Jan Polanc victorious on Mount Etna as Jungles takes pink – Giro d’Italia

Giro d’Italia 2017

Stage 4

Slovenia’s Jan Polanc defied a late surge by Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin to win a thrilling stage four in the shadow of Mount Etna as Bob Jungels moved into the race lead.

Polanc, the 25-year-old from UAE Team Emirates, was the last man standing from a four-man break and defied the maximum 12% gradient of the final climb to hold on for the second professional win of his career – two years after he triumphed at Abetone in the 2015 Giro d’Italia.

On the first uphill finish of the 100th edition of the race, the rangy Zakarin shook off an earlier spill to lead the chase from the pursing group of race favourites, the Katusha-Alpecin rider crossing the line 19 seconds down on Polanc and 10 seconds clear of the chasing pack and pocket six valuable bonus seconds.

Welshman Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) pipped Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) for the final four bonus seconds as that pack came home – but it was not enough to see Thomas take the race lead. That privilege goes to Luxembourg national champion Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) who finished comfortably in seventh and now leads Thomas by six seconds in the general classification.

Another Briton, Adam Yates of Orica-Scott, moved into third place on GC after finishing eighth. Yates is 10 seconds down on the race summit and level on time with the likes of Pinot, defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) and pre-race favourite Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

There was further success for Polanc, who moved into the lead of the maglia azzurra mountains classification. But there was heartbreak for Australia’s Rohan Dennis of BMC, who was forced out of the race following his heavy crash in stage three.

When Polanc forced himself into the day’s break shortly after the start of the 181km stage from the picturesque Sicilian port of Cefalu, he could only have dreamed of standing on the podium with Etna as a stunning – and steaming – backdrop around four-and-a-half hours later.

Bob Jungels of team Quick-Step in the famous pink jersey.

Joining the Slovenian tyro in the move was South Africa’s Jacques Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Russian Pavel Brutt (Gazprom-Rusvelo) and the moustachioed Italian Eugenio Alafaci (Trek Segafredo). The quartet made light of the seemingly interminable opening climb, the 33-kilometre-long Cat.2 Portella Femmina Morta, to build up a maximum advantage of almost seven minutes.

Controlling the pack were the Quick-Step Floors team-mates of overnight race leader Fernando Gaviria and maglia rosa-elect Jungels, who collectively did the leader’s jersey proud on a day of Sicilian sunshine. Gaviria led the pack through both intermediate sprints in pole position before fading, as expected, as soon as the frantic final climb started.

By this point Alafaci had been swept up by the pack while Brutt was distanced as Janse Van Rensburg and Polanc hit the 17.9km ascent with a gap of just under four minutes to play with.

Behind, the pack had been disrupted by a crash on a roundabout which held up both Zakarin and Dutchman Steven Kruisjwijk of LottoNL-Jumbo. Both riders made it back in time for the final fireworks as local veteran Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) and Frenchman Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) were among a cluster of individual riders to have a pop on the nursery slopes of Etna – but not before Van Rensburg had hit the wall.

Spain’s Mikel Landa (Team Sky) suffered a puncture and American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) an untimely mechanical issue – but both riders fought back as Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida and Quintana’s Movistar teams opportunistically sent men up the road, but to little avail.

Danish youngster Jesper Hansen (Astana) put in two note-worthy attacks before Nibali made the first move among the pre-race favourites, the double Giro champion perhaps dreaming of riding into his home town of Messina on Wednesday clad in pink.

But Nibali’s surge merely forced a selection and it was Zakarin – who lost 20 seconds to his rivals after a puncture in stage two – who capitalised with an attack of his own inside the final two kilometres.

Struggling in a headwind and swerving across the road, Polanc dug deep and rode under the kilometre-to-go banner with 45 seconds to play with. While Zakarin could reduce the gap, it was not to prove enough as Polanc was afforded the luxury of zipping up his jersey, punching the air and celebrating a second win on the Giro in some style.

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