'We'll see the big fight that we didn't see on Etna': GC contenders prepare for Blockhaus battle

Big names promise fireworks after Etna damp squib

The GC group sprints for the line at the top of Mount Etna on stage four of the Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

The Giro d'Italia's first classification battle will come on Sunday, one week into the Grand Tour, on the Blockhaus climb in central Italy. The race's stars say that fans will see the big fight that failed to materialise on Mount Etna.

The climb, near Pescara in Abruzzo, covers 13.6km and the gradient averages at 8.4%, touching 14% as it heads deep into the Apennine mountains.

"The real Giro still has to start. We'll see the big GC fight that we didn't see on Mount Etna," Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) explained.

"It's really an honest climb from what I hear. It all depends on the legs. If I feel good, I'll definitely try. You'll feel your legs and you'll end up in the position where you belong."

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Dario Cataldo (Astana) and Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani-CSF) come from the area. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), like many, could not preview it due to the snowfall late into the spring. However Nibali's brother's girlfriend lives near the base, so he has local knowledge of the climb. with the locals saying that the side this year from Roccamorica is the hardest.

"Merckx won on Lanciano, the pass above, I was a young boy and raced alongside," said Palmiro Masciarelli, a professional rider in 1970s and 1980s from Pescara. "Merckx, Fuente and Panizza. Everyone dropped.

"On this side, the first five kilometres are manageable, a flat part, another three manageable kilometres and then it turns seriously upward with long straights. It's painful."

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The Giro will approach from the northwest side. At three kilometres to race, it covers a 14% section.

"It'll be a bit more attacking and aggressive than Etna," Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) said. "The climb's a lot harder, I'm not sure about the wind, but I don't think it's as exposed as Etna.

"You expect Nairo Quintana, but I think Adam Yates looks good. Those guys will have a go, and many others, but they are looking good."

The riders covered 17.9km to the top of Mount Etna on Tuesday, but the slopes were gentler and the winds stronger. That combination prevented serious attacks and the favourites, bar a small advantage gained by Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), finished together.

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"I hope there'll be more attacks than what we had on Etna," Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) explained. "It'll be difficult to take Blockhaus calmly. It's going to be an important part for the GC, also for the time trial on Tuesday."

After the Blockhouse stage, the Corsa Rosa stops in Umbria for a rest day. It continues with a time trial on Tuesday, but will not face another summit finish until next Saturday.

"It won't be decisive for the Giro, but for sure there'll be more action than on Mount Etna," said Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo).

"After the first week, in the ninth stage now, the guys are getting tired and we are going to test each other of for the GC. It's been a tough week with the transfers as well, I think this climb suits more for action than before on Etna."

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.