Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto > Giarre 215.9km
Are you ready for a GC battle? It’s the big day in the fight for the overall title, and with 4113m of climbing, it’s a huge day in the saddle. Can UAE use their numbers to win the day?
Another nice day but not as warm as earlier in the week.
They climb Etna from the north. At 17.2km, it’s a very long climb, but it is relatively steady. From the crest there’s 66km to go.
This is the final climb of the day, it’s a tough one. 8.6km at 6.7% doesn’t sound too bad, but it’s harder than the numbers suggest. There’s a lot of hairpin bends and after a tough day in the saddle, this climb will be too much for most of the challengers. There’s 20km to go from the crest, and the finishing line is slightly uphill.
How can UAE use their numbers? They have the strongest team in the race, but not the strongest individual riders, to win the race they need to ride smart. They have three potential winners in Bennett, Majka and Ulissi, but they need to be willing to sacrifice two of them to put everyone else under pressure. Even if they do this, it still might not be enough to take the win.
Caruso is the defending champion and looks the man to beat, but he’s only got four teammates and one who can climb. The Italian could really do with a big ride from Kepplinger, he needs to last deep into the race, so Caruso doesn’t have to do a lot of chasing himself. Etna will be used to seriously reduce the peloton, but the winning move is unlikely to go there as there’s still 65km to go. The problem for those without teammates is the road between the two big climbs, this is where those with numbers can attack and put the pressure on, how do you combat this?
Go hard on Etna seems the obvious move. UAE are likely to be the only team with numbers, by going hard on Etna there’s a chance you can drop two of their leaders, and that makes it fight between the best on the final climb of the day. For Caruso, it depends on Kepplinger. If he can survive Etna, there’s no need for Caruso to go early, he can wait for the final climb. If the Austrian is getting dropped, Caruso needs to hit the booster.
What about the rest? Easy, try and follow Caruso! We’ll see if anyone has the legs to do so.
Damiano Caruso – arrived at this race after a spell of altitude training, this is a big deal to him. The Italian is capable of incredible climbing performances, I’m thinking of his 2nd place and stage win in the 2021 Giro, which he followed up with a ridiculous solo effort to win a stage later that year at the Vuelta. He starts as the big favourite but will be a little worried about what UAE will try and do with their numbers. He did have a little crash today, but it didn’t look bad.
UAE – Ulissi should be the first man to go early, he doesn’t seem to be at his best just now. That leaves Majka and Bennett, the road will decide who becomes team leader. If I was going to guess, I’d probably take Majka, he seems to be in slightly better form. I don’t think they are stronger than Caruso, that’s why it’s so important for them to try a collective effort.
Louis Meintjes – after a disappointing start to the season, he seems to be finding a bit of form. He was 3rdhere last year and I expect him to be one of the best in this stage, Mount Etna is his type of climb. The team also have Kobe Goossens, but I think Meintjes will be their main man for this stage. Winning a flat finish isn’t easy for him, he would prefer the line to be at the top of a mountain.
Alexey Lutsenko – I find him a fascinating rider to analyse. He won mountain stages in the 2017 Vuelta and 2020 Tour de France despite not being a classical mountain climber. In 2021, he was 2nd in the Dauphiné and 7th in the Tour de France, consistently making the front group in the mountain stages, it seemed like he was developing into a proper climber. Early 2022 wasn’t great for him, despite a win in February, so he heads to the Tour with low expectation. He goes pretty well in the first two weeks and was sitting just outside the top 10, and then he went into full breakaway mode. Consecutive breakaway days in the Peyragudes and Hautacam stages saw him finish 9th on GC and he ended the race as one of the best climbers. He started this year saying he no longer wanted to target top 10, he wanted to try and win in the Ardennes, but you can never tell with him. What I have noticed is a dip in his level when climbing big mountains, apart from 4th place on Jebel Jais, his other results this year have been poor on the longer tests. I’m a big fan of his, but I don’t expect him to go well in this stage, but he could surprise on Sunday in the Amstel Gold race.
Damiano Caruso will wipe the floor with them.