“It’s the first real test, because we’re coming out of two complicated days and it’s a real mountain stage,” said Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), from Chieti. “It’s a summit finish that can’t be compared to Etna in terms of steepness and length, and there are also some real climbs upstream. It’s a real mountain stage.”
On Sunday, the Passo Lanciano precedes the Blockhaus in what is one of the most demanding sections of the entire Giro d’Italia, with the road climbing for around 45 of the last 65 kilometers of Stage 9. The altitude gained in this portion of the stage alone exceeds 2,500 meters. Time differences are inevitable.
Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), fifth overall at 1:42 from maglia rosa Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo), is the best placed pre-race favorite thanks to his victory in this short Budapest event. His excitement suggested that he would be the man to beat on this Giro, but doubts have arisen since his crash en route to Etna.
Although Yates finished with the other pink jersey contenders on the volcano, BikeExchange-Jayco general manager Brent Copeland admitted the Rai‘s Processo alla Tappa program on Saturday night that the Briton’s knee had been a concern in the days that followed.
“We were scared on the Etna stage because Simon hit his knee hard on the fall,” Copeland said. “We thought it would be worse, but he’s getting better day by day. Tomorrow will be an important day for everyone on GC. It’s a very difficult stage, and it’s even more difficult because the previous days weren’t easy either.”
Richard Carapaz’s Ineos Grenadiers team (12th overall at 2:06) were at the forefront to lead the peloton at various times during the opening week, including on Mount Etna and again on the road downhill from Potenza on Stage 7. Their forcing failed to create a separation between the overall contenders, but it was, of course, a way of probing Yates’ fitness. “They are used to doing that; riding at the front and creating fatigue and stress for everyone,” said Romain Bardet (Team DSM).
Ineos’ approach so far shows considerable confidence in Carapaz, the overall winner in 2019, but it has yet to allay any doubts raised by his subdued display in the time trial. from Budapest. The Ecuadorian lost most of his time there on the short climb to the finish, although the problem may have been one of strategy rather than condition. After all, he led the group of favorites on Etna, but Sunday will reveal much more.
Carapaz and Yates were consensus favorites when the race left Budapest and they are in the same spot now, but there are others who will see the Blockhaus as a springboard to launch their challenges more formally. Men like Bardet, Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) – who crashed here in 2017 – João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) haven’t missed a beat so far, but they know something is going to start giving here.
For Bora-Hansgrohe, the twin climbs of Lanciano and Blockhaus will shed light on their internal hierarchy, with Wilco Kelderman (seventh at 1:55 a.m.), Jai Hindley (15th at 2:16 a.m.) and Emanuel Buchmann (23rd at 2:39 a.m.). ) too close to separate at this point.
For Ciccone, from Abruzzo, his home roads will offer the strongest assessment of his credentials as a Grand Tour rider, which have been touted for several years. Like many in this race, one wonders how far he can go. The Blockhaus will provide some answers.
In Giro tradition, the Blockhaus is synonymous with Eddy Merckx. His first stage victory in a Grand Tour came on its slopes in 1967. Five years later, he suffered one of the rare crises of his imperial phase, when José Manuel Fuente dispossessed him of the pink jersey, and the fearsome reputation of the mountain is established.
In the modern history of the Giro, the Blockhouse is synonymous with controversy. On the race’s last visit in 2017, Nairo Quintana’s stage victory was rather overshadowed by the mass accident – caused by a police motorbike – which ended the hopes of Landa, Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas.
On this occasion, the Blockhaus was the only serious climb of the day, and the large peloton, high speed and general tension approaching the climb only exacerbated the impact of this parked motorcycle. This time around the lead group will be significantly smaller by the time the race arrives at the Blockhaus as it is immediately preceded by the category 1 Passo Lanciano.
The stage, which starts in Isernia in the Molise region, is one of the most difficult of the entire Giro. Traditionally, the toughest days of the race have been until its final week in the north, but key to this year’s edition has been Mauro Vegni’s determination to spread his demands across the peninsula. . It’s not quite the tappone of the race, but with 5,000 meters of total elevation gain over its 191 kilometers, it’ll be fine until the tappone arrives.
There’s a steep opening, with a three-part climb to Roccaraso tucked away for the first 37 kilometres. The race reaches the category 3 Valico del Macerone immediately after the start, followed in quick succession by the category 2 Rionero Sannitico (10.1 km at 6%) and the category 2 course towards Roccaraso (7.7 km at 6 %), which welcomed the stage finishes. in 2016 and 2020.
These climbs should provide a springboard for an early break, but the general classification men will be in the fore once the race reaches the category 1 Passo Lanciano (10.3 km at 7.6%), where the peloton will already be reduced to his bare bones. “People were spared a bit on Friday and Saturday but there will be riders and teams looking to do some damage tomorrow. It will be a real race from Passo Lanciano,” Ciccone said.
After a rapid descent, the road goes up towards Roccamorice, where the ascent of the Blockhaus begins in earnest. There are three slopes at the Blockhaus and the Giro again tackles the most difficult approach, which made its debut in 2017. 13.6 km at 8.4% average, the climb is distinguished by its relentlessness .
After about 3km the grade rises to 9% and there is little respite thereafter, with the most difficult section at 14% coming 4km from the summit. The road only starts to level out in the last mile, but the damage will be done long ago. The Blockhouse is ruthless.
“It’s both long and steep, so it’s the classic ascent for climbers that hurts the legs. Unlike Etna, you can’t hide or sit a little in the wheels”, Ciccone said. “It’s a real climb. If you have it, you go for it. If you don’t, you’re dropped.”