By David Hunter
Cefalu – Etna 181km
The day after a rest day is usually one that worries a few riders, facing Etna will not make them feel any better.
Since the route was announced, most cycling fans have been looking forward to this stage. Last time we climbed Etna, it was back in 2011 and Alberto Contador took a famous win. Who will write their name in the history books this time?
A nice day for the peloton, but we will have a headwind on the climb. Luckily, the wind strength is quite low, but it will make the climb harder for attackers.
After 50km of flat, the riders tackle the very long climb to Portella Femmina Morta. This cat 2 climb is 32.8km at 4.5%. This will certainly find out if anyone has bad legs after a day of rest.
The climb of Etna is 17.9km at 6.6%. As you can see the climb features ever changing gradients, this does not suit some riders. It is not a surprise that Contador won here, he loves this style of climb. It certainly suits the pure climbers more than the TT boys who turned their sights towards the hills.
The climb gets very difficult towards the end, with 4km at 7.9%, before flattening out for the final kilometre. I would expect to see some of the GC riders testing their rivals towards the top of the climb.
QuickStep have the pink jersey, but it is unlikely they hold onto it. It is likely that they will honour the jersey, by still controlling the breakaway. It’s one of those unwritten rules of cycling. Their presence on the front will disappear on the cat 2 climb. There is no point of their team burning riders in the hope of Jungels taking pink. Expect to see them back off and let another team take control.
At that point, we should see some riders attacking from the bunch. It really is the perfect point to make a move, as the big GC teams look at each other and wait to see who wants to boss the peloton. If the right rider gets away, they could end up with a stage win and pink jersey for their efforts.
As we head towards Etna, I think we’ll see Bahrain start to take control. Nibali is desperate to take the pink jersey as he heads to his hometown on Wednesday. Expect to see a lot of the Bahrain riders in this stage.
Once on the final climb, I’m unsure how it will unfold. Such a long climb, there are plenty of things that can happen. The other big factor is how early this stage appears in the race. The final week of the Giro is very demanding, if you want to be in top form for the final week, it’s unlikely you will be in that form right now. It certainly opens the door for a “surprise” winner.
Team Sky’s approach will be fascinating. In the Tour, we usually see them attack the first mountain top finish, will they do the same here? With Kiryienka, Elissonde, Henao and Rosa, they certainly have the riders to destroy the peloton. They have co-leaders, Thomas and Landa, that should give them an advantage in the final 6km. Team Sky will have a big say in this stage.
Nairo Quintana – the little Colombian is the massive favourite to win the pink jersey in Milan, but I don’t think he’ll be near his best yet. When he won his previous pink jersey, in 2014, he wasn’t really seen until the final week. If around 90%, Quintana will look to follow wheels up the climb. With Anacona and Amador, he has two riders capable of helping him a long way up the climb. He will be delighted to finish on the same time as his big GC rivals.
Vincenzo Nibali – certainly wasn’t at his best in the Tour of Croatia, but as we know, Nibali is a different beast in the grand tours. As I have already mentioned, he would dearly love to take pink and wear it into Messina on Wednesday. Back in 2011, he finished 4th on Mount Etna, which was later corrected to 3rd after Contador’s ban. For Nibali to win this stage, he needs to have undergone a miraculous recovery after Croatia. He is capable of this!
Steven Kruijswijk – the man with the widest shoulders in cycling! I think he is over his crash from the Tour of Yorkshire, something that was concerning me. At his best, the Dutch climber is one of the very best in the world. After such a crushing disappointment, in 2016, I think he has shown mental strength to bounce back. His team might not be the strongest, but I think he will have a say in the outcome of the stage.
Geraint Thomas – after a brilliant performance on the Terminillo, the Welshman will not be scared of Etna. With a strong team around him, he knows this is the first of his big tests. He will be happy to have Landa with him, it certainly takes some of the pressure off his shoulders. With Landa possibly down to attack, Thomas will have the privilege of sitting in the group following wheels. This is a big day for Thomas, he knows he needs to deliver.
Mikel Landa – this is a climb that suits his characteristics. The Spaniard is a true mountain specialist, he will love the irregular gradients of the climb. As he will also have Geraint Thomas, it is possible the Spaniard can attack with around 7km remaining. That would force other teams into chasing, but if he times the move right, there might not be many domestiques left to chase. This is where having two options is a real positive for a team. Landa impressed me in the Tour of the Alps, I think his top form isn’t far away.
Ilnur Zakarin – the Russian will like this climb. He is brilliant climber and a rider that seems to improve every year. Already having lost some time to his GC rivals, he knows this is a chance to make up some of that ground. Zakarin will ride his usual attacking race, but will he get away?
Adam Yates – after a brilliant Tour de France, Yates has some pressure on his shoulders. That 4th place put him up into the elite category, but he needs a big performance to stay there. He is an exceptional talent and another climber that will like Etna. Packing a fast sprint, he won’t mind if a small group arrive together.
Davide Formolo – the young Italian has the ability to win this stage. The main GC favourites will not view him as a real threat, thanks to his TT ability, that means he should be allowed some freedom on the climb. He has looked in very good form recently and Cannondale will hope that he goes a long way in this stage.
Thibaut Pinot – without doubt, the fastest sprinter in the group. FDJ have riders to help support Pinot in this stage and packing a sprint, he will be happy to hear about the headwind. Pinot has won big mountain stages before, can he add Etna to his palmares?
Bauke Mollema – a strong contender for the top 10, but I can’t see him winning.
Tejay Van Garderen – the American should go well, as this stage comes early in the race. His recent form has been promising, but he can never be fully trusted in a grand tour.
Tom Dumoulin – this is not his type of climb. Dumoulin will be looking to follow his main rivals, trying to limit any losses. If he finishes within sight of the main climbers, he will be very happy.
The headwind will complicate matters. Riders will save a lot of energy by staying in the group and out of the wind. However, that will not stop some riders from attacking, especially in the final 6km.
Coming so early in the race, it is a difficult stage to predict, so I will go with my heart. As we are in Sicily, I think that Vincenzo Nibali will take the stage and pink jersey.
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