Lots of riders can go well on this summit finish, writes Jack Houghton, but it's uncertain who will be aggressive enough this early in the Giro
"With Mount Etna an 18km climb, with gradients averaging 6.8%, but with a closing section with double-digit gradients rising to as high as 13% in places, this is a route for the serious climbers..."
What's the stage like?
It's going to be a struggle to preview a 150km stage that finishes at the top of Mount Etna and not fill it with volcano puns, but I'll do my best.
The last time the Giro visited these parts, Simon Yates finished in the top two alongside his teammate, Esteban Chaves. That performance put Yates into the Maglia Rosa, a jersey he would hold for a further two weeks, before a dramatic capitulation at the end of the final week, brought on by an audacious Chris Froome attack.
[There will now follow some volcano puns]. Yates would lava to cause an eruption in the General Classification here on Stage 3, making Geraint Thomas blow his top, disrupting the (Pyroclastic) flow of Ineos Grenadiers, whilst no doubt also remaining magma-nanimous in victory. [There will be no more puns].
Who are the favourites?
With Mount Etna an 18km climb, with gradients averaging 6.8%, but with a closing section with double-digit gradients rising to as high as 13% in places, this is a route for the serious climbers.
And given Simon Yates' history on the ascent, it's little surprise that he is the 3.259/4 favourite. He'll certainly be motivated: as outlined in our Giro preview, for him to win this, he'll need to take the time out of Thomas when climbing that he'll lose in the time trials. Whether those short odds represent any kind of value for this stage is questionable, though.
With all the focus on the time trialling ability of Geraint Thomas (10.009/1), it's easy to forget that he's also an able climber: in the 2018 Tour de France he won the race in the mountains, not against the clock. Given how early this stage comes, though, it's unlikely he'll ride it aggressively. Expect to see him rolling over the line with the leaders, but not punching out at the top to win the stage.
More interesting might be Joao Almeida (9.008/1). Laying second in the General Classification, a win on this stage would see him take the Maglia Rosa. He certainly has the pedigree, being close to Primoz Roglic a couple of times in the mountains in Tour l'Ain. At the odds, he's worth a speculative punt to small stakes.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
There are a host of able climbers - Giulio Ciccone (21.0020/1), Rafal Majka (17.0016/1), Wilco Kelderman (40.0039/1), Ilnur Zakarin (70.0069/1) and others - who could win the stage. What's unclear at this point in the Giro is what their motivation is. Are they eyeing stage wins, or a General Classification bid? And if it's the former, is this the stage they will target, or will they wait for tired legs and bigger days in the third week?
Of those riders, Ciccone might be worth an interest at big odds, but it has to be a small stakes day.
What effect will it have on the overall market?
It's unlikely that the Maglia Rosa will be decided on the slopes of Mount Etna, but we'll have an early idea of the pecking order of the favourites by the time they reach its summit.
And on the two intermediate sprints, expect to see Stage 2 near-miss Peter Sagan take on Michael Matthews in their race for the Points Classification.
*Odds correct at the time of writing
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