Often, late in a Grand Tour, you get those wild, ragged days in the mountains. Contenders and challengers are scattered, up and down the road; groups split into groups, re-form, and then split again; and Jerseys are sometimes won, and always lost.
It’s not often you get that on Stage 3.
Our mountain today was Etna. A summit which, every time it is raced, promises much – they’re racing up a volcano, f’christ’s sake – but often disappoints. The Etna of our imagination has the riders visible through smouldering embers; lava flows left and right; a rumble beneath the wheels suggesting impending geological danger.
But a dull procession is always possible. Not hard enough, or neutralised by a headwind. Today the race took an intriguing route of the several options available to the top. Three steep, high altitude kilometres would come into play, with riders softened up by the previous fifteen.
There was a scent of drama (or was it just sulphur?) in the air.
The day had begun whimsically. Race favourite Geraint Thomas took a tumble in the neutralised zone, before the flag had formally dropped. We tutted, and chuckled, thinking nothing of the (apparently) superficial damage to kit and pride. As the race came within full sight of the slopes of the mountain we saw immediately, shockingly quickly, that there was nothing funny about this.Embed from Getty Images
Thomas slid back through the peloton, and then off the back, and away out of contention. Grimacing, in discomfort, and unable to put power through the pedals. “This is now difficult to watch,” commented Bradley Wiggins, solemnly, on Eurosport. Thomas being a rider known to endure hardship more successfully than most.
He was in a bad way and his Giro, at least the Pink part of it, done.
Simon Yates, by default, the new race favourite.Embed from Getty Images
A few kilometres up the road and the pace was quickening. Vincenzo Nibali, the Sicilian on his home volcano (and how many rides can say that) had put his Trek Segafredo teammates to work on the front. They had an ulterior motive.
Because where is Yates?
And what in God’s name is going on here!
Off the back, paced by teammates, and unable to ride in the wheels.
To reach the summit three minutes behind the leaders not quite the sporting disaster that befell the Ineos man (Thomas was a further nine minutes back) but, in the understated words of Mitchelton-Scott team boss and uber-Aussie Matt White, “a bad day.”
Or, to be more accurate, “ahhh, look mate…it’s a bad day.”
All of which utter madness left the veterans on parade. Nibali, Fuglsang, Pozzovivo and Kruijswijk the strongest of the GC contenders through the atmospheric gloom befitting the top of a massive volcano; all having now manouvered themselves into threatening top ten positions.
In Pink is Portuguese rider Joao Almeida, capitalising on a strong Stage 1 time-trail to deliver a solid summit finish. On a day for the old guys, the twenty-two-year-old reminding us that 2020 is all about the kids.Embed from Getty Images
Which brings us to the Stage winner, Jonathan Caicedo of EF Pro Cycling. The Ecuadorian, after labouring away in a doomed breakaway all day finding deep reserves of strength on those upper slopes. Having long since left his colleagues behind the miniature climber, short and stocky, the apparent result of an experiment to fuse the DNA of Nairo Quintana and Domenico Pozzovivo, nailed it.
Lets all agree that this Giro, only three stages in, is bonkers, and random, and highly unpredictable. The only sensible course of action to sit back and let it unfold.