CALTAGIRONE, Sicily (AP) — Chris Froome fell further behind the leaders as Belgian rider Tim Wellens won the hilly fourth stage of the Giro d'Italia on Tuesday.
Froom finished 21 seconds behind Wellens, pushing the four-time Tour de France champion down to 20th overall, 55 seconds behind race leader Rohan Dennis of Australia, who held on to the overall leader's pink jersey.
The 202-kilometer (126-mile) leg from Catania to Caltagirone in Sicily marked the return of the race to home soil following the opening three stages in Israel.
Froome, who is attempting to win his third straight Grand Tour, already struggled in the opening time trial after a training crash.
"I wasn't in great position getting into the (finishing) climb," said Froome, who still has bruises on his right leg. "But I'm getting better and better each day after the crash."
Wellens, who rides for the Lotto-Fix ALL team, was one of five riders to create a small advantage in the final kilometer, which was entirely uphill — with gradients up to 13 percent. Once the main pack caught up, Wellens burst ahead again.
"I started with a bit of an advantage at the beginning of the climb," Wellens said. "I didn't have to go full-on from the bottom; I could wait for the last 200 meters.
The 26-year-old Wellens also won a Giro stage two years ago, and he topped the overall classification in the five-stage Vuelta Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol in February.
"I'm very happy with winning as early as on stage 4, so the rest of the Giro will just be a bonus, whatever comes next," Wellens said. "I'll ride stress free now."
Michael Woods of Canada crossed second and Italian Enrico Battaglin finished third, both with the same time as Wellens.
Dennis, who rides for BMC, holds a 1-second lead over defending champion Tom Dumoulin.
Simon Yates of Britain finished fourth in the stage and moved up from sixth to third overall, 17 seconds behind.
"It's been hectic with a lot of corners and a lot of public in the finale," Dennis said. "It was a question of staying out of trouble from the last ten kilometers until the bottom of the last climb. It's pretty common that I've lost the leader's jersey after one day in other Grand Tours. To retain the Maglia Rosa today is big for me."
The scenic stage began with riders registering inside a Roman amphitheater in Catania then flowed through lush, green hills and colorful towns before the finish in Caltagirone, which is known for its ceramics.
An early breakaway featuring five riders — Enrico Barbin, Marco Frapporti, Jacopo Mosca, Maxim Belkov and Quentin Jauregui — established an advantage of three minutes before being caught by the main pack with 13 kilometers to go.
There are two more difficult stages in Sicily — including an arduous ascent up Mount Etna on Thursday — before the race heads over to mainland Italy and climbs up the peninsula to the defining climbs in the Alps.
The Giro ends in Rome on May 27.