Britain’s Simon Yates made up ground on overall leader Rohan Dennis as Tim Wellens won a tough uphill sprint on stage four of the Giro d’Italia.
The first stage on Italian soil, after three in Israel, finished with a 1km climb that saw Belgian Wellens hold off the challenge of Michael Woods.
Yates was fourth, four seconds in front of Dennis, to move up to third overall.
Fellow Briton Chris Froome finished 21 seconds behind Wellens and Yates to slip 55 seconds behind Dennis.
Australian BMC Racing rider Dennis retained the overall lead by one second from defending champion Tom Dumoulin.
The finishing climb in Caltagirone, which featured a section with a gradient of 13%, was expected to produce splits in the peloton. And so it proved, with Froome, who is now 20th overall, among the big losers.
Dumoulin lands another early blow on Froome
Dutchman Dumoulin backed up his crushing victory in the opening time trial in Jerusalem with an assured display on the first uphill finish of the race.
While not among the favourites for the stage win, the 27-year-old kept himself to the fore during a testing finale to roll home just four seconds behind Wellens and extend his advantage over Froome to almost a minute after only four stages.
Froome has been caught out on a short, sharp final climb before. He cracked and lost 20 seconds and the yellow jersey to Fabio Aru on stage 12 in Peyragudes during last year’s Tour de France before hitting back to win his fourth title.
But he already cannot afford to lose more time over hilly terrain to the likes of Dumoulin, Yates and Thibaut Pinot. The long, grinding climb of Mount Etna to end Thursday’s stage six will be key to Froome’s hopes of staying in contention.
Yates, 25, lost 20 seconds to defending champion Dumoulin in the opening time trial – a success given their relative abilities against the clock – before grabbing four seconds back on Tuesday.
But Dumoulin will be the most content of the main contenders after the first day in Italy, especially as he does not have the pressure of having to defend the maglia rosa (leader’s jersey).
Giro thrills on first day in Italy
After two predictable sprint stage victories for Elia Viviani in Israel, the first stage back in Italy served up racing that was more exciting, over an undulating 198km course from Catania to Caltagirone on the island of Sicily.
Enrico Barbin, Maxim Belkov, Marco Frapporti, Quentin Jauregui and Jacopo Mosca formed the breakaway early on, with Barbin extending his lead in the blue jersey for the best climber. Jauregui and Barbin then fell back before the remaining trio were caught by the peloton with around 15km remaining.
As the pace increased through numerous tight turns, several riders sustained punctures, with Katusha-Alpecin’s Jose Goncalves worst affected – the Portuguese falling out of the top 10 after starting the stage third overall.
Italy’s Valerio Conti surged clear solo just inside the final 10km but was swept up with 3km to go before Yates’ Mitchelton-Scott team hit the final rise on the front.
LottoNL-Jumbo’s Enrico Battaglin made the first attack but Wellens sat on his wheel, before coming round the Italian with 200m to go and holding off the surging Woods.
The race stays in Sicily for Wednesday’s stage five, which is a hilly 153km course from Agrigento to Santa Ninfa.
Stage four result:
1. Tim Wellens (Bel/Lotto Fix All) 5hr 17min 34secs
2. Michael Woods (Can/EF Education First-Drapac) Same time
3. Enrico Battaglin (Ita/LottoNL-Jumbo)
4. Simon Yates (GB/Mitchelton-Scott)
5. Davide Formolo (Ita/Bora-Hansgrohe)
6. Roman Kreuziger (Cze/Mitchelton-Scott) +4secs
7. Patrick Konrad (Aut/Bora-Hansgrohe) Same time
8. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa/Astana)
9. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita/Bahrain Merida)
10. Esteban Chaves (Col/Mithchelton-Scott)
General classification after stage four:
1. Rohan Dennis (Aus/BMC) 14hrs 23mins 08secs
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned/Team Sunweb) +01secs
3. Simon Yates (GB/Mitchelton-Scott) +17secs
4. Tim Wellens (Bel/Lotto Fix All) +19secs
5. Pello Bilbao (Spa/Astana) +25secs
6. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger/Quick-Step Floors) +28secs
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita/Bahrain-Merida) Same time
8. Thibaut Pinot (Fra/Groupama-FDJ) +34secs
9. Patrick Konrad (Aut/Bora-Hansgrohe) +35secs
10. Carlos Betancur (Col/Movistar Team) Same time
20. Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky) +55secs
36. Alex Dowsett (GB/Katusha-Alpecin) +1min 30secs