NAPOLI, Italy (VN) — The 2022 Giro d’Italia will go from a slow boil to a boil on the difficult 191km ninth stage from Isernia to Blockhaus.
After more than a week of racing, the peloton faces its first truly decisive final atop the first-class Blockhouse in the heart of Abruzzo.
Considered a “five-star” stage in the Giro d’Italia road book, the stage is the second of five major finals at the top of the Giro 2022, and the first that will provide the first significant separation.
“It’s an important step,” said 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz, who is due to drop from 11th to 2:06 behind. “It’s going to be very fast and there’s already some wear in the bodywork, so tomorrow will be selective.”
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Heading into Sunday’s stage, the GC is largely knotted with a dozen riders within two minutes of each other.
Midnight pink jersey Juanpe López (Trek-Segafredo) knows that his days are numbered, and intends to give up the leader’s jersey.
Some think a breakaway might have a chance of succeeding, but almost everyone is gearing up for the Giro’s first major shake-up since leaving Hungary.
“It’s been a tense start to the Giro for the riders,” said EF Education-Easy Post athletic director Juanma Garate. “The trip, the transfers, then the first mountain stage directly on Etna were difficult to manage. This Blockhaus stage will be a big turning point in this Giro. We will start to see who is capable of winning this Giro.”
So far, Ineos Grenadiers are carrying much of the weight of the race and hope to see a return on investment in the first decisive final at the top of this Giro.
“Sunday will be the next real key moment,” said team boss Rod Ellingworth. BikeNews. “We know Blockhaus is a solid climb, so people will want to go up there and it can cause injury.
“It will decrease in the front climb, but it will all depend on the final climb,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be the GC group who will win the stage, but even if they don’t it will be important.”
With a relatively slim Week 2 on attacking opportunities heading into the escalating final week that ultimately decides the pink jersey, all GC contenders know full well that Sunday will impose the first significant hierarchy in the fight for the pink.
High expectations in the GC group
The nervous riders at the start on Saturday in Naples were quick to stress the importance of Sunday’s stage. Everyone in the top 20 knows this is a milestone.
“I think Sunday is a stage where you will see people attacking, because the next stages I don’t think there are many chances,” said João Almeida (UAE-Team Emirates), seventh overall. “For the next five stages, it will not be so difficult. Let’s see. This will be a decisive step.
Some, like Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe), hope to be able to hold on. The Dutch rider is well placed in sixth, but said the effects of a fall in Liège-Bastogne-Liège persist.
“The legs are good, but I notice I’m not in great shape, but the Giro is long, I’ll see tomorrow,” Kelderman said. “I’m just doing my thing for now. We will see tomorrow. At the Blockhaus in 2017, I gave up. I then rode the climb in the car, but didn’t really pay attention.
“This climb is completely new to me, I’ve never done it before,” he said. “I consider it like any other mountain stage, it’s going to be a difficult day. Tomorrow we will really see how good I am.
Everyone in the peloton sticks together. Richie Porte said BikeNews in his column that riders like Mikel Landa, Romain Bardet, his teammate Carapaz and Simon Yates seem the strongest.
Yates, who won the time trial in Budapest at the start of the Giro, is hoping to shake off the lingering effects of a crash midweek.
“I’m expecting a big showdown on Sunday, but I’m also in a good position,” Yates said. “At the moment I would like to say that I am in front, so I don’t need to be the only one to be aggressive.”
What to expect: Endless escalation, decisive summit
Runners will feel the effects of running. Lawson Craddock called Friday’s top-down scene the primer for Sunday’s big battle at Blockhaus.
“Friday was one of the toughest stages I’ve ever done on a grand tour, and [Saturday] gonna be nervous,” Craddock said at the start on Saturday. “Everybody will feel the impact of every race. We are in a good position, but anyone with good legs can make a big difference.
The profile of the course lends itself to an early breakaway to try to win the stage.
The first 40 kilometers feature a series of unclassified climbs that could trigger early moves by teams looking to place support riders on the road as well as stage chasers.
Things are getting serious on the chat. 1 Passo Lanciano at 147km. The climb climbs a different spine along the same group of climbs featured on the Blockhaus, an arid peak high in the clouds.
There might be some movement from the GC rivals on Lanciano, but most of the action will be on the final run to Blockhaus.
A steep and technical descent takes the peloton to the foot of the climb. The 13.6 km cover 1,141 meters of elevation with an average gradient of 8.4%. The climb is steeper and more uneven than what the group faced on Etna, so the expectation is growing.
The climb was last featured in 2017, when Kelderman crashed and Geraint Thomas was bumped and ultimately abandoned after becoming entangled with a police motorcycle before even reaching the top. Nairo Quintana won, but Tom Dumoulin eventually won pink.
Sunday could well see a similar scenario unfold, with an explosive climber taking the lead, but a more stable rider eventually winning the overall.