NAPOLI, Italy (VN) — The 2022 Giro d’Italia will go from a slow boil to boiling over in Sunday’s challenging 191km ninth stage from Isernia to Blockhaus.
After more than a week of racing, the peloton faces its first truly decisive mountaintop finale at the first-category Blockhaus summit deep in the heart of the Abruzzo.
Rated as a “five-star” stage in the Giro d’Italia road book, the stage is the second of five major mountaintop finales in the 2022 Giro, and the first one that will deliver the first significant separation.
“It’s an important stage,” said 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz, who needs to make a move from 11th at 2:06 back. “It’s going to be very fast and there’s a bit of wear and tear already in the body, so tomorrow is going to be selective.”
Going into Sunday’s stage, the GC is largely knotted up with a dozen riders within two minutes of each other.
Overnight pink jersey Juanpe López (Trek-Segafredo) knows his days are numbered, and fully expects to give up the leader’s jersey.
Some think a breakaway might have some chances to succeed, but nearly everyone is bracing for the Giro’s first major GC shakeup since leaving Hungary.
“It’s been a tense start to this Giro for the riders,” said EF Education-Easy Post sport director Juanma Garate. “The travel, the transfers, and then the first mountain stage straight into Etna have been hard to manage. This Blockhaus stage will be a big turning point in this Giro. We will start to see who is capable of winning this Giro.”
So far, Ineos Grenadiers is carrying much of the weight of the race, and hopes to see some payback in the first decisive mountaintop finale in this Giro.
“Sunday will be the next real key moment,” team boss Rod Ellingworth told VeloNews. “We know Blockhaus is a solid climb so people will want to move on there and it can cause some hurt.
“It will thin down on the climb before, but it’s all going to be about the final climb,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be the GC group going for the win for the stage, but even if not, it will be important.”
With week 2 relatively thin on attacking opportunities before going into the final week of climbing that ultimately decide the pink jersey, all the GC contenders know full well Sunday will impose the first significant hierarchy in the fight for pink.
Expectations high in the GC group
Nervous riders at Saturday’s start in Napoli were quick to point out the importance of Sunday’s stage. Everyone in the top-20 knows it’s a key stage.
“I think Sunday is a stage where you will see people attacking, because the next stages, I don’t there are not many chances,” said João Almeida (UAE-Team Emirates), poised in seventh overall. “For the next five stages it’s not going to be that hard. Let’s see. It’s going to be a decisive stage.”
Some, like Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe), hopes to be able to hang tough. The Dutch rider is well-placed in sixth, but said the effects of a crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège is still lingering.
“The legs are good, but I do notice that I am not in top shape, but the Giro is long, I’ll see tomorrow,” Kelderman said. “I’m just doing my thing at the moment. We’ll see tomorrow. At Blockhaus in 2017 I dropped out. I then drove up the climb in the car, but I didn’t really pay attention.
“This climb is completely new to me, never done it before,” he said. “I consider it like any other mountain stage, is going to be a tough day. Tomorrow we will really see how good I am.”
Everyone in the peloton is keeping a close on each other. Richie Porte told VeloNews in his column that riders like Mikel Landa, Romain Bardet, his teammate Carapaz, and Simon Yates are looking strongest.
Yates, who won at the time trial in Budapest at the start of the Giro, is hoping to shake off the lingering effects of a crash midweek.
“I expect a big showdown Sunday, but I’m also in a good position,” Yates said. “At the moment I would like to say I’m in front, so I don’t need to be the one to be aggressive.”
What to expect: Endless climbing, decisive summit
Riders will feeling the effects of racing. Lawson Craddock called Friday’s up and down stage as a primer for Sunday’s big battle up Blockhaus.
“Friday was one of the hardest stages I’ve ever done in a grand tour, and [Saturday] is going to be nervous,” Craddock said at the start Saturday. “Everyone will be feeling the impact of all the racing. We are in a good position, but anyone who has good legs can make a big difference.”
The route profile lends itself to an early breakaway to try to win the stage.
The opening 40km features a string of unrated climbs that could trigger early moves from teams looking to place support riders up the road as well as stage-hunters.
Things get serious on the Cat. 1 Passo Lanciano at 147km. The climb inches up a different spine along the same group of climbs featured on the Blockhaus, a barren summit high in the clouds.
There could be some movement from the GC rivals on Lanciano, but most of the action will happen on the final run up Blockhaus.
A steep and technical descent takes the bunch to the base of the climb. The 13.6km churns up 1,141 vertical meters with an average grade 8.4 percent. The climb is steeper and more uneven than what the bunch faced on Mount Etna, so the expectation is building.
The climb was last featured in 2017, when Kelderman crashed out and Geraint Thomas was banged up and eventually abandoned after being tangled up with a police motorcycle even before hitting the summit. Nairo Quintana won, but Tom Dumoulin eventually won pink.
Sunday could well see a similar scenario playing out, with an explosive climber taking the edge, but a steadier rider eventually winning the overall.