To while away the time aboard the team bus ahead of stage 4 of the Giro d'Italia, Lotto Fix All riders perused some of the stage previews and pre-race odds on the internet to find that their own Tim Wellens was the consensus favourite for the honours in Caltagirone.
The Belgian squad were hardly taking a punt, mind, when they put their shoulders to the wheel to help ensure the stage would be decided in a reduced group finish atop the one-kilometre haul to the line. Buoyed by his fine spring form, Wellens arrived at this Giro targeting stage victories, and he achieved his goal at the first realistic opportunity in Sicily.
"Today it was planned to go for the stage win from the start. We saw before the stage on the internet that I was the biggest favourite, so we went all in, and it couldn't have gone any better," Wellens said afterwards.
Wellens was well positioned throughout the final kilometre and moved swiftly across to the rear wheel of Enrico Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo) when the Italian opened his sprint with 250 metres to go. Shortly afterwards, Wellens produced a ferocious acceleration of his own, and he held off Michael Woods (EF-Drapac) to take the stage honours.
"I wasn't sure until the end. I felt I wasn't slowing down, but you never know if somebody is coming up faster from behind," Wellens said. "Battaglin went with 250 metres to go, and I followed him, and then went past him in the final 200 metres."
The victory was Wellens' second on the Giro following his triumph at Roccaraso in the opening week of the 2016 edition of the corsa rosa. On that occasion, Wellens triumphed alone, but this victory, ahead of all of the GC favourites on the Giro, is one that he feels carries more weight.
"Two years ago, I knew I had already won with a few kilometres to go, so the sensation was not the same," Wellens said. "Today, there was a lot of emotion, and it feels better to beat the whole peloton rather than just the breakaway. For me, this is a more special win. Today was also a victory for the team. Adam Hansen did a really long turn for me in the final, and then Tosh van der Sande kept me in position on the climb."
Wellens' victory will not have done his hopes of leading the Belgian challenge at the Innsbruck Worlds any harm – "I'm going to work specifically towards Worlds. I won't be Belgium's only leader, but I want to be one of them," he explained – but although he now lies fourth on general classification, 19 seconds behind Rohan Dennis (BMC), he has no ambitions to test himself over three weeks.
"I know what kind of rider I am. I'm the kind of rider who can go for the GC in a one-week race, and I like the Walloon Classics and Lombardia," he said. "But in the Grand Tours, I prefer to go for stage wins instead of the GC."
Wellens should have opportunities to add to his tally of Giro stages wins later in this opening week, most notably on Saturday's hilltop finish at Montevergine, where his fellow countryman Bart De Clercq was the last winner in 2011.
"We're looking at the race day by day, but I already proved I have very good legs," Wellens said. "When you get one victory, you are more relaxed, and everything comes easier, so I hope to go for another, but I also want to help my teammates on stages here."