Giro d’Italia Stage 4 Preview

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The first summit finish of the Giro and a giant of a climb awaits, Mount Etna with 18km at 7%. Yes it’s a volcano but today it is all about the road and the race.

The Route: a flat 57km along the northern shores of Sicily and then the Portella Femmina Morta, 32km at 4-5% for most of the way. It’s a very long climb but not hard but it serves two purposes, first a ramp for the day’s breakaway to consolidate a lead and second to drain the peloton by adding significant vertical gain.

After the long descent which is more technical than the climb there’s a climb of a couple of kilometres at 4% to the intermediate sprint in Bronte and from here the race rides around the flanks of Mount Etna.

The climbing starts in Santa Maria di Licodia with 32km to go and it’s here there are sustained 7% slopes here amid the olive groves, some sprinters and others will already be ejected here. The road then circles around more of the mountain to reach Nicolosi and the start of the final climb.

The Finish: the profile says plenty. This is a long climb, the equivalent of the Galibier from Valloire and a lot to contend with for the fourth stage. The slope bites right from the start in Nicolosi and then gradually becomes more exposed as they climb higher. This is the route via “Salto del Cane” and not the same they used in 2011, the road is a bit smaller and more irregular. The pitch changes along the way but there’s nothing savage, this is more a grinding test of VAM for 45 minutes. Just after 1km to go the road dips down before rising back up to the line at 3% for the last 300 metres.

Nibali Messina

The Contenders: this is a big climb and very selective but who wants to take the overall lead so early? There’s a good chance the day’s breakaway is given enough room as it’s packed with strong riders who pose no overall threat. So the likes of several Cannondale-Drapac riders could feature like Pierre Rolland, the same for Igor Anton and Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), Ilia Koshevoy (Willier Triestina), Jan Barta (Bora-Hansgrohe), local Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), Edward Ravasi (UAE Emirates) and others. The breakaway’s hopes are raised further because Quick Step know they can’t defend Fernando Gaviria’s race lead so they won’t toil all day either.

So far so breakaway but the overall result of the Giro is in play today and several of the big teams will want to put on a show and will drive the pace into the climb. Among the top names Nairo Quintana is the obvious pick but don’t expect him or the others to declare war on the lower slopes, there’s a good chance they ride together to get the measure of each other on the mountain and save any moves for as late as possible. Several will just hope to finish on the same time as Quintana and defensive tactics are the order of the day.

This is a big day for Vincenzo Nibali on home soil. Yes he left for the mainland to turn pro and these days lives in low-tax Switzerland but he’s still “the pride of Messina”. If he could win and take the maglia rosa he’d ride into his home town of Messina tomorrow in pink, the route even passes the small store run by his parents. But this might be a dream too far, he was good in the recent Tour of Croatia but not great and now faces a lot of rivals so this is a big test and Sicilians and the race owners will hope he does well.

Another rider with a question mark over their form is Ilnur Zakarin, he was slightly off the pace in the Tour de Romandie so watch to see if he can hang on.

Thibaut Pinot has shown he can sprint taking a recent stage of the Tour of the Alps and finishing second to Peter Sagan in Fermo during Tirreno-Adriatico and he won’t worry about the heat either here and of course he can climb too, see how he beat Alberto Contador in a summit finish earlier this year. But he might get too frisky too soon on the climb. Geraint Thomas is a good pick, he’ll like the steady climb and if he comes in with a group then he’s quick in a sprint too, the same for Adam Yates. Bauke Mollema is punchy for finishes like this and if he’s a contender for the overall when he jumps he might still benefit from others hesitating in the way they can’t if Quintana moves.

There’s a second wave of riders who could clip away while the others mark each other because they don’t represent such a threat. I’m keen to see what Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Drapac) can do, he’s in form, leaner than last year good for a climb like this. Rui Costa (UAE Emirates) and Bob Jungels (Quick Step) who might just be able to hang on.

Nairo Quintana, Thibaut Pinot
Geraint Thomas, Mollema, Nibali
Landa, Yates, Formolo, Costa, Rolland, Zakarin, Jungels, Ravasi

Weather: mild with a top temperature of 22°C and a few clouds around. The wind will blow from the north-west at 20-25km/h meaning a tailwind up and over the Portella Femmina Morta and then a headwind for much of the final climb where the wind could reach 30km/h higher up.

