Etna blows the Giro apart as Thomas’ hopes go up in smoke

by Jeremy Whittle

Words by Jeremy Whittle | Photo by / Cor Vos

Drama, ducks, dogs — and bad luck — dominated the polemica after the Giro d’Italia exploded into life on the slopes of Mt Etna in Sicily at the first summit finish in this year’s Corsa Rosa. Crazy things happen on this beloved race, and the action on stage three of the 2020 Giro was no exception as it turned the overall classification on its head.

Take pre-race favourite Geraint Thomas. His hopes of overall victory were dashed even before he reached the slopes of Mount Etna after a heavy downhill crash in the neutral zone of stage three, seemingly caused by a bidon in the road, left him scuffed and injured and far behind the pace. The Welshman lost over 12 minutes on the winding climb, while fellow favourite Simon Yates, winner of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana, lost contact with his rivals and ceded almost four and a half minutes.

Up ahead, EF Pro Cycling were making headlines for something other than their wacky kit as Ecuadorian Jonathan Caicedo, ducking and diving his way up the climb, finally shed his last remaining breakaway companion, Giovanni Visconti, and soloed clear to stage victory. It was the latest attention-grabbing ride by one of the team’s hot Latin American talents, after Sergio Higuita’s success in the Tour of Colombia and his third overall in Paris-Nice, and Dani Martinez’s victory in the Criterium du Dauphine and his Tour de France stage win. 

But it was a stage that highlighted once again the volatility and unpredictability of the Giro. Every year, in recent memory, there have been dramatic pivotal moments, whether it was Steven Kruiswijk’s crash on the Colle dell’Agnello in 2016, Tom Dumoulin’s live TV toilet moment in 2017, or Chris Froome’s extraordinary lone raid on the Finestre gravel climb in 2018.  

After watching his team leader struggle, Simon Yates’s sports director, Matt White, described Thomas’s crash as the day’s “big game changer.”

“He looked like he’d hurt himself pretty bad and he clearly did,” White added, of Thomas’ hard hit. Yates’ faltering performance was fuelled by the accelerations from Vincenzo Nibali’s Trek Segafredo team, who opportunistically drove the pace on the long climb up Etna once Thomas began to slip backwards. The Mitchelton Scott rider’s time loss wasn’t enough to rule him out of a podium finish but it will certainly make for an uphill struggle. 

As ever, one old fox, watching the action in the hen coop, knew only too well how to seize the day. Nibali, powers fading as the years roll by, has proven that what he lacks in speed these days, he makes up for in cunning and guile

As ever, one old fox, watching the action in the hen coop, knew only too well how to seize the day. 

Nibali, powers fading as the years roll by, has struggled a little recently, although he has of course proven that there is still life in his legs with second place overall in last year’s Giro and a stage win in the 2019 Tour. What he lacks in speed these days, he makes up for in cunning and guile. With Thomas and Yates out of the picture, and Jakob Fuglsang lacking support, the Sicilian began his chiselling process as the leaders chased Caicedo and he now moves to the front rank of favourites. 

EF will be buoyant at what has been a headline-grabbing few days, while two of the teams seen as most likely to enliven the race, Fuglsang’s Astana and Thomas’s Ineos Grenadiers, can justifiably wonder what has hit them. Thomas, left out of the misfiring Egan Bernal led Tour de France team, had put the house on being ready for the Giro. Recent form showed that he was, but now he is just another high-profile casualty of a race that in three stages, has already had high drama. 

Random crashes, caused by stray bidons, rogue dogs — one wandered lazily through the peloton today on the approach to Etna — and badly-parked motorbikes, can happen to anyone in the peloton of course. Thomas has had his fair share of them — he was even blown off his bike by the wind during the 2015 Ghent-Wevelgem — and this is the latest in a long series. With his 2020 season seemingly a wash-out, what does the future now hold for a rider, whose undoubted talent and resilience, has all too often ben overshadowed by bad luck. Today’s setback feels like it may be a bridge too far. 

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