As the 174 remaining riders in the 2018 Giro d’Italia stepped out of the arrivals hall at Fontanarossa Airport on Monday lunchtime, their gazes were immediately arrested by the dark and brooding outcrop that defines the Catania skyline. In this corner of the world, Mount Etna tends to draw the eye and capture the imagination.
The ascent of Etna on Thursday will be the literal and figurative highpoint of the triptych of Sicilian stages on this year’s Giro, but it would be remiss to paint the corsa rosa’s extended stay on the island in such broad brushstrokes. While the summit finish on stage 6 is the next major set-piece for the podium contenders, there is plenty of devil in the detail of the two days that precede it.
Stage 4: Catania-Caltagirone, 198km
After Monday’s truncated rest day – a dawn wake-up call for a three-and-a-half flight from Israel rather ate into the allotted recovery time – the gruppo returns to the fray with the first Italian leg of this year’s race on Tuesday. Stage 4 is hardly a gentle reintroduction to action; instead, riders face some 198 kilometres across heavy, rolling roads from Catania inland to Caltagirone.
Although the category 4 ascents of Pietre Calde (82.4km) and Vizzi (154km) are the only classified climbs on the route, there are several equivalent hauls ‘hidden’ throughout the stage, which crosses the hilltop towns of the Monti Iblei. There is scarcely a metre of flat all day long, and there is a rasping sting in the tail to boot, with short and punchy uphill finish in Caltagirone.
The finale includes a run through the narrow and twisting streets of the centro storico – the most important pinch point comes with 3km to go – before the road rises in the final kilometre at an average gradient of 8.5 per cent. The steepest section of 13 per cent comes with a shade under 500 metres remaining, and the road only barely flattens out thereafter.
Stage 5: Agrigento – Santa Ninfa, 153km
Stage 6: Caltanissetta – Etna, 164km
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