Many pundits are predicting that the stage 4 summit finish on Mount Etna – the first and one of the hardest of the 2017 Giro d'Italia – comes too early in the race to culminate in an all-out GC battle. But one significant voice in the peloton, at least, believes the complete opposite could well be true.
"I think once you're on it [Etna], everybody will be going full gas," Team Sky's Geraint Thomas told a small group of reporters in Tortoli before stage 3. "If somebody's good then they're going to try and take time."
Although the popular view is that it would be risky to take a firm hold of the GC so early, Thomas points out that at least one top Giro d'Italia contender has operated differently in the past. "Look at when [Vincenzo] Nibali took yellow [on stage 2] in the Tour de France in 2014, the race was still in the UK," the Welshman pointed out. "I don't think Tuesday will be about people not wanting to take the Giro lead too soon."
Thomas does not think, in any case, that the Giro d'Italia organisers have made a mistake by putting in such a key moment so soon in the game. "It's different to have a climb so early on, but it'll be good to see where I'm at, hopefully get stuck in, and have a good day."
Thomas has not ridden Etna before because, as he succinctly explains, "other things [recons] fitted around races - it was just a bit more of a logistical pain in the arse."
However, he says he'll spend some of the rest day watching videos of past two-wheeled assaults on the Sicilian volcano. "Apparently the wind could be important. It'll be a good test." He did not get to check out the Blockhaus, the other big early summit finish on stage 9, because it was blocked with snow when he was in the area during Tirreno-Adriatico, but, as he sees it, "as long as you've got good legs, that's the main thing."
For all his expectations that there could be a major GC battle on Tuesday, Thomas is not certain if Etna will start to sort out the question of the pecking order between himself and Mikel Landa in Team Sky's two-pronged assault on the Giro d'Italia.
"We could finish together, or one ahead of the other," Thomas points out, not exactly helpfully. "We've both got an equal opportunity, but once the Etna's happened, then the Blockhaus and the other summit finish [at Oropa on stage 14] and obviously the time trial, by the time we get to the last week, for sure there'll have been a natural selection and it'll sort itself out."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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