By David Hunter
Caltanissetta – Etna 164km
Time for the first mountaintop finish.
We were here last year, but this time we climb from the other side. This makes the climb harder, mainly due to the uncategorised lump before the Etna climb starts, but still not something the climbers will be scared of.
The climb is 15km at 6.5%, as I said, not overly difficult for the best in the world. The main difficulty is the 3.7km stretch at 8%, which does start with 500m at 12%. This is the point where gaps can be created and riders put into difficulty. Once through this zone, the final 1.5km is easy.
Cloudy, not very warm, with the wind coming from the north-west.
That means a cross/headwind for the majority of the climb, but there is a tailwind for most of the last 3km. Not great conditions for the attackers.
This is why we’ll get lots of attacks. It seems clear that Froome is not yet in top condition, he might be saving that for the final week. His rivals will sense a chance of putting some time into him and trying to further distance him on GC. The dogs smell blood.
Not great for the breakers. The break survived last year, but I don’t see it happening again. We have a number of teams who want a stage win and the Froome situation will spell doom for the hopes of the early move.
Domenico Pozzovivo – he seems in amazing form. It’s been a long time since he won his only Giro stage, that was way back in 2012, but he’ll be confident of winning this one. Bahrain don’t have the strongest of climbing squads to help their leader, he’ll have to be patient and let other teams close gaps. Expect to see him attack near the top of the climb, but I’m not sure he’ll be given any freedom. To win the stage, he’ll need to drop his main rivals.
Tom Dumoulin – the big man seems to be in fine form. After taking the opening TT, he’s quietly gone about his business, but he’s been looking impressive. This is a climb he will like, especially as it’s the only proper climb in the whole stage. Dumoulin knows he will come under attack, but he’ll hope that Sam Oomen can last deep into the stage. Expect to see Dumoulin also attack, he’ll want to put Froome under pressure.
Simon Yates – another rider who can be pleased with his opening five stages. Mitchelton-Scott have an embarrassment of riches, their squad has the most depth in the field. This will allow them to attack and try to grind down their opponents. Expect to see moves from Nieve, Kreuziger and Chaves before Yates makes his move.
Miguel Angel Lopez – another rider with a strong team, but unlike Yates, he needs to make up some time. He sits almost 2 minutes behind Dennis and Dumoulin, that is a huge gap in the Giro. The pressure is on the Colombian to take back some of that time and this will force Astana into an attacking race. We will have to see if Lopez can finish it off.
Thibaut Pinot – was brilliant in the Tour of the Alps and this is the first stage he will be looking forward to since the Giro started. Not only does Pinot climb well, but he has a very fast sprint at the end of a climb. The French star has a strong team to support him and he’ll sense the chance to distance Froome and put pressure on Dumoulin. After losing to him in 2017, Pinot knows that he must seize every chance in the mountains.
Michael Woods – the nearly man. There are better climbers than him, there are faster finishers too. To win the stage, Woods needs to ride a tactically astute race, something he rarely seems to do. Could well finish on the podium, but can he eventually take the win?
George Bennett – the dark horse! I have been hugely impressed by his performances in 2018 and think this is a big chance for him. The Kiwi is still underrated by some people, this could see him given a little freedom towards the end of the race. He’s also a very attacking rider, no way he simply waits until the sprint. 2017 saw him take his first pro win, is he ready to win a grand tour stage?
Tim Wellens – it wouldn’t surprise me. In his favour is that the stage is easy, apart from the finish. Going against him is the length of the climb. Given the year he’s had, I cannot rule him out.
Due to the wind conditions, the best riders should wait until the final 3km to attack. The problem is we only have 1.5km of difficult gradient, before the flatter finish. This isn’t a big section for riders to break the bunch. When the dust settles, I think we’ll see George Bennett emerge victorious.
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