CATANIA, Italy (VN) – Mount Etna’s ashen slopes loomed large over the peloton when it arrived into Sicily on Monday.
And the first mountaintop finish of the 2022 Giro d’Italia up the hulking volcano could cast a significant shadow over the GC standings for the rest of the coming week.
Tuesday’s 22.8km climb to the smoking summit will likely put the pink jersey onto a new set of shoulders, reshuffle the rankings and possibly even blow some maglia maybes into the Siciilan seas.
“The first stage in Italy is a very hard stage,” said Ineos Grenadiers director Matteo Tosatto. “It is a big test. I think it’s the first time the Giro is going to Etna via this road because many times it has been a different approach, but I think it is all ready for the big stage.”
One rider who will certainly find Etna a “big test” is the strapping multi-discipline supremo Mathieu van der Poel.
The Dutchman will be cherishing his final few hours in the maglia rosa when he rolls out for stage 4 on Tuesday, because he may not be wearing it again the next day.
Mountain man and pink jersey A-lister Simon Yates sits poised just 11 seconds back, and a half-dozen more climber kings are within striking range. Or perhaps more likely, Tuesday’s mountain stage will be won from a break rather than the GC bunch.
Van der Poel has a habit of pulling surprises, but extending his stay at the top of the GC pack beyond Tuesday might be too much on the first Cat.1 climb of this Giro.
“Normally it’s impossible for to me to keep the jersey on Mount Etna but I’ll see how it feels,” Van der Poel said Sunday. “I’m happy to bring the maglia rosa to Italy. It’s been an amazing past few days here in Hungary.”
To pink, or not to pink?
So will the GC entirely erupt on Etna’s slopes?
Van der Poel’s time may be ticking, but he won’t necessarily be giving his jersey to a top-tier GC star Tuesday night.
Any rider that wants to take the maglia home from Verona in three weeks’ time won’t want to be carrying it with them all the way out of Sicily.
Holding the GC lead for 17 stages is a tough gig. Ask riders like Yates or João Almeida, who’ve both worn pink for weeks only to have their dreams kicked down at the last.
Instead, Tuesday’s stage could be won by a breakaway rider who takes pink while the A-listers scrap for seconds in a bunch behind.
GC clawbacks on the volcano
The never-ending Etna ascent used in previous Giri is more a motorway than a goat path.
Recent rumbles up the Sicilian summit have seen slim gaps between the best of the climbing bunch – wide roads and easy gradients buried the hopes of a big “hail mary.” The most recent trip to the top in 2020 saw riders from this year’s GC crop like Almeida, Wilko Kelderman, Vincenzo Nibali and Pello Bilbao finish within a 25-second window.
An alternate approach is being used Tuesday, but the playbook should read the same.
A six percent average grade across the hulking smoker and the chance of gusting winds toward the summit should see top GC guys stick together before making a late dash for seconds and swaggering rights.
Despite the unfavorable profile, an unlucky bunch of podium contenders will have to try something on the summit.
Climbing aces Miguel Ángel López, Hugh Carthy, Guillaume Martin, and Iván Sosa didn’t enjoy the party laid on for them in Budapest and need to claw back lost time, fast.
“It’s a very hard summit finish and I hope to be there to fight for everything,” said Sosa, who won’t want to go back to Hungary for some time after losing 1:34 in its capital.
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GC opportunities are thin on the ground in week 2 of the race, and Sosa and Co. won’t want to leave it to the high-attrition Alpine final week to get back on par.
The next chance for a classification shake comes on stage 7, Friday. A super-hard multi-mountain stage brings better opportunities for big gaps.
The “virtual GC” will shake on Etna, but the gaps between riders like Yates, Almeida and Richard Carapaz could be small. What Etna will show, however, is who has flaming hot lava in their legs at this Giro and who’s just blowing smoke.