TV: they reach the second intermediate sprint in Biancavilla around 4.00pm so aim to watch from here on if you can and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CET. There’s live coverage on home broadcaster RAI in Italy and Eurosport for much of Europe and beyond. Otherwise cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv are the go-to sites for schedules and pirata feeds.

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Tim Brugman May 9, 2017 at 6:36 am

I think Mollema can surprise today if the breakaway won’t go all the way. Mollema is always strong in the first mountain stages, see recent tours. He can also sprint.

crosswinds May 9, 2017 at 9:27 am

That’s a good suggestion Tim, I can see Mollema doing well today

The Inner Ring May 9, 2017 at 9:40 am

He’s my fourth pick today and a good choice, he is punchy in a finish like this but his win rate is very low.

J Evans May 9, 2017 at 7:18 am

When riders (Nibali) talk-up their intentions to attack it generally means they have no intention of attacking. That’s even more likely given the wind and how early this is in the Giro. Hope I’m wrong.

Another reason I think Nibali won’t attack is his poor form. Conversely, I think Quintana’s best move could be to try to put time into Nibali (and others) now before Nibali can ride himself into form. It could also make the rest of the Giro much easier for Quintana, saving his legs for the Tour. But I think both Quintana and Movistar are too conservative to do this.

Landa should ignore team orders and try to put Thomas on the ropes – if he can. If he gets a substantial lead he could become the lead rider. If they remain even, the first ITT will probably be used to decide that Thomas is the team leader.

Cannondale could send the whole team into the break.

jc May 9, 2017 at 7:51 am

Logically your comments about Vincenzo Nibali make sense but emotions come into play too, will he really be able to resist trying to take the jersey for the start in his home town? Despite his poor recent form he has looked sharp and attentive in the first three stages.

Logic also suggests that the main contenders should mark each other and let someone who is not a long term threat take the stage, if this comes to pass Bob Jungles might well end up in pink and stay there until the Blockhaus stage. However logic often gets left on the slopes of a climb, one rider sees a chance, the others respond giving us a race.

I too suspect Nairo Quintana wont attack this early in the race, maybe he follows the attack of others but otherwise content to bide his time.

Ryan May 9, 2017 at 11:18 am

Maybe team orders will be that Landa will be allowed to attack forcing others to have to follow and allowing luxury of Thomas doing no work. If nobody follows then Landa gains time, if they chase it, it wears down sky competitors to Thomas’ advantage. Could be risky though if he drops Thomas himself though, so relies on Thomas being a true contender (which i am not convinced of)!

Dave May 9, 2017 at 2:39 pm

“Bob Jungles”

Was that a reference to the slow motion car crash that is Eurosport UK’s choice of anchorman, retired triple jumper Jonathan Edwards? I literally can’t watch him and have to forgo Giro Extra.

In the few minutes I endured of him struggling to read his script we had “looking forward to the GQ” and “Bob Jungles”.

Bilmo May 9, 2017 at 10:36 pm

I’m giving Edwards more time. He is an established sports anchor with the BBC on various sports (not just athletics and including cycling). He is also a cycling fan by all accounts and sure Rob Hatch can give him some pronunciation lessons for riders he’s not aware of yet. Generally I think Eurosport have tried to do more with the coverage post race, including ‘the coach’ bit with Brian Smith. Appeared to have some tech issues first few days but will hopefully bed in.

Noel May 9, 2017 at 11:38 pm

I’m ok with the post stage bit, but it really riles me for the pre-race, when they are blabbing on when there is some actual real racing we could be watching. At least just give us the feed and talk over it for gawd sake!

David May 10, 2017 at 9:01 am

“Rob Hatch can give him some pronunciation lessons”

I assume this is sarcasm? One of them sounding like a Creature Comforts animal doing comedy impressions of ‘funny foreign accents’is quite enough thanks.

Tovarishch May 9, 2017 at 8:30 am

Rather than ignoring team orders, my guess would that would be the tactic. Nibali or Quintana goes, Landa goes with them while Thomas rides tempo, unleashing his power in the last kilometer. If Thomas catches them it won’t decide anything, though.

Richard S May 9, 2017 at 10:02 am

‘Landa should ignore team orders and try to put Thomas on the ropes – if he can.’

Why would you encourage somebody to be in all intents and purposes an ar$ehole?! If team orders have been agreed then you have to assume that Landa has been party to them and agreed to them. Also, him and Thomas will have been training and racing together so you’d presume they are friends. So to go against all that and stab your friend in the back would be pretty low. If Landa is strong enough to win it will happen anyway, whether its at this GT or another.

