I haven’t been able to watch the first three stages in full due to uni, as well as official coverage being behind a hefty paywall (screw you Eurosport, I liked my FTA cycling coverage!), but from what I’ve heard and seen it’s been an intense first few days. Postlberger being too powerful for his own sprinters after a tricky hairpin turn on Stage 1, Greipel dominating the Stage 2 sprint and late echelons plus crashes at the end of Stage 3 sees Gaviria in the Pink Jersey after a reduced bunch sprint (and a crazy pull by Jungels). After the race’s first rest day, the riders transfer onto Sicily where they tackle their first GC defining stage: Cefalù to Etna. Contador was the last to win on Etna back in 2011, and this stage will crown a new King of the Volcano.
The riders will depart from the seaside town of Cefalu, with a 2.8km neutral zone out of the town. From there, it’s 57 kilometers along the coast to just past Acquedoici before they turn inland where the climbs start. Well, climb. The Portella Femmina Morta (literally translated to Dead Women’s Climb) is a 32.7km behemoth – and while it only averages around 4.8%, there is still 1462m of climbing involved. Oh, and for extra pain, it’s only a GPM2 climb, so it’s not even worth the full points. Over the 32.7km, the weak climbers will be begging for forgiveness from the broom van early in the day, knowing full well that there is more to come.
After the Portella Femmina Morta, there is a descent on the south side of the climb past Cesaro and down to just before Bronte, where the first sprint point of the day is located. The Bronte sprint point is also uphill, on a shallow 4km climb. More fun for the sprinters. After Bronte, the race starts to descend into Biancavilla for the 2nd sprint point (thankfully it’s flat, for the sprinters who still remain, or the breakaway up the road). After Santa Maria di Licodia 5 kilometers later, there is hardly any flat relief until the riders retreat to the team bus at the top of Etna.
That makes a perfect segue into the pièce de résistance of the stage: Mount Etna. Starting in Nicolosi, the 17.9km climb averages around 7.2% all the way into the finish in Rifugio Sapienza. The first 7 kilometers of the climb is a bit up and down with undulating sections of -2% up to 10%, but once the riders hit Salto del Cane it’s only up from there. The steepest section is 12% at Salto del Cane halfway up the climb, and after that it’s pretty consistently hovering around 7-8%. It’ll be a tough drag, with a hard-to-get-into-rhythm start to the climb before a straight vertical line finish.
The final kilometers into Rifugio is still really tough. It’s around 5.5% average in the final 5 kilometers, but the final kilometer is at 2.7%. It’s pretty flat for the final 500m, but after the climb beforehand I doubt we will be seeing any full flight sprints. What would be great to see would be a drag race between a collection of favourites, just going at each other into the final kilometers. This looks to be an exciting stage, and if the past couple of stages are anything to go by, the action will be exhilarating up here.
The weather in Cefalu will be around 16 degrees, and cloudy. However, the riders will be tackling a cross/tailwind of around 20kmh (which will suit a break going out and gaining time) before they turn inland to get a full tailwind up the Portella Femmina Morta. As the riders head more inland, the temperature is expected to drop to around 12 degrees on the back of the PFM climb, and at the base of Etna in Nicolosi it’s expected to be around 17 degrees with a crosswind up the first section of the climb. The most important factor of the day will be up Mount Etna. The weather on the climb is expected to be a nippy 7 degree maximum where the riders are going to finish up (but below freezing at the peak!). Also, there will be a 14kmh headwind going up the climb, making an already slow drag seem even slower.
The GC Situation
While the Maglia Rosa is still safely on sprinters shoulders, the stage into Etna will see huge changes. Yesterday’s stage saw Rohan Dennis lose over 5 minutes after crashing with 11km to go and missing the split. Pierre Rolland also missed the split, putting him 2:26 behind the leaders and 2 mintues behind most of the other GC contenders. Woods also lost a minute, which means Cannondale will probably run with Formolo as leader. Jan Barta lost 1:40 and is now down 14:39, so Konrad might take leadership duties for Bora after they are done stage hunting. Every other GC leader finished safely in the front bunch, except for Jungels who got into the break of 7 at the end of the stage and gained 10 seconds. Kruisjwijk still sits 13 seconds behind most GC leaders after losing time on Stage 1.
Top 10 GC Contenders:
- Bob Jungels – 14:45:29
- Geraint Thomas – 23″
- Vincenzo Nibali – 23″
- Adam Yates – 23″
- Domenico Pozzovivo – 23″
- Rui Costa – 23″
- Nairo Quintana – 23″
- Tom Dumoulin – 23″
- Luis Leon Sanchez – 23″
- Patrick Konrad – 23″
There will definitely be an early break, probably featuring riders like Teklehaimanot (Tekkers, Teklepolkadot, whatever you want to call him) and Zhupa who have been in two breaks already this Giro. Benedetti and Fraile also rank highly in the mountains classification and might try and make the break in a stage where they have no team leaders who could conceivably win. The break will probably make it over the first climb without issues, but will be caught between the second sprint point and the base of Etna as the teams with climbers lift the pace to get onto the climb in the best position. If not, they’ll be caught very quickly on Etna.
From there, it’ll be a fight to the death, the peloton slowly whittling down as the altitude increases. There’ll probably be a select group of riders by the time we reach the final kilometers of the stage of maybe 15 riders trying to get free to get some extra time and assure themselves a few days in pink. I suspect the climb will be tackled with a lot of vigor, and there will be the closest thing to a mountain top sprint you can get as riders want time bonuses for the lead. There really is a dartboard of options you can go for. Nairo Quintana is by far the best climber at the race, but I don’t see Movistar wanting to defend the pink jersey for 17 stages. My pick for the stage is Domenico Pozzovivo, the long drag suits him as he can just ride to the tempo and then explode riders off his wheel. Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana will take up the two remaining podium steps, while Bob Jungels will stay in white.
The stage starts at noon local time and should go for around 4 and a half hours. I am certainly looking forward to it, it’s one of the stages I highlighted and I hope it lives up to my expectations! For now, I’m out.
~The Cycling Raven.