Start location: Vasto
Finish location: Melfi
Start time: 11:45 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:12 CEST
The Giro d’Italia is sometimes criticised for neglecting the southern regions of the country in favour of the north. The organisers might argue that, as the major mountain ranges of the Alps and Dolomites are situated at the far north it’s difficult to cater for the other end of the country; but, in a country fiercely divided between the prosperous, cosmopolitan north and the more poorer, more traditional south, the suspicion from the latter is that they are looked down on by the uppity elites at RCS.
Thankfully for the sake of diplomacy, stage three of the Giro d’Italia will, upon departing from the Adriatic coast the race has been predominantly held up to now, turn southwards out of Abruzzo and through the Foggia plains, until reaching the region of Basilicata for a finish in Melfi. This is further south than any stage of the 2021 edition reached, and Melfi itself is rarely visited by the Giro: the last time a stage finished here was in 1994, when Endrio Leoni was triumphant in a sprint.
One reason the south is so culturally different from the north is because it has historically been made up of Greeks, Normans and Lombards who settled here, and, and ruled over by the Kingdom of Sicily. It’s also been persistently fought over by regional superpowers, and Melfi itself was the site of a conflict between the French and the Spanish, when, in 1528, King Francis I of France lay siege to the town. He was unsuccessful, and Spain’s Charles V consequently rewarded admiral Andrea Doria the title of ‘Prince of Melfi’ for his role in defending the town, which was passed down his family from generation to generation until the twentieth century.
Stage three profile sourced on the Giro d'Italia website
After a flat first 170km, things get complicated upon arrival into the Monte Vulture massif, where the riders traverse some of the foothills of the extinct volcano that dominates the region. The first climb is the hardest, a category three effort that lasts for 6.5 testing kilometres. Then there’s only a brief downhill before the riders must start climbing again, the category four Valico la Croce. A shallow descent then follows, but the final 10km do drag a bit uphill.
With the top of this latter climb positioned just 30km from the finish, it’s in a much more breakaway-friendly stage than yesterday, and the potential is there for an attack to make it to the finish. Any sprinter with designs on winning the stage will have to not just worry about staying in contention on these climbs, but also to control the moves that will inevitably be made. And if the leader of the GC is a time trial specialist rather than a GC contender, they too will be under pressure to stay in the peloton and hold on to the pink jersey.
There's too many teams with a vested interest in making things hard for the pure sprinters for stage three of the Giro d'Italia to end in a mass bunch sprint like stage two. Instead, we can expect to see the teams of Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), and Michael Matthews (Jayco-Alula) leading the way in both attempting to shed the powerful fastmen on the two tough climbs, as well as drive the pace fast enough to stop anyaa breakaway attacks.
While those three, on paper, represent the fastest finishers who can conquer such terrain, the likes of Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ), ninth on stage two, and Niccolò Bonifazio (Intermaché-Circus-Wanty), eighth, can climb well enough that they could also be in contention if they hang on.
Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) could also pull out a surprise win if he's given the freedom to do so. While a long range attack may seem more in his wheelhouse, the Italian has shown the strength of his sprint already this season, helping him secure second place at Milan-Sanremo.
After missing out because of the late crash on stage two, expect Trek-Segafredo and Mads Pedersen to be even more driven to bag victory on stage three. The Dane showed at last year's Vuelta a España that these tricky fast finishes play to his strengths, and we think he'll have enough to sprint ahead of whoever remains after the climbs.