The first week comes to an end with the toughest day of the Giro so far. This 191km stage in the Apennines ends with two ascents of the fearsome Blockhaus climb, going up the mountain’s hardest side on the second occasion. It’s going to be a pivotal day in the race for the pink jersey, where after all the speculation, debate and excitement about who the genuine contenders, we will at last receive some definitive answers. With a well-earned rest day to come on Monday, every contender will leave everything on the climb.
Isernia > Blockhaus, 191km
The final day of the first week is an uncomplicated stage finishing at the top of a truly horrible climb, and promises to be the most important stage in the race for the pink jersey so far. While there were no attacks among the GC favourites on Mount Etna earlier this week, the gradients of Blockhaus are steep enough to render a repeat of that stalemate impossible. The first four kilometres hover at around 6 or 7 percent, but then ramp up to 10 percent and barely relents at all until it flattens out a little at the top, almost a whole 10km later.
The riders will actually have already climbed up the mountain beforehand, albeit an easier way up and to the lower point of Passo Lanciano. All the action is therefore going to happen the second time up, and it should be the most exciting action of the race so far.
This is the day when we’ll learn which elite few will spend the next two weeks battling it out for the pink jersey.
In past visits to Blockhaus, the top favourites have been separated by minutes, so anyone not finishing as one of the first five or six riders among the GC contenders will find themselves facing a huge task to get back into overall contention.
A stage win is also likely to be up for grabs, too. On a headline summit finish like this, where the favourites are obliged to give it their all and leave nothing on the road, it’ll be difficult for any breakaway rider to stay away, even with a head-start of several minutes going on to the climb.
So which contender is going to emerge as the strongest? As the pre-race favourite, all eyes will be on Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers). The Ecuadorian has curbed his attacking instincts so far this week, and lost a bit of time in the time trial, but will surely set about regaining that on Blockhaus. We can expect the Ineos Grenadiers to once again pace him up the climb as they did at Mount Etna, but this time with an attack from Carapaz once his right-hand man, Richie Porte, has finished his stint.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Victory in the time trial makes Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) the in-form rider, with perhaps the only question mark being whether his improvement against the clock has come at the expense of his climbing legs.
The other main pre-race favourite was João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), although he is less well-suited to a climb like this compared to Carapaz and Yates. Its excessive length and steep kilometres is reminiscent of the Stelvio Pass, which was where he lost the pink jersey in 2020, so is potentially at risk of losing a fatal amount of time.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
The strategy of both Bora-Hansgrohe and Bahrain-Victorious will become clearer by the end of this stage, as the strongest of the former’s trident of Wilco Kelderman, Jai Hindley and Emanual Buchmann and the latter’s duo of Pello Bilbao and Mikel Landa will emerge. Landa in particular should relish such a tough climb.
We’ll also find out how robust Romain Bardet’s (DSM) recent resurgence is, and if outside contenders like Hugh Carthy (EF Education Easypost), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) are genuinely in contention for a podium finish.
It’s on the very biggest of mountain top finishes like this that Ricard Carapaz demonstrates his superiority as a Grand Tour contender. Although puncheus like Yates and Almeida might get the better of him on less severe climbs, here Carapaz has it in him to drop them both and gain serious time.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix