The long list of stage winners at the Giro d’Italia in Naples tells its own story. On the city streets by the bay, speed is usually king and taking a risk or two brings its own reward.
Mark Cavendish was the winner in the last race here on opening day in 2013, and the Manxman was preceded in the honor roll by sprint greats including Rik Van Steenbergen, Miguel Poblet and Mario Cipollini.
That familiar, fast finish on Via Caracciolo returns on Stage 8 after a nine-year hiatus, but this time around pure sprinters won’t find a bounty in the shadow of Vesuvius. Instead, the short circuit-based stage around Italy’s most misunderstood city is open to a variety of interpretations, almost all intense.
The stage includes a demanding 153 km route through the Campi Flegrei, the “other” volcanic area to the west of the city. The centerpiece of this short and intense stage is the 19km circuit on Monte di Procida (2.1km at 6%), which is covered four times before the race follows an undulating route back to Naples and the usual arrival on the seafront.
“Riders must be vigilant on the Procida circuit,” warned race director Mauro Vegni. “Given the area, a lot of people think it’s flat, but instead it’s really deadly.”
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) has missed the flat peloton finishes since claiming day one victory in Visegrád, but Saturday’s stage, with its constant succession of small climbs, should play firmly on its classic hunter characteristics.
With that in mind, it was surprising to see the Dutchman so active trying to make the first break of Stage 7, but his Alpecin-Fenix team should be front and center to ensure fast men like Cavendish, Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) were burned well before arriving here.
Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) will also have very realistic ambitions of surviving the succession of climbs and competing in a reduced sprint in Naples, while there will be no shortage of stage chasers. on the offensive in a day as short as this. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), for example, hinted that it would have been a big day in his garibaldi had he not been on duty for Caleb Ewan.
The question is whether any of the overall contenders will be willing to join in the inevitable onslaught that will come on a stage of this brevity and intensity. After all, Friday’s long and rugged course through Basilicata did not cause the kind of turbulence that had been anticipated, and with the key finish at the top of the Blockhaus to follow on Sunday, the general classification favorites will not want to waste energy unnecessarily. On a stage like this, time is hard to win but easy to lose.
“On Friday I think the GC riders looked at the map carefully and saw that it was getting harder and harder in the coming days and they decided to wait. Even so, I think everyone did a lot of effort, both in front of the race and back,” Giuseppe Martinelli, sporting director of Astana-Qazaqstan, told Cyclingnews.
“The Naples stage is insidious, but I don’t think it’s going to change much to the overall economy of the Giro. It’s a tricky course, but it’s not that difficult in terms of altimetry. There might be a bit of a battle if Van der Poel or whoever wants to race tries to get into the breakaway, much like we saw on Friday, but I think the best riders will all be together. I think it’s Sunday that we’ll see the first real battle with Lanciano and Blockhaus. We’ll really see big differences there.”
Route of stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia
After setting off from the vast Piazza del Plebiscito on the outskirts of Naples’ bustling Spanish Quarter, the gruppo enters the most scenic neutralized area of the entire Giro, passing the Castel dell’Ovo, where John Keats’ boat was anchored in quarantine on his arrival in Italy, before crossing the seafront along Via Caracciolo to reach kilometer zero.
The race climbs towards Pozzuoli, the birthplace of Sophia Loren, leaving the city limits, although the 153 km stage takes place on an almost entirely urban route through the sprawling hinterland of Naples. This area to the west of the city is known as Campi Flegrei (the Phlegrean Fields, from the Greek phlego – ‘to burn’), and in ancient times it was a particularly ominous place.
The Lago d’Averno, for example, was the site where Aeneas descended into hell in The Aeneid, and the gruppo will also march with some trepidation after the opening loop along the coast. After 48km the race heads to Bacoli and has four laps of a tricky 19km circuit over the climbs of Monte di Procida (2.1km at 6.2%) and Lago Lucrino, which briefly climbs to 14 %.
The climb itself is not particularly difficult, but positioning will be critical, especially as the roads are both narrow and winding. Concentration will be required on this vertiginous circuit, where gaps will inevitably open up.
The final lap of the circuit includes an intermediate sprint in Bacoli followed immediately by the final ascent in Procida with 34km remaining, before returns to Naples via Pozzuoli. Although the last 3 kilometers are flat, the pure sprinters will find it difficult to regain contact, and instead a reduced group will be expected to contest the finish on Via Caracciolo. The tight bend under the red flame will be well marked beforehand, while the 900m arriving straight on the seafront offers a grandstand finish.
“For what Naples represents in terms of landscape and culture, coming back here with such a beautiful scene is a huge satisfaction,” said Vegni. It’s an arrival that seems to challenge Van der Poel, but surprises cannot be ruled out. Naples is a city where just about anything can happen. His return to the Giro course was long overdue.