Giro d'Italia

Giro’s classification battle heats up with Blockhaus and Sagrantino

A week in, and after a indecisive summit finish to Mount Etna and sprint stages, the stars predict a significant change starting Sunday.

PESCHICI, Italy (VN) — A good part of the 2017 Giro d’Italia’s overall classification will be written in the coming two stages in Italy’s central regions, with a summit finish stage to Blockhaus and a time trial through the Sagrantino vineyards.

A week in, and after an indecisive summit finish to Mount Etna and sprint stages, the stars predict a significant change starting Sunday. They face a 13.65-kilometer climb up Blockhaus. And after a rest day Monday, a 39.8-kilometer time trail.

“These two stages are going to be very important,” Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) told VeloNews.

Kruijswijk emerged in 2016 as a serious grand tour threat. He crashed in the pink jersey on the penultimate mountain day and slid to fourth overall.

For the 100th edition, Giro organizer RCS Sport brought back Kruijswijk and stars like Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Geraint Thomas (Sky), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida)

“Blockhaus and the time trial will be big for the classification,” Pinot said. “I expect something more interesting.”

The tougher gradients and lack of winds will allow the climbers to prevail in the Apennine Mountains on Sunday. The race comes up from the Northwest side and with three kilometers to race, hits ramps of 14 percent.

“For sure these are two big days coming up,” Thomas said. “It’s the two biggest stages before the last week, we have another mountain top on stage 14 [Oropa], but it’s not as long and hard, it’s too big days to see how one goes into the last week with an advantage or disadvantage.”

[pullquote align=“left” attrib=”Geraint Thomas”]”These are two big days coming up…the two biggest stages before the last week.”[/pullquote]

Thomas and time trail strong riders like Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) will do what they can to gain as much time as possible on overall favorite Quintana in Tuesday’s time trial.

Thomas said, “Yeah, obviously, I need to make the most of those TTs and see where I’m at on the climbs.”

Sky’s sports director Dario Cioni added that if Thomas “can’t gain time in that time trial on Quintana then it could be a problem” to win the race overall on May 28. In Thomas’s favor, the Giro also ends with a time trial from Monza to Milan’s Duomo.

Dumoulin has the same idea to gain as much as possible Tuesday. He said, “I have to be able to stick together with the other GC riders in the mountains and then hit them in the time trials.”

Of course, the Giro heads over the high Alpine passes in the north in the third week. Climbs like the Stelvio pass at 2758 meters will cripple any contender who arrived unprepared, but an important advantage could be gained already in central Italy.

Dumoulin added, “The third week is more decisive, but these two stages are important for the overall.”

“Definitely, Sunday is decisive for Nairo to see where he is going,” said Quintana’s teammate Rory Sutherland. “And then yes, for sure, they will be out to put time in on him in Tuesday’s time trial. We need to find the place like Blockhaus where he can make the difference.”

Organiser RCS Sport designed a course for the 100th edition that passes through most regions and zones known for Italy’s greats like Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. After the island hopping start from Sardinia to Sicily, it travels the boot from bottom up.

“No one wanted to risk it on Etna,” RCS Sport cycling director Mauro Vegni said. “Blockhaus, however, will give us a good idea of who’s ready and who has the legs. The time trial will further define the classification heading towards the Alps.”