Gallery: the Giro d’Italia climbs over the lava fields of Mount Etna

Fields of hardened lava can still be found intermittently along the slopes of the mountain.

As I have already said, ever since this year’s Giro d’Italia route was announced I knew I wanted to come to the start in Sicily. I wanted to come to see Monreale, the splendid Norman cathedral that set the stage for the opening time trial. I wanted to return to Agrigento and its collection of Greek temples in the breathtaking Valley of the Temples. And I wanted to return to Mount Etna the spectacular volcano that towers over the city of Catania.

I had already visited Catania on several occasions and it is impossible to ignore Etna. And I’ll never forget a photoshoot that I did on the volcano a few years ago. The volcano seemed to simmer. I remember how the air appeared to have a strange mistiness, perhaps due to the presence of sulfur from the volcano. And I remember the lava fields. As Etna is still very much an active volcano, and there have been numerous eruptions over the centuries. Fields of hardened lava can still be found intermittently along the slopes of the mountain.

And so today I decided to hang out in a lava field!

While I often search to convey the magnitude of a great bicycle race in a certain location, today I really was in search of something more stripped-down, just the best possible shot of the riders against the lava.

And after studying the course map and speaking with some locals, I understood that there was an exposed stretch of lava around the three-kilometer mark. The race would then enter into a small forest before exiting in the final kilometer of the race. I opted for the three-kilometer mark.

Situated on a long, sweeping turn, the location offered several vantage points.

I liked that.

But first I had to get to a central spot situated somewhere in the middle of the thick black sand of what was volcanic ash and the jagged rocks. And for those that don’t know already, beware, lava bites back!

A rock formation perched above the field offered me the best vantage point. And taking position, I waited. But I was quickly reminded of how quickly Etna changes character. The lava changes color with the light. At times it appears dark green. And then suddenly it can become jet black. And I was quickly reminded that the weather conditions can change just as quickly — the winds could suddenly pick up and violent rains could appear one minute and be gone the next. After all, we are on an active volcano.

And soon enough the Giro d’Italia caught up to us.

Ecuador’s Jonathan Caicedo was the first to come into sight. After jumping into the day’s early break, he then powered off the front in a perfectly orchestrated move. Soon enough the lead pack came into view, led by Vincenzo Nibali’s Trek-Segafredo team.

And there were many others. Geraint Thomas with his shredded jersey and shorts, whose hopes for a potential Giro victory came to an end in a crash in the opening kilometers of today’s stage. And, of course, there was Filippo Ganna, who started the day in the distinctive pink leaders jersey. A statuesque time-trialer, he was no match for the Etna. But he seemed little bothered, chatting and joking with those in his group. His Giro was already a success, much like the Grand Partenza in Sicily!