J Evans May 9, 2017 at 10:43 am

I don’t like team orders – and I would especially dislike them if I was a rider (wonder what Greg Lemond thinks of them).
I’d far rather see someone do a Stephen Roche in 1987 than a Chris Froome in 2012.
Landa’s already been forced to give up 2nd for 3rd in the Giro, because Aru was the favoured – but weaker – rider.
(As you say, Landa may have agreed to some team orders – who knows – but you can bet he doesn’t like it.)
I want to see all riders trying to win if they are the strongest on their team. I don’t like seeing certain riders favoured (unless they’re better, obviously), particularly when it’s based on nationality.
Roche maybe didn’t win many friends in Italy, but do you think he cares? Whereas, do you think Froome has any regrets about 2012? (He’ll never know if he could have won.)
Also, if you win a race because a possibly superior team mate was prevented from riding against you, it very much detracts from your win. That goes for Hinault’s last Tour win as much as Wiggins’.

Graham May 9, 2017 at 11:27 am

I’d be very surprised that Sky will bring in team orders while they are both in contention.

J Evans May 9, 2017 at 11:50 am

I’d be very surprised if this hadn’t already been spelled out weeks ago (these things seem to rarely be ‘decided on the road’). And it seemed to also be the case at whatever Trentino is now called (can’t be bothered looking that up).

Richard S May 9, 2017 at 11:46 am

I’ve always thought Roche has been looked at kindly because he’s English speaking and Irish. Everyone likes the Irish. But he was a b@stard to Visentini, no two ways about it. I’d be willing to bet he was supposed to be working for Kelly in that years World Champs as well. That’s what Kimmage’s book kind of suggests. A snake in the grass that one.
Anyway if Landa, or whoever else, doesn’t like the whole team orders thing they are welcome to accept less money and ride as undisputed leader for someone else. I’m guessing after his last year at Astana he had more than one choice.

J Evans May 9, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Good point on Landa – he must have known what he was getting himself in for, unless he was promised something else.
Did you see CN’s recent review of the Roche/Visentini situation? Well worth a read (for once). According to that, Visentini freely admitted taking odd lines on corners going downhill trying to make Roche crash.
And I’m still in favour of every rider trying to win.

RonDe May 9, 2017 at 12:13 pm

The question regarding Landa is if he could lose Geraint Thomas even if he wanted to. Both have seemed very well matched which is probably one reason why Sky don’t choose one over the other in a sporting sense.

Anonymous May 9, 2017 at 7:38 am

Fancy Jungels to hang on and ride into pink.

Can’t see the GC teams giving him
Too much help but plenty of others will be motivated.

Don’t fancy a break to stay away with that headwind.

RonDe May 9, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Assuming a Nibali (if he’s up to it) or Quintana don’t go full bore and a breakaway is allowed to win then Jungels could well hang on and take pink. But even in cagey early race summit finishes like this the racer comes out in them near the top of the climb. There will be splits.

Augie March May 9, 2017 at 7:48 am

I expect a lot of “A rider can’t win the Giro on this stage, but he can lose it” from the TV commentary teams.

In addition to all the names mentioned above should be a good test for TVG to see if he’s actually a serious contender in this race.

GeorgeY May 9, 2017 at 12:01 pm

@ Augie March

Actually Mario Cipollini said exactly that when speaking publicly (with Nibali and Aru present) during the presentation ceremony of the Giro. He also went further to say that this will be the first real test in a warmer climate after the winter season, and the risk run by riders who are not acclimatized.

Augie March May 9, 2017 at 1:53 pm

Hah, well it was only a matter of time. Interesting comments though from Cipo, one would assume all the big names have been spending at least some time at altitude though?

Anonymous May 9, 2017 at 7:51 am

The wind seems key. Absent a hearing on the final climb, it would make sense for Quintana to attack the other GC leaders and try to bank some time for the time trials, ideally behind a stage winner from the break. But into a 30 kmh headwind, that might not work.

My guess is breakaway wins, GC contenders push each other and finish as a select group with a few dropping out of contention.

Dr Manhattan May 9, 2017 at 8:49 am

Oh, the curse of taking the leader’s jersey too early! (Cue Jaws soundtrack.) A cycling myth on par with the curse of the rainbow jersey…

The Inner Ring May 9, 2017 at 9:43 am

It’s not a curse but it is a burden, you have to spend an hour or two a day after each stage in the press conferences when your rivals are resting, you notionally have to put your team on the front all the time too. There are some great stories from racers and team managers over the years about the lengths they went to not to take yellow or pink too early.

