Giro d'Italia

Was Giro’s early Etna summit finish worth the risk?

Giro d'Italia organizers take a calculated risk by adding the tough Etna stage early in the 2017 route.

MOUNT ETNA, Italy (VN) — The views of lava fields and volcanic smoke amazed. Star cyclists climbing Mount Etna for the stage win and pink jersey entertained. But such early Giro d’Italia theatrics risked shutting down the overall race.

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The Vuelta a España is also known for such spectacle, but even there, a 17.95-kilometer climb to 1,892 meters on day four is rare.

“It’s a risk,” Trek-Segafredo’s Kim Andersen told VeloNews.

He looked out at the Sicilian waters below and the mainland behind. After tomorrow, 16 race days remain. “And it’s still a long way to control afterwards.”

Italian two-time Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) tired, and Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) escaped for 10 seconds and four bonus seconds.

“Everyone was just watching everyone, no one really went,” Geraint Thomas said.

He sits second overall, six seconds behind Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), who took the leader’s pink jersey mostly due to Sunday’s crosswind finish to Cagliari.

“Obviously it was a bit of headwind the last 2K,” added Thomas. “I think everyone was a bit apprehensive.”

The active volcanic mountain gave the general classification a sort, mostly at the tail-end with the lower-ranked cyclists losing time. Starting Wednesday, certain GC teams like Sky will have more responsibility than others, and riders who lost minutes on Sicily’s barren beast will have their window of opportunity opened.

“I think it’s good,” Andersen added. “You have a sorting of the GC, and the riders who are dropped will have chances to go in breaks and a stage victory in the next days.”

“It’s not finished from here,” Sky’s Mikel Landa said. “And these are not much differences anyway.”

“Is the Giro over here? No, the Giro’s never boring,” Landa’s Sky teammate Thomas said. “There’s something every day.”

From Etna, the organizers planned for sprint and mixed stages with hills until Sunday. In stage 9, the riders climb to Blockhaus and after a rest day Monday, they cover 39.8 time trial kilometers in Umbria.

“This makes the race harder for everyone. You have to arrive ready for the end and hold it for the final,” Cannondale-Drapac sport director Fabrizio Guidi explained.

“It’s good, the riders have to come to Etna ready and ready for the third week. It requires you’re a good rider overall for three weeks. It’s harder, so you get a rider who’s able to manage the whole race.”

“I like it like this as opposed to a first week of just sprinters,” Sky sports director Dario Cioni said. “This way we have gaps and we can see some escapes, riders going for stages. This isn’t the first day, we’ve already raced for three days.

“Besides, Etna creates gaps but not enough to decide the classification. And the last stages are so hard, that we are going to see shifts, minutes here and there.”

Jungels defends the pink jersey now, but his Quick-Step team will likely not be working hard for the next three weeks. The jersey should change hands several times, which is what the fans and organizer RCS Sport want to see.

“The last part of the Giro is so hard,” Guidi continued. “It does happen that a rider takes the jersey and holds it to the end, it happened before.”

“Bugno took the pink jersey on stage one and held it all the way,” Cioni added. “In this case, I don’t think it’s a given the Etna leader is going to be the winner in Milan.”

Listen to our discussion of the Mount Etna finish on the VeloNews podcast.