After minor skirmishes on stage one’s uphill finish, and small time gaps from stage two’s time trial, this will be the day the GC battle really kicks off. Mount Etna is one of the biggest summit finishes of the race, and a hierarchy of pink jersey contenders should emerge for the first time on it.
Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) was easily the pick of the GC contenders at the time trial, and could take pink from Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) today, but this will be the first indication of what kind of climbing form he and everyone else has.Read: Giro d'Italia 2022 Preview
Avola > Etna, 172km
As has been the case in four of the last six editions of the Giro, Mount Etna will be visited in the first week as the race’s first summit finish. As the largest active volcano in Europe, it has a fearsome, foreboding presence, and is the centrepiece of a stage that features no other climbs.
Its difficulty lies in its excessive length rather than its gradients. While even its official length of 22.8km is an awful lot of climbing, in reality the riders will already have been ascending for a good 15km or so before reaching its base, which already stands at over 500 metres above sea level. But its overall difficulty is tempered by its steady gradients, which don’t fluctuate much from between 5 to 7% aside from a few kilometres halfway up that ramp up to over 9%. Recent history suggests that most top favourites will finish together, but some are sure to lose time.
Key to winning from the breakaway today will be striking the right balance between having strong enough legs to ride up Etna fast, but to also not be perceived as a genuine threat on GC. Jan Polanc (2017), Esteban Chaves (2018) Jonathan Caicedo (2020) all won from breakaways at the Giro’s last three opening week finishes at Mount Etna, having all lost at least 45 seconds in the previous stages, and been allowed the freedom to get up the road.
Considering their status as domestiques, the Ineos Grenadiers duo of Richie Porte and Pavel Sivakov might be given some leeway by rival teams, although Richard Carapaz may want his key domestiques with him during the crucial first mountain top finish of the race.
The GC teams will also have to make a call whether or not to allow riders who lost significant chunks of time in yesterday’s time trial to get into the break, like Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Guillame Martin (Cofidis) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), all of whom are already over a minute down on GC.
Whether or not the day’s break does indeed survive to contest for the stage win may depend on whether Mathieu van der Poel genuinely believes he can defend his pink jersey on such a tough finale, and therefore has his Alpecin-Fenix team chase any threats to his lead.
In that event, a small group-finish between the top GC contenders would be likely, given how the shallow slopes of Etna have generally not been enough to cause big gaps. Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) all have quick enough finishing kicks to win in this scenario.
But there’s also the chance that one climber is in such great form that they can go clear of all the rest. Following his time-trial win Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) may fancy his chances of doing so, while Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) also has the pedigree if at his very best.
Others like Miguel Ángel López (Astana-Qazaqstan), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r Citroen) may be better suited to the steeper mountains to come later in the race, but are sure to give it their all in order to be in the mix and not lose any time, in what is sure to be a major sort-of between the genuine contenders for the pink jersey, and the pretenders to the throne.
Van der Poel will surely lose the pink jersey to Simon Yates, given his slender lead of just 11 seconds. As for the stage win, Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) is in an aggressive mood following his late attack on stage one, has great form based on his stage two time trial, and should be given some leeway to get into the break given his subservient domestique role in Bora-Hansgrohe’s hierarchy.
Cover image: Getty Images