Augie March May 9, 2017 at 10:31 am

I would very much enjoy reading those sometime.

RonDe May 9, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Clearly Mr Froome hasn’t heard those stories.

Anonymous May 9, 2017 at 9:00 am

Zakarin and Kruiswijk have both already dropped seconds so they’ll need – at the very least – to stay with the other gc riders. Losing another 20 seconds here could mean Ciao to their podium hopes.

noel May 9, 2017 at 9:28 am

so many people write off TJVG – I have a sneaky feeling he might do well today…
I’m also looking fwd to seeing how Cruiseship does, I’d love to see him recapture last year’s form.

and if a break does stick, lets just hope Bardiani aren’t in it…. it would be a bit tricky to see them in pink for a few days…

Anonymous May 9, 2017 at 9:39 am

TVG will fall back when it gets steep rather than today.

RonDe May 9, 2017 at 12:31 pm

I don’t think its that they write him off. They just watch his performances and judge accordingly. Tejay has failed so many times that “writing him off” is simple common sense.

Ronytomy May 9, 2017 at 12:40 pm

He has not necessarily failed, he had just and has still to deal with exaggeradet expectations. Hes a good gc-guy

betabug May 9, 2017 at 10:12 am

Is it just me or is there some key part of the article missing?

“The first summit finish of the Giro and a giant of a climb awaits, Mount Etna and a”
and there is stops? I guess a copy/paste error in posting the article.

Anonymous May 9, 2017 at 10:14 am

Dominico Pozzovivo

StevhanTI May 9, 2017 at 10:17 am

Let’s hope a big break wiht one or two GC dark horses gets away on that first climb and manages to arrive at the top of Etna with some minutes advantage left, the race would be so interesting then. Being Belgian I’m hoping for De Plus or De Clercq to show their climbing legs today. I think we might get some strange results today, it’s an extraordinary mountain stage, on an extraordinary early time in the race, after a rest day… I mean every one of these has already been used as explanation of time losses or bizarre peloton behaviour, now we have it all combined… Still I think if Nairo fancies doing some damage to the morale of his main contenders today is the perfect occasion.

Graham May 9, 2017 at 10:35 am

Dear god man, what have you done to the English language “and it’ here that they’re there are sustained 7% slopes here amid the olive groves and some sprinters and others will be ejected here”

J Evans May 9, 2017 at 10:44 am

Makes you wonder what you’re paying for, doesn’t it?

Graham May 9, 2017 at 11:04 am

I suspect such an accomplished wordsmith would want this pointed out so that it can be made to quietly go away as soon as possible.

The Inner Ring May 9, 2017 at 11:07 am

All corrections welcome. I’d rather they weren’t needed though, will aim for something more polished tomorrow.

JaimeRoberto May 9, 2017 at 4:54 pm

No kidding. I want my money back.

Ronytomy May 9, 2017 at 12:43 pm

You try to write a blog in a foreign language. Im sure mr rng could publish versions of the same article in french, italian and so on if he had the time. The man is a language-genius

Graham May 9, 2017 at 1:05 pm

As I said, I suspect such an accomplished wordsmith would want this pointed out so that it can be made to quietly go away as soon as possible.

And I didn’t point out the word “here” is still used 3 times in that sentence.

J Evans May 9, 2017 at 2:38 pm

‘…would want this *to be* pointed out’.

As an editor with decades of experience, I’d say that almost everyone’s writing can be corrected – particularly if written quickly and without a proofread. I wouldn’t say it’s worth doing, though.

Ecky Thump May 9, 2017 at 11:26 am

I must admit to some surprise reading this.
After yesterday’s Etna piece and it’s slopes, and reading some riders’ comments, I had today down as Movistar’s rocket trip to the lunar landscape.
Or will the wind upset that dynamic?

In a way the wind could deter surprise GC moves, so I’ll stick with my Movistar train of thought today – train being the operative word.
Breakaway perhaps, but I bet Quintana would love 30″ or more.

gabriele May 9, 2017 at 11:33 am

Great mix of contenders’ pick (as always).

