A big day in the mountains, some riders are saying this is the hardest stage of the Giro. We’ll see, two things are certain: a big shake-up of the GC contenders and if you read on you’ll know more about the Blockhaus climb.
Lotto’s numbers game: Mathieu van der Poel went on the rampage at the start and helped force a group of 21 riders clear. It was exciting but he looked like a junior who’d overdosed on caffeine gels, although with him anything’s possible, he can get away with it and it enlivens many a race. The group contained Guillaume Martin who was four minutes down on GC so Trek-Segafredo took up the chase to protect Lopez’s maglia rosa and the Frenchman continues his Snakes and Ladders method of racing.
Van der Poel split the group with 40km to go but got hit by the counter attack from Davide Gabburo of Bardiani and Movistar’s Jorge Arcas and they were joined by Thomas De Gendt and team mate Harm Vanhoucke, and briefly Simone Ravanelli of Drone Hopper. Now what to do? Van der Poel and Biniam Girmay formed a chase group with Martin, Wout Poels and Quickstepper Mauro Schmid but they could only keep the lead quartet at thirty seconds. This was ideal for the leaders as they had no cushion to sit on, just the tip of their saddles. None of them could afford to play games and this was heightened in the finish when the gap fell to just ten seconds as Van der Poel, Girmay and Schmid closed on. But who was gone to win, four leaders in search of a sprint? De Gendt settled things quickly, unleashing a powerful jump that just left the others trailing.
The Route: 189km and 5,000m of vertical gain. The climbing starts right from the beginning so many will be warming up on rollers in Isernia but the first climb’s not too hard. The second one is, the Valico Rionero Sannitico has some tough 10-12% even if it’s short and then it’s across to Roccaraso, a regular in the Giro and the climb here from Castel di Sangro was last used in 2018 and there are some 7-8% sections along the way to help a break form if it hasn’t gone already, or just to help the climbers. Then comes the best part of 100km across the Apennines on decent roads that twist and turn but with few surprises.
The Passo Lanciano appears in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro, it’d make a decent summit finish today but of course there’s a lot more to come. It’s got a steep start and then eases to 7% for 8km. At the top of the pass you can press on across the Maiella mountain to reach the Blockhaus but not today. The race descends back the valley floor to lose 1,200m of altitude, and all in a regular descent with some long straight sections.
The Finish: a 13.5km climb and there’s a climb just to reach the start but once out of Roccamorice there’s even a short descent that’s not on the profile. The image above is helpful but the reality is a very irregular climb, this is a mule path that got tarmacked rather than a ski station access road and the gradient keeps changing on the way up as it climbs among wide open pastures. It’s hard climb for a team to ride tempo given all the slope changes and anyone struggling will find it agony, they might be able to hold on for a while but risk exploding because of the irregular effort. There’s a slight dip in the final kilometre and then it’s back up to the line at a solid 8%.
The Contenders: it’s a big day for the GC contenders and their teams but they’ll be content if a breakaway can get clear early on the hilly start before they get to work on the Lanciano and Blockhaus climbs. So riders down on GC who can cope with a big summit finish have a chance. Wout Poels (Bahrain) must be tired after two days in the breakaway but he seems to be going well, Joe Dombrowski (Astana) tends to prefer the third week and the long climbs but he won in the first week last year, team mates David De La Cruz and Vincenzo Nibali can try too. Jonathan Caicedo (EF) won a stage in 2020 and can try again but it’s always hard to know who gets in the breakaway. Davide Formolo (UAE) can try again but his team might prefer him to hold back and help the leader.
Safer picks are to be found among the GC contenders and today is the big reveal, we’ll see what they’ve got. We had a big group on Etna but an odd day with some whispers of sluggish legs and blaming the previous day’s air transfer from Hungary. Now everyone’s had a some steady days of racing.
Simon Yates (BikeExhange-Jayco) banged his knee in a crash the other day and team manager Brent Copeland was speaking to Italian TV in a hopeful sense, a “we’ll see, let’s hope” sort of speech so we’ll see how he’s doing and so for now he’s not an easy three-chainring pick. Romain Bardet (DSM) keeps looking sharp but this is a big test. Richard Carapaz (Ineos) might still be the GC favourite and a safe pick but this climb’s irregular slopes might not suit his style. João Almeida (UAE) won’t like this climb either but if he’s in the mix with 500m to go he’s got a good chance.
Mikel Landa and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain), Jai Hindley and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-hansgohe) are the pure climbers among those high on GC.
Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) is on home roads but the “Gecko of the Abruzzo” can’t pedal any faster for it, it’s just a straight test. If he’s still there with a kilometre to go his finish can help.
|Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa, Simon Yates
|Almeida, Poels, Fortunato, Dumoulin, Sosa, Buitrago, Dombrowski, Mollema
Weather: sunny for most of the day, 25°C in the valleys.
TV: the stage starts at 11.45am CEST and there should be a good battle to get in the breakaway. The Passo Lanciano starts around 3.15pm and the final climb will begin around 4.30pm with the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST.
Blockhaus? Today’s “summit finish” of the Giro is far from the top of the mountain and really ought to be called “Majelletta” as this is where the finish line is, a crossroads where two roads meet on their way up the mountain and where you’ll find the Majelletta ski station, crucially with parking for the race and a side route off the mountain. The race halts here at 1665m but you can ride on up, passing the bristling antennae and onwards, all on a smaller tarmacked road for six kilometres to reach the real Blockhaus beyond 2,000m.
If it sounds German, it is and because of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Italy and Italian are relatively new things and for a while part of Italy was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, although a part in the north and a long way away. However much of the ruling class and military officers had connections and so it was that a German-speaking officer commanding local troops ordered the construction of a small garrison to help dominate the Maiella mountain to deter smugglers and brigands.
A Blockhaus might evoke images of modernist squat concrete mountain bunkers and pillbox-type fortifications but in German it’s just a log cabin and so was just a small hut at the top of the mountain and only the stone foundations remain today.