After Filippo Ganna’s (Ineos Grenadiers) impressive time trial victory in Palermo, Giro d’Italia’s first uphill finish at Agrigento on Sunday could see the host nation take back-to-back stage wins, with Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) one of the main favourites.
Classified fourth category and just 3.7km long, Agrigento is not one of the toughest 2020 Giro finishes by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in 2008 when the Giro last visited Agrigento and tackled this climb for its finish, by the summit there were only 20 seconds between the front 35 finishers – with victory going to the general classification runner-up Riccardo Ricco.
As such, poor positioning or a late mechanical are likely the GC challengers’ biggest potential worries on Sunday, along with any kind of repeat of Saturday’s strong winds to split the race apart on the coastal approach roads.
And as for a non-GC challenger like Ulissi, although his last Giro stage win dates back to 2016, Ulissi’s recent victory in the Tour de Luxembourg, as well as a string of top 10 and top five places since the Tour de Pologne, auger well for his first post-lockdown stage.
“It’s good for me, and it’s suited to my characteristics as a racer,” Ulissi said before the Giro started, “so I will try to go for it.”
Although UAE’s season is already a runaway success thanks to Tadej Pogačar’s win in the Tour de France, Ulissi himself wants to get over a recent setback in Italy, where contrary to expectations, he did not shine in the very hilly Road World Championships.
“Imola was a disappointment,” confirmed Ulissi, who finished 47th in Imola, well out of the running. “The riders who’d done the Tour had better condition for a race with 5,000 metres of climbing. But things move on quickly in cycling and now I have a new target, stages at the Giro.”
Reaching the centre of the hilltop town of Agrigento, which cycling history fans may recall hosted the road race in the 1994 Worlds, the climb itself is virtually identical to the 2008 finale, and thus remains more a steady grind on broad, untechnical roads than a really tough ascent.
The most difficult segments of the climb are three kilometres from the finish, where there is a short ramp averaging a maximum of nine per cent, and then when it steepens again to about seven per cent for a slightly longer stretch of climbing at a kilometre to go.
This last ‘mini-ramp’ was where, 12 years ago, the now-retired racer Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez made one of his typical late, high-speed solo dashes for the line. Catalonia’s pocket rocket was swallowed up by the front segment of a shattering bunch some 150 metres from the line. The 2020 finish is an additional 250 metres further on, and this time round it may well be even harder for a late attacker of Purito’s ilk to stay away.
If his previous Giro wins are anything to go by, Ulissi’s options will centre around a late, high-speed acceleration, although given the number of experienced opponents with similiar skill sets present on this year’s Giro, there is no guarantee the Italian will be able to claim the win should he try such a move.
Michael Matthews (Sunweb) for one, has already expressed similar ambitions to Ulissi regarding Agrigento, and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is another formidable contender in these sorts of finales.
There is also the possibility, of course, that one of the Giro’s GC challengers opts to try and regain some ground on Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) in a last-minute ambush. But most likely, the Giro’s followers will be treated to a full-scale battle on Sunday between some of the world’s top uphill Classics finishers, while the GC names keep their powder dry for Monday’s more daunting final ascent – to Etna.