Giro.
The climbing split the 14-rider attack, with Vansevenant the first to accelerate. However, Oldani got the gap in a solo move and opened a 50-second lead on the best of the rest. Calmejane, Fetter, Cataford, Camargo, Conti, Rochas and Villella were distanced.
Oldani rode through Biancavilla with 14km to go and so took three seconds in the second intermediate sprint. Lopez, Kämna, Taaramäe, Leemreize, Moniquet and Vansevenant chased him, confident the fight for the stage victory was far from over.
The peloton was still 6:00 down at this point, with all the big names watching each other and waiting for the attacks. The first surge in the peloton came with 14.5km to go when Ineos took over on the front and Jhonatan Narváez upped the pace.
Up front, López danced across to Oldani with 10km to go on the 8% gradients and surged past him in search of victory. Kämna, Moniquet, Taaramäe and Vansevenant eventually took up the chase of the Spaniard but had given him a 30-second advantage.
Ineos rode steady but fast and their pacing began to hurt those left in the peloton. With 8.5km to go, Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) was at the back of the 40-rider group and was soon distanced, unable to hold the pace on the steepest gradients of the climb. He would finish 9:10 down on Kämna, marking the end of his GC hopes in this year’s Giro. Teammate Tobias Foss also lost 2:15 to the other overall contenders, making for a bad day for Jumbo-Visma’s overall ambitions.
Soon after Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) was also distanced, much to the disappointment of his local fans, while Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) also lost contact. Both would go on to lose four minutes.
López led the race out of the trees and into the higher lava lunar landscape, leaving him exposed to the wind blowing from the east. Kamna was the strongest behind and set off in pursuit of López, as Vansevenant struggled, ending his maglia rosa dreams.
Kämna caught López with three kilometres to go, while Taaramäe refused to give up the chase and stayed at 30 seconds, forcing them to work together.
They started a short descent to the finish area together and even touched wheels as they rounded the final sweeping bend to the finish. Kämna was the strongest and edged away to celebrate a carefully constructed victory.
The 16-rider GC group finished together at 2:37, all happy not to have lost their overall hopes so early in the race.
Results powered by FirstCycling.