Germany’s John Degenkolb of the Argos-Shimano team won a rain-soaked fifth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday, held over 203km from Cosenza to Matera, to claim his first victory in the race.
Most of the peloton, including race leader Luca Paolini of Katusha and favorite Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky, were held up by several crashes on a dangerous left-hand corner inside the final 1.5km.
However Paolini, who is not a contender for overall victory, and the rest of the peloton benefited from race rules allowing anyone caught up or delayed by crashes inside the final 3km to be given the same time as the winner.
“I was lucky,” said Paolini, a one-day classics specialist. “I saw the crash and managed to somehow stay on my bike, but it was to be expected on a 90-degree turn on a wet road.”
Paolini, 36 years old yet making his Giro debut this year, claimed the race lead with victory on stage three.
Paolini led Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran by 17 seconds with the real contenders for the race’s main prize not far behind.
Former Tour of Spain champion Vincenzo Nibali of Italy was fourth at 31 seconds, defending champion Ryder Hesjedal of Canada was fifth at 34 seconds, Wiggins was sixth with the same deficit and Australian Cadel Evans, a former Tour de France winner, was 10th at 42 seconds.
Degenkolb, meanwhile, had done well to stay near the front of the peloton as it approached a bend in the road which had been singled out as potentially dangerous.
When a number of riders slid to the ground, it left Marco Canola racing off excitedly on his own hoping to emulate the stage victory of Bardiani teammate Enrico Battaglin on Tuesday.
However the young Italian’s bid foundered in the closing 200m when Degenkolb dug deep to sweep past.
“It was a hard finish, especially the last kilometer,” said the German after winning his maiden stage on the race having won five on the Tour of Spain last year.
“It was super fast and then there was the crash. I saw I had a gap and so I had to go full gas for the last 800m,” Degenkolb said. “I was empty when I hit the line, but it’s great to win.”
Britain’s Mark Cavendish, the opening stage winner in Naples, was one of several top sprinters tipped to contend the stage win.
However, like many of his rivals, the Omega-Pharma fast man began sliding toward the back of the peloton as the pace increased on the way up the Montescaglioso climb.
With a number of other teams picking up the pace on the 20km descent to the finish, Cavendish eventually trailed home over six minutes in arrears.