Monday's third stage from Rapallo to Sestri Levante left the Giro d'Italia peloton tired and dizzy after the hundreds of curves, corners, testing climbs and twisting descent. But they face more of the same pain on stage four in the spectacular but hilly Cinque Terre region.
La Spezia is a naval armoury town and the birthplace of Alessandro Petacchi (Southeast) but stage four is not a day for old men and especially veteran sprinters. The management at Orica-GreenEdge believes that Michael Matthews will be able to keep the pink jersey for another day but others in the Giro d'Italia peloton expect some of overall contenders to show their hand and go on the attack. Like stage two of the last year's Tour de France to Sheffield, the stage could even be won by the rider who will go on to win the Giro d'Italia.
The 150km stage is from Chiavari to La Spezia and rides deep into the Ligurian hills before returning to the coast and then climbing again before descending to La Spezia. To add a further difficulty, the riders face a 17km circuit that includes the third category Biassa climb before one last descent to the finish in the port town.
The stage is packed with climbs but only has two categorised climbs. The Passo del Termine begins after 92km, with 48km to go. It is 8.8km long, with the six kilometres at 8%. It is perfectly placed to launch a serious attack.
The Biassa climb is the perfect for a late attack. The 17km circuit is like a world championship road race circuit, with the climb 3.5km long. It also steepens as it rises, starting at 6% but topping out at 11%. The summit is only 10km from the finish, with seven kilometres of it on a testing road back to La Spezia.
Rising tension in the peloton
The crashes on stage two and three have raised the level of tension in the peloton, meaning riders will fight even more to stay protected and out of trouble at the front of the peloton. The spiral of fear and desire to win and gain time could whip up a storm. "Stage four is like today (stage three on Monday) but it's even longer," Team Sky's leader Richie Porte explained. "There's a lot of nervous guys and there will be tomorrow too. It's 150km of up and down and twisting, like today. It's the standard first week of a Grand Tour…."
Team Sky team manager Dave Brailsford hopes the riders he selected to back Porte will be able to stay with the Tasmanian and help him make it to La Spezia without losing time.
"Because it's so early in the race, it depends on how the stage is raced," he argued. "If it's raced hard, then it'll be hard. We'll see what people think on the day. Sometimes you stages like those and think they're going to be hard but then it doesn't happen. Certainly got to vigilant. Equally it'll be interesting to see."
"Often it defends how nervous the peloton gets, so it's self-fulfilling. Everyone wants to get to the front because they're nervous, then everyone gets even more nervous and then all of a sudden it's full on. If everybody relaxed a bit and did their thing, it'd be a lot less stressful."
The Tinkoff-Saxo team has been aggressive so far in this year's Giro d'Italia. Alberto Contador is sixth overall, only 17 seconds behind Matthews and so is within reach of the pink jersey if the Russian team decides to go on the attack. Controversial team owner Oleg Tinkov is at the Giro d'Italia until Sunday and has brought a host of Tinkoff Bank guest to the race and hired a VIP area for them at the finish.
Contador claimed the team rode on the front to stay out of trouble. However it also inspired his rivals to do the same, meaning Astana and Etixx-Quickstep also spent long spells near the head of the peloton.
"We've got to ride near the front to stay safe going through all the corners," Fabio Aru explained to Cyclingnews. "But it's important to race intelligently too. I'm trying to do both but were ready for anything."