Santa Ninfa (Italy) (AFP) – Chris Froome said he expects sparks to fly on the Giro d’Italia sixth stage on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna as the Sky Team leader bids to reignite his bid for a third successive Grand Tour victory.
The four-time Tour de France champion finished in the leading group in Wednesday’s fifth stage, won by Italy’s Enrico Battaglin, and remains 55 seconds behind Australian Rohan Dennis in the overall leader’s pink jersey.
“Let’s see what happens (on Etna). There are a few different dynamics going on in the race at the moment,” said the 32-year-old Briton.
“It’s the first big mountain stage of the Giro and it could be very explosive and very active towards the final.
“Last year was a pure block headwind so it wasn’t so active – but I think this year will be quite different.
“For me I’m just hoping to get through the stage the best I can. Obviously I’ve lost a bit of time already but I’d like to start improving on that.”
Froome, who suffered a crash in a training ride before the Giro start in Jerusalem on Friday, added: “A lot of pure climbers who don’t really fancy their chances in the time trial against (Tom) Dumoulin will be wanting to take time.”
In Wednesday’s stage, Lotto NL team rider Battaglin dominated a sprint finish after 4hr 06min 33sec in the saddle to finish ahead of compatriot Giovanni Visconti, with Portugal’s Jose Goncalves in third after a 153km race from Agrigento to Santa Ninfa.
Froome crossed the line among the leading group in 33rd position, moving up one place to 19th overall.
“That was a lot more straightforward than yesterday’s (Tuesday) stage but it was still quite tricky,” said Froome.
Dennis retained the overall leader’s pink jersey on the second of three days on the Mediterranean island.
The Australian holds a one-second advantage on Dumoulin with Britain’s Simon Yates third overall at 17 seconds.
“I felt a bit of stress every now and then but I am glad to be in the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey),” said Dennis. “It was a nice day on the bike, on quite a slow pace because of the head wind.
“Tomorrow will be another story with the Etna. I’m looking forward to see how I’ll go up there.”
It was the third Giro stage win for 28-year-old Battaglin, a specialist on uphill finishes, after 2013 and 2014.
Thursday’s sixth stage will cover 164km between Caltanissetta and Etna, which includes a gruelling 15km climb with a 6.5 percent gradient towards the Catania Astrophysical Observatory.