It will be very interesting to see what’s Quintana’s form.
He wasn’t brilliant at all in Asturias, less than Nibali in Croatia: hard to know if it was “pretattica” (not showing your real condition to rivals, even suggesting a lower form than you actually have) or if he was just approaching the Giro with the traditional low-key start.
The Blockhaus might be more of his style of climb, the wind here might make him suffer more than others and the easier sections intertwined with the harder ones (plus, the whole last km!) would favour a chasing group coming back on his wheel. Speaking of wind, he probably appreciated less than most the “slow” three Sardinian stages.
Yet, it’s a serious climb preceded by good vertical gain, an athlete who’s generally the best climber in the world could just take advantage of that.

Nibali in Croatia was better than last year in Trentino, despite the low level of the rivals. It’s too be seen how much is he affected by growing old. The guy has been being a pro on the top level for some 12 seasons and he was consistently fighting for GC victories on WT level, or even winning WT races (then it was called Pro Tour), since he was a neopro, 22 years old or so. Being 32 it’s not the same as for other riders, even if he was always taken care of in terms of gradual growth and avoiding overburn (even exceeding with peaking in recent years).

Thomas, Landa, Pinot, Jungels should all be going for a jump start, in terms of form.
Adam Yates had a proper Spring and a good approach to the Giro, the climb fits him, a daring attitude may reward whoever isn’t tightly watched as a top dog.
For the same reason, second-tiers might get their chance.

On the contrary, the Dutch are a mystery because they all chose the stealth approach. Dumoulin and Mollema are known to start strong (and Mollema is very suited to this kind of climb), Kruijswijk the other way around.

I’d be happy to see something by Tiralongo. He was on the verge of tears while speaking about Scarponi in Sunday’s Processo alla Tappa, quite touching.

Let’s also see if Cannondale delivers the creative racing they’ve been promising and which they’ve built the team towards.

Eskerrik Asko May 9, 2017 at 2:30 pm

“Pretattica”, (sports) false or misleading information given to the media before a match in order to conceal new tactics.
In Formula One (and I suppose in other forms of motor sports) giving a false impression of the car’s speed during testing or qualification is called “sandbagging”. It is more common among the teams that will be faster on race day, but sometimes the surprise is that it wasn’t sandbagging after all…

In cycling, however, the amount of training load, recovery and peaking all play a role and performance in races can indeed vary a lot even without any intention towards a game of pretattica. In any case my impression is that some teams and some riders are more prone than others to sandbagging in minor races (or racing themselves into form, if we want to use a kinder expression) and Quintana and Movistar are not among them.
I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong, though, and seeing some fireworks/rocknroll/boogiewoogie from Nairo today.

PS Completely off-topic, but the word “pretattica” brought to mind rec.sport.soccer which I used to frequent in another period of my life and where I remember one Italian poster with a writing tyle and a way of presenting his arguments that very much resembled those of gabriele. I wouldn’t for a minute think that they must be the one and same person but I’m pretty sure they could be products of the same liceo classico:-)

gabriele May 9, 2017 at 9:01 pm

Well spotted. The liceo classico thing, I mean 😉
(not the same person, indeed)

Agreed about the rest, too, I’ve written elsewhere on this blog (quite easy to insist on that now) that I couldn’t see the course as hugely favourable to Quintana because he tends to start GTs with a low profile and grow into top form.

Kit May 10, 2017 at 11:31 am

gabriele – like you, I had big concerns about Quintana’s form after an acceptable but far-from-dominant display in Asturias. This morning, interviews are that he’s saying the same himself (whether pretattica or not!) http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/giro-ditalia-quintana-admits-hes-lacking-top-end-form/
What is interesting also, maybe swinging the argument about pretattica, is that he’s been much much more demanding of his team in the last 12 months, especially this season – in Dubai, he was angrily herding Fernandez forward, yesterday he pushed only with Anacona and Amador, avoiding taking it up himself. He’s been much more independent in years past (remember the Alpe d’Huez attack, relying on Pantano and Hesjedal), so I wonder what’s prompted the change. Movistar certainly aren’t strong enough, even with their best squad, to ride a la Sky.

RonDe May 9, 2017 at 12:18 pm

Can the likes of Quintana afford to ride within themselves and take it easy for the time being? Tom Dumoulin is going to take much time out of him in the first time trial. A chance let go is an opportunity missed.

Jared Crane May 9, 2017 at 6:22 pm

Great review as always, bet on Geraint each way after reading this as I agreed he had the kick if the favourites didn’t bother. Shame the other two got up the road

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