Meintjes plays it safe on nervy stage

The peloton rides in Monterosso Almo during Stage 4 of the 101st Giro d'Italia. LUK BENIES/AFP/Getty Images

Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka's Giro d'Italia leader Louis Meintjes had a steady and safe Stage 4, won by Tim Wellens of Lotto Fix All.

Meintjes finished in 17th place, safely in the peloton during Tuesday's stage which took place in Sicily -- the first this year in Italy, after the opening three stages took place in Israel.

As it happened, the race contenders had to be careful during the 202km journey from Catania to Caltagirone which contained two category four climbs and a summit finish offering gradients of 13% at points.

"Yeah, it was a super hard stage, up and down all day. It was quite nervous in the bunch too. The stage was much harder than it looked on paper," revealed Meintjes in a team press release.

The breakaway formed early on during the stage, just 20km in, with five riders escaping from the peloton. The make-up of the escapees reflected the fact that the majority of teams chose to play it safe around their general classification hopes -- as Africa's Team tried to do around Meintjes.

As a result, Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF), Marco Frapporti (Androni-Giocattoli), Jacopo Mosca (Wilier-Triestina), Maxim Belkov (Katusha-Alpecin) and Quentin Jauregui (AG2R La Mondiale) were able to stay together for the majority of the stage. It was only when the peloton ramped up their pace in the closing stages that the group dwindled to three, and then with 13km to go the race was all together again.

Not long after a bottleneck in the road caused a crash near the front of the peloton, but Meintjes emerged unschathed. Team DiData's second-in-command Ben O'Connor was held up but Ryan Gibbons and Natnael Berhane were on hand to assist O'Connor in chasing back, and the Australian made the junction to the front group with 3km to go.

The short sharp summit finish suited the punchy riders like eventual stage winner Wellens rather than pure climbers like Meintjes. While race leader Rohan Dennis (BMC), defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) finished only four seconds back from Wellens the stage, Meintjes finished 10 seconds down.

That said, the 26-year-old managed to cross alongside many other GC contenders like Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), and even ahead of the likes of Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).

"In the final my legs felt good, I think I lost a bit of time but I was at least close to the front," Meintjes -- who is now one minute 15 seconds down on Dennis -- concluded.