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Giro d'Italia

Analysis: How the GC stars fared in the Giro d’Italia’s fight on Mt. Etna

Monday's third stage of the Giro d'Italia saw the GC standings upended on the battle to Mt. Etna. Fred Dreier examines how the pre-race favorites fared on the push to the summit.

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The GC battle at the 2020 Giro d’Italia heated up on Monday’s 3rd stage, as the peloton exploded on the slopes of Mt. Etna. The early test of legs and lungs came after two opening stages in Sicily, and it did not disappoint.

Vincenzo Nibali soared, Steven Kruijswijk cruised, and Simon Yates struggled. Meanwhile, pre-race favorite Geraint Thomas saw his Giro go down in flames after he suffered an early crash.

How did the rest of the GC stars fare? Let’s break it down:

Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers)

Geraint Thomas’ Giro hopes crashed and burned on stage 3 to Mt. Etna. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: The news is very, very bad for Geraint Thomas today.

The bad news: Thomas’ dismal history with the Giro d’Italia continued on Monday as the Welshman saw his run at the GC go poof before the race even really started. Thomas crashed during the neutral rollout of Monday’s stage, and the pileup seemed to have a catastrophic impact on his body. TV cameras caught sight of him riding in the group with cuts and abrasions on his shoulder, back, and hip. And once the peloton approached the slopes of Mt. Etna, Thomas simply slipped off the back. In total, he lost more than 11 minutes, and his run at the Giro is almost certainly over.

This is the second time that Thomas’ run at the maglia rosa has been derailed by an early crash. In 2017 he was Team Sky’s man for the GC until he crashed into a parked police motorcycle on stage 9 and then abandoned the race.

This is an unfortunate scenario for Thomas and a huge setback for Ineos-Grenadiers. We all know that David Brailsford booted him from the squad’s Tour de France team due to bad fitness, and for a chance run at the Giro’s pink jersey. Now, that move is looking doubly bad due to forces that nobody could have foreseen. Hey, that’s bike racing, and it’s looking like 2020 is going to be a year to forget for the British squad.

Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma)

Kruijswijk looked strong on the final push to Mt. Etna. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: Kruijswijk finished on the heels of his big GC rivals and slotted into 10th place in GC, 1:15 down. With Thomas and Yates removed from the GC picture, a clear pathway has emerged for Kruijswijk to make a run at the maglia rosa. At the moment, this is his best shot at winning a grand tour since the 2016 Giro. He’s among the best ITT riders in the front group, and while he lacks the explosive climbing of Nibali, he’s proven himself capable of surviving the long, grinding climbs.

The bad news: It may be a case of early-race legs, but Kruijswijk spent the entire climb on the defensive. He spent the final climb reacting to attacks and not making them. While he rolled with the first few punches from Nibali, Kruijswijk wasn’t able to follow once Fuglsang and Pozzovivo began to surge. Kruijswijk recovered nicely to finish just 5 seconds behind the front group of contenders. But if the GC battle turns into an aggressive slugfest over big, long climbs, Kruijswijk may lack the muscle to punch back.

Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo)

Nibali went on the attack on stage 3. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: Nibali is the biggest winner of Monday’s stage 3. Prior to this Giro d’Italia there were lingering questions of his form in this strange 2020 season, and Nibali just looked a few watts too slow at Il Lombardia, Tirreno-Adriatico, and then the UCI World Championships. We’ve seen how Nibali can come into form in the third week of a grand tour, so the big fitness test this early in the race appeared, on paper, to be the biggest impediment to Nibali’s run at pink. Had he been searching for early form, the Mt. Etna climb could have simply blown him out of the water.

Instead, Nibali soared. And, luck eliminated the only other two grand tour winners in this year’s race from the GC chase (Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates). Nibali rode alongside the strongest GC riders on the slopes of Mt. Etna, and finished shoulder-to-shoulder with Jakob Fuglsang, Domenico Pozzovivo, and Rafal Majka. He even attacked, and his aggression dropped Steven Kruijswijk for a few moments. He now sits in 6th place in the overall, 55 seconds behind Almeida.

And, most importantly, Nibali saw that his Trek-Segafredo team can do the work. Trek controlled the tempo on the push to Mt. Etna, and his teammate Gianluca Brambila was among the final domestiques to make the front group.

OK, here’s your requisite Shark reference: The Shark of Messina swam through the early swells at this year’s Giro, and he smells blood and is looking to attack!

The bad news: It’s all good for Nibs.

