Stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia was a bad day at the office for Etixx QuickStep with the team losing Gianni Meersman, and Rigoberto Urán slipping down the GC when his main rivals distanced him on the final climb before the finish in La Spezia.
Urán, second in the last two editions of the race, was unable to respond to an attack from Fabio Aru (Astana) on the climb of Biassa and the situation was made worse with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and Richie Porte (Team Sky) both skipping across to the Italian.
Despite a frenetic chase Urán lost 42 seconds to his three main rivals and dropped to 14th overall, 1:11 down on race leader Simon Clarke (Orica GreenEdge). He is now almost a minute down on Contador, the best placed rider of the overall contenders.
The day had been marked by a large break and Davide Formolo (Cannondale Garmin) winning the stage but it was Astana’s relentless pace setting in the second half of the race that did the most damage, with Urán one of the final casualties.
“It was a difficult day all day," Urán said in a post-stage press release.
"It was really high speed. When Astana set the tempo in the last 65 kilometers I was able to sit in the wheel. All was going well, but in the last climb I suffered a bit and couldn’t follow when Aru accelerated. At that point I tried to set my tempo and lose as little time as possible going into the finish. It wasn’t a super day for me, but tomorrow is another day. The climb of Abetone is a different kind of climb so we will see how things go tomorrow."
Optimism for stage 5 will be tempered, however, with the fact that the team have lost their second rider in the race after Meersman was forced to abandon. The Belgian crashed on stage 3 of race and his injuries proved too great, despite a valiant effort at the start of the race.
“I was lost immediately at the beginning of the stage, but I managed to come back into the peloton," Meersman said.
"However, after 80 kilometers it was impossible to continue. I had pain in my lower back and deep in my chest. In any case it was difficult to breathe and handle the bike, so I was forced to stop. Of course I am sad because we have two riders less now.”
The team lost Pieter Serry on stage 2 in crash with doctors confirming that the rider had suffered a small fissure on his right collarbone. No operation is required but the rider will need four weeks of rest in order for the injury to heal.
“Today we lost Gianni, which means we are down two guys in four days," Davide Bramati added. "This is not really the best way to start the Giro. Rigo also suffered a bit. But the Giro is three weeks long. The guys are committed, and of course Rigo has worked hard to do well at this race. So tomorrow we will wait and see what can happen, but we want to try to get our chance in this Giro.”