Giro d'Italia stage four preview: GC shakeup or stalemate on Mount Etna?

Mathieu van der Poel's third day in pink, and possibly his last

Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Mount Etna is still a live volcano, just as this year's Giro d'Italia is very much still a live race. In fact, it is one of the world's most active - it last erupted in February. Last year, it reportedly spewed so much volcanic material out that it actually increased in height. Not just a normal climb then.

The fact a live volcano can just casually be part of a bike race is one of the many reasons cycling is the best; you don't get many football matches happening on top of Krakatoa, cricket doesn't tend to be played on the Fagradalsfjall. Not that the riders will be thinking about their remarkable surroundings on the first top category climb of this year's Giro d'Italia.

The Giro loves Etna. This will be the fourth time the race has visited the volcano since 2017. In fact, 11 of the top 20 the last time the Corsa Rosa climbed Etna, in 2020, will be riding today, including the stage winner, Jonathan Caicedo. 

Etna is therefore to the Giro what La Planche des Belles Filles has come to be for the Tour de France, a modern mainstay that the peloton must be quite bored of. The fact the riders have had to fly from Hungary down to the very end of Italy cannot have helped the mood in the bunch, but they need to switch on for Tuesday.

The race has a good relationship with Sicily, hence the repeated trips to the climb. However, it has always tended to come right at the beginning of the Giro, as the organisers enjoy going from south to north over the three. This means it has not been the decisive point that it could be, despite the climb's testing gradients.

In 2011 and 2018, Alberto Contador and Simon Yates, respectively, made their intent clear on Etna. They showed their hand for the rest of the race, although neither would go onto claim the overall win at the end of the three weeks, for very different reasons.

In 2017 and 2020, there was little in the way of decisive blows. In the earlier edition, all the general classification contenders appeared to call a truce, rolling in together. Two years ago, the eventual winner Tao Geoghegan Hart finished 2:33 behind Caicedo, hinting very little at his form.

With 16 more stages to go after today, and with so much climbing still to come in this year's Giro, it might very well be a case of the leading contenders keeping their powder dry and allowing another breakaway win. However, with time gaps already appearing after the stage two time trial, there might be some seeking to redress the balance.

Simon Yates, just 11 seconds behind maglia rosa Mathieu van der Poel, is in pole position to claim the pink jersey should the Dutchman falter. Whether this is too early for the Team BikeExchange-Jayco rider to lead the race is another question.

Four years ago, his performance alongside then teammate Esteban Chaves set up his whirlwind challenge, as he led the race for 13 days for blowing up spectacularly in the final days. As a more mature and more complete rider now, we might well see him race more conservatively. 

His rivals, like Richard Carapaz, Romain Bardet and Mikel Landa, already trail by 20 seconds or more, so they might feel they need to act now to start claiming back time. 

Giro d'Italia 2022 route

(Image credit: Giro d'Italia)

Even if there is not any kind of big general classification shakeup on Etna, it will be a test for all the riders, and might give us some answers to the many questions we have. How good is the form of Tom Dumoulin, really? Does Miguel Ángel López have the legs to perform over three weeks? Who is the actual leader of Bora-Hansgrohe?

All those men who harbour ambitions of pulling on the final pink jersey in Verona in a fortnight will be keen to not lose more time on the first uphill examination, not with so long still to go in the race.

Whether there is an eruption or not, Van der Poel will also be able to show how committed to his race lead he is. The Dutchman has done the hard part, winning on the first day, and the easy part, holding onto the maglia rosa on Sunday's very flat day. Now we will see if he has the climbing power to hold onto the lead, something he himself doubts.

Unlike the first two road stages, there will be a fight to get into the breakaway today, as these usually succeed on the volcano. No more escapes consisting solely of Italian ProTour teams, you will be delighted to hear. 

Who could actually win from one of these is more of a puzzle. Normally, one would suggest a rider like Lennard Kämna or Joe Dombrowski, but with the pink jersey potentially up for grabs, there will be quite the fight to get up the road. 100 riders are still within three minutes of each other, so the stage win and the race lead are both live issues, just like Etna itself.

Considering 103 riders out of the 175 who roll out of Avola have climbed Etna before, either in the Giro proper or the Giro di Sicilia, today should not be a surprise test for the peloton. However, it will be a fascinating early evaluation of the form of all the riders, especially those with designs on lifting the Trofeo Senza Fine in Verona. It will be a good day to watch bike racing up a volcano.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1