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)

Simon Yates struggled on the first uphill test. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: The good news is that Yates only lost four minutes and not five. He suffered his bad day on the first day that really mattered, and his run at the maglia rosa took a beating.

The bad news: Yates was dropped before the real GC fight even began, and he ceded 4:22 to Jonathan Caicedo and slipped 17 spots down to 25th place, 3:46 down. Hey, it’s the Giro, so a gap of this size is hardly insurmountable. But Yates definitely has his work cut out for him now. Plus, it’s a real mystery why Yates continues to suffer in these early uphill tests at the Giro. Last year he got zapped from the front group on the first true summit finish to Lago Serru.

Even Yates’ director Matt White couldn’t really explain what happened.

What’s clear is that it’s now been two years since Yates grabbed control of the Giro d’Italia and then won the Vuelta, and since then he’s really struggled to put together a consistent ride. Something’s not right.

Jakob Fuglsang (Team Astana)

Fuglsang attacked multiple times on the slopes of Mt. Etna. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: Jakob Fuglsang rode with impressive strength and poise, and finished in the main group of GC favorites, 51 seconds behind stage winner Jonathan Caicedo of EF Pro Cycling. He now sits in 9th place overall, 1:13 out of pink.

Beyond that, Fuglsang looked to be the strongest and smartest of the pre-race favorites on the big climb to Mt. Etna. He dictated the race in the final 3km, and it was his big surge that drew out Nibali, Pozzovivo, and Kruijswijk. Once the diminished group entered Etna’s barren moonscape, Fuglsang rode with a more controlled tempo, realizing that the swirling winds would make a solo move unlikely. He never appeared to be in trouble and should view Monday’s result as a huge shot of confidence.

And Fuglsang needs all the confidence he can get — the opening two stages of the Giro eliminated his two strongest climbing domestiques, as Miguel Ángel López abandoning after a crash and Aleksandr Vlasov dropping out due to stomach issues.

The bad news: The bad news is that Fuglsang is isolated on the big climbs. Had López and Vlasov not abandoned, he would have had two very strong allies to set the pace and control attacks.

Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb)

Wilco Kelderman grabbed precious time. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The good news: Wilco Kelderman, the guy who is usually on the receiving end of well-timed attacks, finally made a perfectly well-timed attack of his own! Kelderman sprung away from the group of GC contenders inside 3km to go and soloed all the way to the top of Mt. Etna. He carved out 12 seconds on the Nibali/Fuglsang group, and now sits in 4th place overall, 0:42 seconds behind leader João Almeida (Deceuninck–Quick-Step).

On paper, Kelderman now holds a nice little advantage as the Giro heads into the mountains and long ITTs, which could be a boon for the Dutchman. If you all remember, once upon a time Kelderman was The Netherlands’ next big grand tour hope alongside Tom Dumoulin. He’s an unquestionably strong rider, but always seems to suffer the One Bad Day. It’s great to see that Kelderman had One Great Day on Etna, and a storyline to follow will be whether or not he can keep the consistency rolling.

The bad news: No bad news today for the only Giro d’Italia rider who shares a name with a Jeff Tweedy band.

Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Majka is still in the hunt. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The good news: Majka survived the early uphill test and climbed alongside Nibali and Fuglsang on the slopes of Mt. Etna. He couldn’t go with every single surge, but he found ways to recover quickly and then strike out to close down the gaps opened by Fuglsang’s attacks. He finished with the front GC group, 51 seconds behind Caicedo. After a bad opening TT Majka jumped forward a whopping 47 GC spots and now sits in 11th place, 1:26 out of the lead.

Plus, his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates Patrick Konrad and Matteo Fabbro looked great.

The bad news: Majka is among the worst ITT riders in the top GC group, so he needs to find ways to drop Fuglsang, Nibali, and Kruijswijk in the mountains. Hey, the test on Mt. Etna came early, and Majka hung tough. But if he wants to win the Giro or even land on the podium, he’s going to need to find a way to drop those guys at some point.

Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling)

Pozzovivo finished alongside the best GC riders. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The good news: A Domenico Pozzovivo run at the maglia rosa is a story I can really get behind! Pozzovivo has long delighted cycling fans with his pint-sized frame (he’s 5 foot 4″) and impressive climbing skills. He’s 37 now and closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Plus, Pozzovivo is coming back from a string of injuries in the last year. He’s finished inside the top-10 at the Giro on five occasions, and I’d love to see him make the podium.

The bad news: Like Majka, Pozzovivo needs to drop Fuglsang, Nibali, and Kruijswijk on the climbs, because he will lose time in the three ITTs. He rode with those guys today, but he did not drop them.