Mount Etna may be exploding, but the Giro d’Italia’s Sicilian riders are ready to face the challenge tomorrow. The race will climb Europe’s most active volcano twice, once from the north and once from the south.
“An explosion?” Italian Champion and Sicilian, Giovanni Visconti told Cycling Weekly. “Let’s hope it waits for the Giro to pass.”
A recent explosion temporarily halted air traffic to Catania airport two days ago, but won’t interrupt the Giro’s ninth leg. Race director, Angelo Zomegnan confirmed with local authorities that the day will go as planned: 169 kilometres from Messina to the Rifugio Sapienza, at 1892 metres.
“It will be special,” team Farnese Vini’s Visconti said, “and more so with the tricolore [national] jersey.”
The race’s last visit was over 20 years ago in 1989 when Portugal’s Acacio Da Silva won the stage ahead Colombia’s Lucho Herrera and Da Silva took the race leader’s pink jersey. Italian Franco Bitosi beat Spaniard Aurelio Gonzales 1967 to win the stage and to celebrate the Giro d’Italia’s first visit to Mount Etna. The stage tomorrow is the third visit.
The route travels up the north side after 61 kilometres. It climbs 17.95 kilometres from Linguaglossa to Lenza at 1631 metres. It descends 35.6 kilometres and immediately starts the final climb – around 20 kilometres to Nicolosi and another 20 kilometres on the official climb to Rifugio Sapienza.
Sicilian Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) has climbed it about 40 times, but never in a race.
“The first one, on the north side, is not as hard, but it’s a lot longer, about 30 kilometres of climbing,” Tiralongo told Cycling Weekly. “The second one is 20 kilometres. However, it’s all up and down before you arrive to the start in Nicolosi. From Nicolosi, it is hard.
“It’s the first true climb of the Giro d’Italia and it will prove even harder if it’s hot – which it will be.”
Tiralongo was born in Avola, which is one of Italy’s most southern points. He’ll have fans waiting for him along the course, but will be working for Astana team leader, Czech Roman Kreuziger.
“An Explosion? Yes, from our team. We are always there in the front with four, four climbers. If you look at Friday’s stage to Montevergine, we had the most climbers up front. Tomorrow, we will try to invent something.”
“This will be a very special stage for me, but I don’t think it will be particularly selective: not because of the day’s route, but because of its placing in the race,” Vincenzo Nibali told Cycling Weekly. “It comes too early to see effective attacks.”
Nibali comes from Messina and races as Liquigas’ captain. With Alberto Contador, Kreuziger and Michele Scarponi, he’s one of the best-placed classification riders. He’d love to make up time on them and jump ahead of race leader Pieter Weening (Rabobank), but he said it’s too early.
“I know the route well, which is naturally an advantage, as is having the support of local fans. It suits me well, but it’s a hard Giro and there’s a need to conserve energy for the decisive, hardest stages in the final week.”
The three are too skinny and too worried about the final week to think of enjoying the region’s spoils. However, it won’t stop the fans.
“Any plate you order in Sicily is good,” added Tiralongo. “For dessert, try a Granita or a Cannolo.”
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Giro d’Italia 2011: Stage reports
Giro d’Italia 2011: Photo galleries
Stage eight photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage seven photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Giro d’Italia 2011: Live text coverage
Giro d’Italia 2011: Start list
Giro d’Italia 2011: TV schedule