Following the race’s first mountain top finish, the second and final day in Sicily will be a mostly flat affair. The GC race will therefore be put on the back-burner, giving the sprinters another chance to steal the spotlight again. Opportunities for them to contest for wins are scarce at this race, so expect domestiques to make sure any attacks are neutralised in order to ensure that this stage is decided by a bunch sprint — especially Mark Cavendish’s QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team, considering how dominant he was in Sunday’s sprint finish.Read: Giro d'Italia 2022 Preview
Catania > Messina, 174km
A third of the way into this otherwise flat stage is a category two climb that some sprinters could struggle on. It's a long 20km slog with an average gradient of 4%. There’s a chance for a team of one of the better climbing sprinters to drive up the climb and attempt to drop some rivals, but will any team seriously commit to such an effort?
After descending for 25km, there’s still a whole 75km of flat roads left to ride before arriving into the finish at Messina (the birthplace of one Vincenzo Nibali), which is an awful lot of time to ride hard enough to ensure any dropped sprinters don't come back, especially on the back of yesterday’s excursions up Mount Etna.
All the sprinters are therefore likely to be present for a big bunch finish, during which positioning ahead of a late 120 degree left-hand turn about 800 metres from the finish is going to be crucial.
Following his comfortable win in the race’s first bunch sprint on stage three, Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) is the outright favourite to claim another sprint victory in Messina.
If his lead-out train of Davide Ballerini, Bert Van Lerberghe and Michael Mørkøv are in control of the peloton following the crucial aforementioned last corner, then it’ll take a huge effort from any of the other sprinters to come around Cavendish in the finale given the speed he showed on Sunday’s stage.
Demare at the Giro d'Italia 2021 (Image: Getty)
Based on their second and third placings at the sprint finish, two riders that could rival Cavendish are Arnaud Demare and Fernando Gaviria, although they could do with their respective Groupama-FDJ and UAE Team Emirates lead-out trains challenging QuickStep-Alpha-Vinyl for supremacy at the front.
Demare in particular likes a long sprint, so could flourish if his team delivers him from the front, rather than leaving him to play catch up as on Sunday.
Given his fall on stage one, it’s understandable that Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) wasn’t quite up to speed at the last bunch sprint, where he finished down in eighth. He could be the rider to benefit the most from Monday’s rest day, given that a day off from racing might be just what he needs for his wounds from that crash to heal. Fit and at his best, the Australian is surely a match for Cavendish in a head-to-head sprint, and his performance before crashing on stage one suggested he came into the Giro in great form.
One rider who doesn't appear to be in top form is Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech), who finished well down in eleventh on Sunday having gone winless so far this season. But the 33-year-old should still be considered as a top contender if he can rediscover his best leg, and probably represented the home nation’s best chance for a victory today.
Other Italians providing hope for the tifosi are Jakub Mareczko (Alpecin-Fenix), Simone Consonni (Cofidis) and Alberto Dainese (DSM), all of whom looked in decent shape to make the top ten on Sunday.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
And if that day’s early climb does have more of an effect than expected, and purer sprinters are taken out of contention on it, then Biniam Girmay (Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux) could be the sprinter to benefit most given his superior climbing compared with the others.
The old aura of invincibility that surrounded Mark Cavendish in the past seems to have returned to him. When you consider that his previous sprint win at this Giro came in compromised circumstances, with him forced to start his sprint as far out as 300 metres from the line, he could be more difficult to beat if he’s able to launch it from a more opportune moment this time around.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix