With stage 12 of the 2019 Giro d'Italia heading into the mountains on Thursday, Mitchelton-Scott leader Simon Yates is one of a number of GC favourites eager to see how the start of the climbing this year will open up the race.
The British climber echoed the general sentiment when he said that "not a lot happened" on Wednesday's sprint stage from Carpi to Novi Ligure – although winner Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and second-placed Arnaud Demare, who took over the maglia ciclamino as leader of the points classification, might disagree – and that he was looking forward to stage 12 from Cuneo to Pinerolo.
"For sure, tomorrow [Thursday] will be fast," Yates said via his team's website. "I'm expecting fireworks in the beginning for the breakaway, and then the racing will settle down a bit.
"Everybody needs to gain time, including me, if we want to win the race, so these next stages will be fast," he said, currently sitting 3:46 down on Roglic in 24th place overall, having lost over three minutes to Jumbo-Visma's leader on Sunday's stage 9 time trial.
While the rolling, opening 100km of Thursday's 156km stage are indeed likely to see a break established, the climb of Montoso – this year's first real difficulty, at 8.8km with a 9.5% average gradient, maxing out at 14% – could well see the favourites attempting to steal a march on each other, with just 32km to go to the finish from its summit.
The climb to San Maurizio, too, just 2km from the end of the stage, provides another possible springboard, with slopes that reach 20% on the half-a-kilometre-long muro before a quick downhill run to the finish.
Of his deficit to Roglic, Yates remained philosophical when acknowledging that he's got plenty to do over the remaining 10 days of racing, having got through the past two flat days unscathed.
"I've worked too hard to just give up already, so I'll give it everything I've got. If I come up short, then that's OK," Yates said on the rest day earlier this week.
"It's not just me in that position. A lot of the other guys are down as well," he added, referring to the other favourites' lowly positions, with all of them having lost time to Roglic in the time trial. "He's looking very, very impressive. Everybody is going to have to attack him, so I can see the race becoming very aggressive."
After two days for the sprinters, Thursday's stage 12 will likely see such aggression begin, almost two weeks into this Giro in which Roglic has barely put a foot wrong, save, perhaps, for his crash early on stage 6 to San Giovanni Rotondo, after which he was left with a huge hole in his shorts and road rash on his buttock.
The Slovenian came into the race as one of the favourites – if not the favourite – to win the Giro title, but still has a lot to do in the face of more experienced Grand Tour riders, and in particular two-time Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who sits 11th overall, 1:44 behind Roglic.
Astana duo Pello Bilbao and Miguel Angel Lopez, Movistar's Richard Carapaz and a clearly confident Yates look like the other men most likely to challenge him, and with further, much tougher, mountain stages to come on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and again next week following Monday's second rest day, the Giro for the GC truly starts here.
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