Sprint specialist Nacer Bouhanni survived a puncture to end a three-year drought for French cyclists and win a rainy fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday.
FDJ.fr rider Bouhanni, 23, overcame a puncture on the penultimate lap after the 112km run from Giovinazzo to Bari to sprint to victory, ahead of Italy’s Giacomo Nizzolo and Dutch rider Tom Veelers.
Bouhanni’s task had been made significantly easier when Germany’s Marcel Kittel, who had won two of the first three stages in Ireland, was unable to start the stage because he was running a fever.
Australia’s Michael Matthews finished among the leading group in 49th position to retain the leader’s pink jersey, after the first stage of the race to take place on Italian soil.
“This is my first stage win in a grand tour,” a jubilant Bouhanni said, after a breakthrough season in which he has notched up six wins this year.
“It is also a relief! Now, I have the [red] jersey of the points classification and I will do everything possible to keep it. But I will mostly concentrate on the sprints, this is what brings the most points,” he added.
Bouhanni becomes the first Frenchman since John Gadret in 2011 to prevail on the Giro.
However, rain made conditions extremely difficult for riders, resulting in organizers deciding not to allocate bonus times on the final 8.3km lap around Bari because of the dreadful weather.
“It was just way too slippery,” Matthews said. “So we decided together with all of the GC [general classification] riders to neutralize.”
“It was really dangerous on every corner. It was agreed with the majority of the peloton, it’s only right,” Bouhanni said. “The roads were very slippery and it became very dangerous in the last lap. There was a big fall at 3km and I almost fell, I hit the pavement. I punctured the front wheel and I broke my rear wheel.”
“I took the last corner in third place behind [Luka] Mezgec, who slipped a bit. I also slipped a little, there was a break and I gave everything to catch up with the leaders [Veelers],” Bouhanni said.
Bouhanni did not have many established sprint rivals to contend with at the end and clocked nearly 2.5 hours over the flat route to Bari — the shortest stage of the three-week race.
Kittel, who won stages in Belfast and Dublin, said he was disappointed not to be able to continue his title push.
“I am very disappointed about leaving the Giro after such a strong start in good condition, but I do not feel healthy and I am not in the position to start the race in this condition,” said Kittel, who rides for the Giant-Shimano team.
Yesterday’s fifth stage was scheduled to cover 203km between Tarente and Viggiano, concluding with a 5km climb.
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