A sprint stage. Yes there’s a climb of over a thousand metres to scale along the way but it’s featured in recent years and the stage has ended in a sprint so it’ll take a team or two to really apply themselves to change the outcome.
Yes We Kämna: a breakaway of 14 riders which swelled over time as more and more bridged across. Behind a crash caused by a race motorbike felled several including Simon Yates. Once the break hit the slopes of Etna it was quickly reduced thanks to an attack by Stefano Oldani but he was overhauled by Trek-Segafredo’s Juan Pedro Lopez. The Spaniard was just short of steam coming out of his ears as he grimaced his way into the lead but the high cadence showed he had the spin to win, only for Lennard Kämna to bridge across on the upper slopes. There was a brief discussion between the two and obviously it had to be the classic “I’ll let you win the stage if we stay clear because I’ll win pink”, and why not? It suited both with Lopez as the darting climber and Kämna as the junior Worlds TT wunderkind. One duly won the stage, the other takes the race lead.
Sky Ineos rode in mountain train formation but not for long. Enough to see Tom Dumoulin and Vincenzo Nibali dropped, doubling Astana’s woes after Miguel Angel Lopez had quit the race earlier. But they eased up and a large group of the main GC contenders crossed the line together, minus outsiders like Guillaume Martin, Pavel Sivakov and Tobias Foss.
Lopez leads the race now and it’s ideal for all concerned, Trek-Segafredo are a half-Italian team and are delighted to have the maglia rosa especially as he might be able to hold on to it for a while in the mountains given he’s got almost two minutes’ lead on most of the GC contenders. Kämna at 39 seconds is intriguing, he’s riding very well at the moment so we’ll see what he can do in the GC contest; if not he’ll be confident about another stage win.
The Route: 174km and a probable sprint stage even if there’s a seaside start in Catania and a passage via the touristy town of Giardini Naxos before turning inland for the Portella Mandrazzi (Sella Mandrazzi for the locals) climb to over a thousand metres above sea level. That’s a lot but it’s a big ring climb – and also Vincenzo Nibali’s local training climb for many years so watch out for a shark attack – so it won’t eject the sprinters right away. Note it was climbed in 2020 too and on a similar stage with the start in Catania, it was won by Arnaud Démare and has featured in other years and seen a sprint finish after.
The Finish: a run into Messina, slightly down to the flamme rouge and then a left-hand bend with 800m to go before a straight run to the line.
The Contenders: Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step) won easily in Balatonfüred so who’d beg against him here? Well the Mandrazzi could pose him problems especially if rival teams turn up the heat. The problem is that there’s 100km from the top of the climb to the finish, it’d take a big effort to split the race and sustain it, think Sagan and Liquigas on the road to Albi in 2013 or Sagan and Bora-hansgrohe in 2020.
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) was training in Sicily prior to the Giro and knows the finish today, although that didn’t help Guillaume Martin yesterday as he’d been living on the flanks for Etna for a couple of weeks.
Fernando Gaviria (UAE) was also close in Hungary but the downhill sprint won’t help, he and his bike just aren’t as aero as Cavendish.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) should be a touch less sore now and yes he can climb well but often on shorter ones. His train’s got its issues, Roger Kluge was part of the moto-induced crash yesterday.
Biniam Girmay (Intermarché) is a pick if the pace distresses the pure sprinters, he’s fast but more versatile on a hilly course. There’s no more Mathieu van der Poel or Mareczko debate for Alpecin-Fenix as the Italian was dropped early yesterday, it’s just whether he takes part or sit out the sprint thinking of other stages.
There’s a second wave of sprinters. Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain) doesn’t win often but once is enough. Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel) likewise although the sight of his leadout rider Rick Zabel going for the mountains jersey in Hungary was hardly a vote of confidence.
|Caleb Ewan, Biniam Girmay, Arnaud Démare|
Weather: sunny and 20°C
TV: the finish is earlier than usual at 4.00pm CEST. The Mandrazzi climb is from 1.15pm.