The penultimate day of the first week features a circuit in Napoli that is too tough for the pure sprinters, but is finely balanced between puncheurs who will want to sprint from a reduced bunch, and those trying to win via the breakaway instead. Following the tough stage the day before, and the mighty Blockhaus summit finish awaiting them the next day, teams with fast-finishers will have to decide whether it’s worth chasing down the break, or taking it easy and letting them contest the stage.
Napoli > Napoli, 153km
Don’t be fooled by the inclusion of only one official climb today — this is an undulating stage that’s far better suited to the puncheurs than the sprinters. In fact, that single classified climb (the category four Monte di Procida) is in fact tackled four times in total, even if the organisers have cruelly only offered King of the Mountains points the final time up it, 34km from the finish. Two kilometres long and with an average gradient of 6%, it’s not too hard in and of itself, but the sheer number of times it's climbed and the undulating roads during the Neapolitan roads in between will sap away at the riders’ legs.
Even the final kilometres include several more uncategorised bums, and the climbing isn’t finished until 7km from the finish; so there are chances for late race-winning attacks prior to the long, flat finishing straight along the Via Caracciolo seaside road in Napoli.
The rolling terrain certainly looks well-suited for a breakaway to succeed, but there are some teams that could be committed to bringing things back for a sprint.
Two names in particular stand out — Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux). While the pure sprinters are all likely to be dropped at some point on these undulating roads, these two have the punchy legs to survive, and may want to capitalise on the opportunity to sprint for a win without having to compete with Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ).
Girmay may also be eager to use this stage to gain points over his rivals in the Maglia Ciclamino classification, especially after Demare extended his lead in the classification following his win on stage six.
Other fast finishers who could include Andrea Vendrame (Ag2r Citroen), the winner of a stage in yet hillier terrain at last year’s Giro, and Magnus Cort (Ef Education Easypost), who was so good at last year’s Vuelta a Espana where he won three stages, and seems to be coming back into form following a fourth-place finish on stage one.
And maybe we shouldn’t quite write off Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), after his return to form on Thursday’s bunch sprint, considering his climbing ability.
A sprint is far from guaranteed, however, and there are sure to be many quality riders fighting to get into the break at the start of the day.
Given the nature of the climbs, which are short and frequent rather than long and steep, it’ll be punchers and classics specialists rather than climbers who will populate the break.
Jhonatan Narvaez would normally relish this kind of terrain, but may be instructed by Ineos Grenadiers to stay in the peloton to look after his leader Richard Carapaz, whereas the likes of Fabio Felline (Astana-PremierTech), Lilian Calmejane (Ag2r Citroen) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) for their underperforming teams.
The combined strength and incentive of Alpecin-Fenix and Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux ought to be enough to ensure a reduced bunch sprint finish. Although Girmay was outsprinted into second by Van der Poel on stage one, the finish today is starkly different this time, featuring a flat run-in to the line rather than a punchy uphill. That should swing the advantage towards Girmay, who is more of a natural sprinter.