The first summit finish of the Giro and the climb to the observatory atop Mount Etna will give us the first glimpse of the stars challenging for the maglia rosa.
Stage 5 review: a break formed right from the start without a fight and usually this means everyone expects the move to come back again, like prisoners out on day release. This time the headwind condemned the move. The inevitable bunch sprint drew in with similar conditions to the previous day, a nervous finish that saw the bunch reduced by the time it reached the foot of the climb into Santa Ninfa and this time with the flatter finish to help Enrico Battaglin won, as predicted. Sometimes Battaglin looks out of place on the Dutch Lotto-Jumbo team but he’s the perfect signing, able to win in the Giro which is just what they and their (Swedish-owned) Italian bike sponsor Bianchi crave. Is he related to Giovanni Battaglin, the 1981 Vuelta and Giro winner (when the races were days apart) and framebuilder? I recall reading he’s a distant cousin and L’Equipe says so again but if he is it’s distant like Kevin Bacon. Miguel Angel Lopez lost time after a late crash, he’s still 24 so holding position every day is still a skill to acquire.
The Route: 164km and all about the final big climb. After the downhill start it climbs to the first TV traguardo volante “flying sprint” in Enna, a steady haul up a 4-5% road and good launchpad for a breakaway. The route loops around Piazza Armerina, a scenic detour and then makes a beeline for Etna.
The roadbook says the official climb starts in Ragalna but in reality the road starts rising from Ponte Barca some 20km before of which the final five kilometres are real climbing, the slope bites. In other words the 15km climb is really a 20km climb, perhaps it is too early in the Giro to admit this?
The Finish: 15km at an average of 6.5%. If you watched last year’s stage they climb Etna again but via a different route, that was via the Salto del Cane, this is to the west and may be unfamiliar to some in the peloton who have spent time training on the slopes as it’s arguably the fourth way up, the backroad version. The graphic above has warnings of 15% and 14% gradients but otherwise this is quite a steady climb, freshly surfaced for the race and it’s defined by the length and the long straight exposed sections. Like other roads up volcanoes this is has a brutal, direct feel to it, there’s little Alpine charm to it, the exposed lava feels like nature’s building site. The key point is with 5km to go, the gradient gets steep and stays so enough for the real climbers to be at an advantage for the next 4km. Things ease at the finish, the final kilometre is 2.5% before rising to 5% to the finish line.
The Contenders: what chance a breakaway? Last year Jan Polanc (UAE Emirates) held on from the breakaway for the stage win and he could do the same again. This isn’t to confess any insight into his form, just that he is an example of a climber unlikely to upset the big contenders who could be given room to go up the road, even if he is only two minutes down on GC meaning his team mate John Atapuma has more space. Otherwise scan the GC for climbers who have lost time already like Joe Dombrowski (EF Education First-Drapac), Rodolfo Torres (Androni) or Ruben Plaza (Israel Academy) but these are suggestions more than picks.
Among the big candidates we’ll know a lot more this evening, today’s climb is still a test effort for many. So far Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) hasn’t put a foot wrong, he’s started well in the time trial and has been fighting for stages ever since, he’s got a strong team in support and Esteban Chaves is another to watch too.
Domenico Pozzovivo is having a great Giro. He’s done this before, his problem is that for all his promise on the climbs it’s rare for him to win and he’ll slip down on GC in a pan flat time trial like the one that awaits in the Adige valley. So here’s a shot at the stage win.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) was fourth on Etna last year and seems in marginally better form now. Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) is another pick, this will be a test to see if he can turn his punchy promise in recent days, be it in Liège or Caltagirone, into a result in a longer climb.
Plenty say the likes of Chris Froome (Team Sky), Fabio Aru (UAE-Emirates) and Miguel-Angel Lopez (Astana) need to take back time and so have to attack. They’re right but if these riders and others haven’t had a good start to the race they can’t simply stand up on the pedals and dance away, they’ll have their doubts and could lack confidence already, to try a move and to get reeled in would be bad. To attack, get reeled in and then dropped would be disastrous. So expect several climbers needing to attack to bide their time, simply not losing time would be a relief for several riders.
One dark horse is José Gonçalves (Katusha-Alpecin) who is riding surprisingly well so far and had a good Tour de Romandie and if he attacks it’s not like he’s a rider everyone is under orders to close down.
|Thibaut Pinot, Domenico Pozzovivo|
|Woods, Gonçalves, Chaves, Aru, Lopez|
Weather: some sunshine and clouds, a top temperature of 19°C mid-stage and much cooler at the “summit” with a good chance of rain but the forecast so no wind today.
TV: Host broadcaster RAI offers the best coverage, Eurosport has the rights for many countries across Europe and Australia and it’s streamed via Fubo in the US and Dazn in Japan. They reach Ragalna and the start of the climb at 4.25pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm.