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Dumoulin, Nibali and Miguel López fall at first obstacle of Giro d'Italia - Analysis

The contenders on Mount Etna during stage 4 of the Giro d'Italia
The contenders on Mount Etna during stage 4 of the Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The elimination race begins. In stern defiance of the clichés, Mount Etna again refused to create an eruption on the Giro d'Italia, but the volcano instead bore out another truism. As ever, the first summit finish of the Giro didn't tell us who would win the race, but it did confirm who would not, namely, Tom Dumoulin, Vincenzo Nibali and Miguel Ángel López.

Dumoulin's climbing form had been a mystery coming into the Giro d'Italia given his long absence from the business end of a Grand Tour, but the portents had not been positive during his early-season outing on Jebel Jais at the UAE Tour. Jumbo-Visma blamed a back injury on that occasion, but there was no obvious mitigation for his hefty time loss here.

On this very mountain on the corresponding stage in 2017, Dumoulin climbed comfortably in the body of the front group all the way to the top, safely navigating the first obstacle of his clear run to overall victory. This time around, he watched the race inch away from him and then disappear out of sight.

Dumoulin was dropped with 8.5km still remaining, shortly after the steepest section of the climb, and it was immediately clear that there was no way back. He now lies 8:20 off the maglia rosa of Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo). His Giro challenge is over, though it is still too soon to say whether this marks the end, too, of his career as a Grand Tour contender.

It is rather clearer that Nibali will not win another Giro, even if home expectations were raised by an assured showing in the Budapest time trial and then dialled up even further on Tuesday when his Astana-Qazaqstan co-leader Miguel Ángel López abandoned early in the stage with a thigh injury.

Nibali, however, had been downplaying his ambitions for this Giro from the outset, and Etna demonstrated that his circumspection had not been misplaced. The trajectory of his curve already seemed clear from his previous two Giro appearances, and he arrived at this race on the back of a spring blighted by illness.

It was not altogether surprising, then, that Nibali was distanced from the group of favourites, losing 2:15 on Richard Carapaz (Ineos), Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) et al. At the finish line at Rifugio Sapienza, Nibali evinced little surprise or disappointment at his time losses. His overall challenge is over, but, as in 2021, he can still be expected to provide aggressive cameos as the race draws on.

The outright loss of López was an altogether greater calamity for Astana. With just 26km of time trialling on the route, this Giro presented the Colombian with a cast-iron opportunity to challenge for overall victory. Instead, he beats an early retreat for the fourth Grand Tour in succession. "We thought we could manage it and then get through a few difficult days," Astana doctor Emilio Magni told RAI afterwards.

Carapaz

Grand Tours, cycling's ultimate endurance test, are all about managing such difficult days, but – beyond Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) and Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma), each shaken loose near the summit – it's not clear which other GC contenders were simply treading water in the finale.

The exposed roads and blustery conditions meant that the selection was always likely to come from the back rather than the front, and some 17 riders came home together in the group of favourites, 2:37 behind Kämna.

It was probably instructive, mind, that Ineos were the squad dictating the tempo as the climb drew on, with Jonathan Castroviejo, Pavel Sivakov and Richie Porte forcing the pace on behalf of Carapaz.

It was also notable that Carapaz led the sprint for home from distance in the final kilometre. There were no bonus seconds on offer, but after apparently struggling on the short climb in Saturday's time trial, it had the feel of a statement, perhaps to his team as much as to his rivals.

As with the splits on Friday's hilltop opener, it would perhaps be unwise to read too much into the finishing positions in that sprint, even Romain Bardet (DSM) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) appeared to confirm their Tour of the Alps form by coming in just behind Carapaz.

A faller early in the stage, Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) placed towards the very back of the 17-man Carapaz group, though the Bury native appeared in no distress on the climb. He remains the best-placed of the pre-race favourites in the overall standings after his victory in the stage 2 time trial, still 24 seconds ahead of Carapaz, but he managed to avoid inheriting the maglia rosa from Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), with the jersey instead passing to escapee Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo).

From a strategic point of view, BikeExchange-Jayco will be pleased to have avoided taking the race lead so soon. The sobering lesson of the 2018 Giro, when Yates seized pink at Etna only to burn himself out by carrying it for two weeks, was already applied successfully at that year's Vuelta a España. The Briton now lies 4th overall at 1:42, with Trek-Segafredo charged with controlling the race for the time being.

Yates will also have approached Etna with another recent visit in mind, of course. In 2020, he lost more than four minutes on the volcano, his Giro over before it even began.

Forget eruptions, the Giro's habitual early visits to Etna are mainly about the steadier process of staying in the game. Dumoulin, Nibali and López are out, but plenty of players remain.

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Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.