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Giro Stage 6: Pass the Sorting Hat

Time for the GC to shake itself out a bit

Corbis via Getty Images

Stage 6: Caltanisetta — Etna, 164km

Ah, the legendary climb to Mungibeddu! [h/t Will] The Giro starts climbing for real on this day. And while it may be too early to draw any grand conclusions, it’s definitely not too early to pull out the old cliche about how you can’t win the Giro on stage 6 but you can lose it. But I am not going to do that.

What’s It About?

Going uphill. Not that the previous two Sicilian stages have been averse to a bit of climbing at the business end of the race. But the climb to Etna is the main feature on this day, and it’s among the highest-order climbs, category 1, to finish the race. More than any day up to now, this stage is meant to draw out the Maglia Rosa speranze.

Stage Details


Giro stage 6 map


Good stuff, that. But if you are expecting a repeat of last year, or any previous trip up Etna by the Giro, I can tell you this is a completely different approach. The Giro has finished at Mount Etna on four previous occasions: in 1967 and 1989, about which I have no details, and in 2011 and last year, both at the Rifugio Sapienza, which is the highest point for tourists at 1892 meters (it gets a little, shall we say, poisonous gassy at times higher up). For all I know, every Etna stage has finished in the same place. Until now.

This year the stage will take a completely different road, adjacent to the Rifugio Sapienza route known as SP 92. Just to the west of that, the race will climb the Strada Milia to a height of 1736 meters, ending at the Astrophysics Observatory. You can see the route better here, with SP 92 and its switchbacks ascending to the Rifugio just to the right.

Etna Osservatorio Astrofisico map

That’s a significant difference as far as the entire climb goes. From Will’s ranking last year, the Sapienza finish was worth a score of 119 on the climbers’ rating, whereas it’s down to a 99 this year. [The Colle delle Finestre stage tips past 200, for reference.]

etna finish
Rifugio Sapienza, Etna

Honestly, though, I don’t think we will be cheated by this change. I have no idea why they chose a different route; perhaps the international transfer was thought to be enough of a burden that maybe they could take the climbing down just a touch right after. But there are two reasons a stage is selective: because it’s tough enough, especially at the end, and because everything is relative, which means whether riders are on fumes or a quarter of a tank, the ones with less will suffer. Here’s a detailed profile of this year’s Etna gradients:

Last year was 18km at 6.6%; this year it’s 15km at 6.5%. It’s different, but again, I’m not sure it’s noticeably different.

Did You Know?

Hm, seems like I’d be remiss if I didn’t find a geological angle here. In last year’s stage from Reggio Calabria — mere miles as the crow flies from Etna — we covered the local plate tectonics, which are quite intricate and give the area its geographic flavor, as well as the odd mass-devastation event. Basically, the African plate is colliding with the European one right under Sicily and the Tirrenean coast of mainland Italy, with lots of micro-plates forming and moving about. That movement is why Etna exists.

Etna is a stratovolcano. These are the steeper, more dramatic ones, because they are built up by lava, tephra, pumice and ash all gurgling up to the surface (or just below) and hardening, which then gives the next pulse of activity (years later) something to build further upon. This is in contrast to their deadly rivals, the shield volcanos, which consist solely of fluid lava flows erupting and spreading out, as liquid does, so that they resemble a shield placed on the ground if you’re a knight from the 13th century. Shield volcanos get most of the attention, as they did just this week in Hawaii:

This is Kilauea, which is constantly producing some of the best volcano gifs and dominating twitter. This is why stratovolcanos hate shield volcanos, and get so mad they do stuff like this:

Etna is somewhat unique among stratovolcani, however. Most of them are so repressed and angry that eventually they completely blow their top (literally) and kill whoever is nearby. Ask the Pompeiians, except don’t, because Vesuvius offed them all. Etna, though, is in such a tectonically precarious location that it is in a nearly constant state of activity. It has more than 300 vents from which to release its steam or lava, as it presumably is doing right now, so it never quite builds up too much pressure. When it erupts in a more destructive way, it tends to take out a village here or there with lava or flying stones, and it certainly has caused human death — some 77 in recorded history, including picking off a couple tourists in recent years. It’s dangerous, and it even gets on CNN sometimes when they take those shots of the volcano at night when you can see the glowing lava from Catania. But sorry, it’s just not as cool as Kilauea.

Whom Does the Stage Favor?

The general classification riders will almost surely take the reins from the stage hunters, though I suppose there is a chance of a truce. Etna is a glorious place to win a stage, so the Michael Woods types harboring fewer cares about the long term might be all the way off the leash here. Maybe Tim Wellens has one more trick up his sleeve. But methinks the top climbers will be going too hard for anyone to expect to get away.

If your GC eyes have glazed over since last Friday, let me recap those names for you: Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin will be most watched, but the pure climber set includes Thibaut Pinot, Stevie Chaves, Simon Yates, Superman Lopez, Domenico Pozzovivo, Davide Formolo, Louis Meintjes and Fabio Aru. From the domestiques who could win category, I suppose you could add Sam Oomen, Tanel Kangert, Jan Hirt, Nic Roche, Mikel Nieve, Roman Kreuziger, Hugh Carthy, ... and of course last year’s winner Jan Polanc. Add Max Schachmann to one of those lists too.

AmyBC’s Wine of the Day

Wine: Girolamo Russo ‘A Rina 2015

Fresh and bright with some cherries as well as hints of leather and spice. This went down very quickly.

From the producer: The Girolamo Russo estate was founded in 2005 by Giuseppe Russo, in memory of his late father. The family are native of Passopisciaro, one of the key villages at the heart of the rebirth ofEtna’s most important grape variety, Nerello Mascalese. This is the north face of Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna, in the north-eastern corner of Sicily. The Russos have 26 hectares of land in and around Passopisciaro, with 15 hectares of vineyards surrounded by olive and hazelnut groves. The vineyards are high up, between 650 and 780 metres above sea level, inland from the beautiful town of Taormina. Many of the free-standing bush vines are over 80 years old, surviving in harmony with Etna’s black, mineral-rich volcanic soil.

Pick to Win

Yates. I am guessing that among the GC guys he seems a few ticks fresher than the rest. Not that that’s such a great thing with so long to go to Rome, but for today, sure.