German rider Lennard Kämna won the fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia on the slopes of Mount Etna while Juan Pedro López moved into the overall lead, as the Italian grand tour returned to home soil.
Kämna, who rides for Bora-Hansgrohe, had time to raise his arms above his head as he crossed the line just ahead of López, who banged his handlebars in frustration having ridden wide at the final corner.
Both of them had been part of an early breakaway, as was Rein Taaramäe, who finished third at the end of the 172km (107-mile) route from Avola that culminated on the steep climb up the volcano, as the riders faced their first serious test of this year’s race.
It was a second grand tour stage win for the 25-year-old Kämna, who won a stage on the Tour de France two years ago. “It was a super hard day, especially the last climb. It was really long and really hard,” said Kämna. “I almost thought I lost it when López had more than 30 seconds and I just made it to bridge. Then I tried to recover a little bit for the sprint and it worked out really well.”
López could console himself by taking over the leader’s pink jersey from Mathieu van der Poel, who had worn it since winning the opening stage in Hungary. The 24-year-old Spanish rider is 39 seconds ahead of Kämna and 58 ahead of Taaramäe. “I’m so happy today for taking the jersey. I don’t believe this moment so I need to enjoy tomorrow, today, and every moment with the jersey,” said López, who rides for TrekSegafredo. “I tried to go on the hardest part because there I can make the difference. I tried but Kämna took me in the last two or three kilometres and we fought for the sprint.”
Most of the leading contenders crossed the line together although Miguel Angel López – one of the favourites for the stage win and overall victory – pulled out of the Giro after struggling in the hilly opening kilometres of the route with a left hip injury that he sustained earlier in the race. Tom Dumoulin’s chances of winning a second Giro also look all but over. The 2017 champion was dropped on the climb, as was home favourite and two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali, and the Dutch cyclist lost more than six minutes to his rivals.
There was more drama earlier in the day as well, following two crashes. Simon Yates was involved in one of them and needed brief treatment but was able to continue.
The stage sparked into life on the approach to Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Stefano Oldani set off on a long solo attack, but he was passed by López with just over 10km remaining. Kämna made the catch with 2.5km to go and the duo worked together before the chase to the line. López made a mistake at the final turn but Kämna admitted that, with the Spaniard guaranteed the maglia rosa, it was almost as if they “had a silent agreement”.
The Giro stays in Sicily for Wednesday’s fifth stage, a 174km leg from Messina to Catania that features a category two climb shortly before the halfway point.