The Etna summit finish on stage 6 of the Giro d’Italia was expected to shake up the General Classification and it didn’t disappoint with a battle on the steep ascent which saw Rohan Dennis fight until the end to limit time loss in the finale.
Dennis started the day, his fourth in the Maglia Rosa, with a one second advantage over Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and 17 seconds on Simon Yates (Mitchelton-SCOTT), but with just one minute separating multiple contenders, it was a battle from kilometer 0.
Attack after attack was launched from the peloton but no group was able to go clear until around the 50km mark, during which time the average pace was a blistering 46 kilometers per hour, before 28 riders, including Alessandro De Marchi, went clear.
The large group gained a maximum advantage of 3’30” while behind, Dennis’ teammates did a stellar job of controlling the race situation and keeping the group within reach.
With 30km to go, as the road started to rise towards the final climb, Astana Pro Team helped to bring the breakaway’s advantage down to two minutes and as the remaining breakaway riders reached the foot of the ascent with 15km to go, they were just one minute ahead of the reduced bunch.
In anticipation of the fireworks to come, De Marchi made a move with 13km to go and was joined by former teammate Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy) before a small regroupment brought him back with 10km remaining.
Dennis’ group was closing in on the leaders with 5km to go, at which point Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-SCOTT) attacked from the breakaway to go clear, and behind De Marchi helped to position Dennis going into the final few kilometres.
The steep ascent saw Dennis distanced with 3km to go but the Australian remained calm and continued to claw his way back and try to limit his time loss.
With just over 1km remaining, Yates attacked and bridged to teammate Chaves which allowed the Mitchelton-SCOTT duo to work together until the line with Chaves taking the stage win and Yates inheriting the Maglia Rosa from Dennis.
Dennis crossed the line 1’04” behind Chaves to move into sixth place on the General Classification, 53 seconds behind Yates.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Rohan Dennis:
“It was a bit crazy at the start. There was no control. We tried our best to set a tempo but no one really wanted to respect that. We were all in the front but they all wanted to be in the breakaway today. We decided to sit back and let it work itself out and unfortunately 28 guys went up the road but you win some, you lose some. The guys then did an awesome job to keep it within three minutes and then we got some help from other teams.”
“Thinking about the Etna climb, I’ve still got some work to do obviously but I was actually pretty happy with my climb today.  There were points when I was in trouble but I stayed calm and I actually rode back onto the group where the winners came from at the end of the day. I took confidence from the fact that they can go a little bit deeper than me, in terms of spikes in power, but they can’t sustain it. I just need to keep reminding myself of that.”
“Nothing changes after today. Obviously, I don’t have the pink jersey but that’s not an issue for me. I knew that was going to happen eventually. I was hoping not today and that I would get a little bit more confidence from the race but there is still time. I am not that far behind the leaders. What I am thinking is that if I can stay somewhat within reach, I can hopefully still perform well and that the time trial will help me out.”
“It was amazing to wear the pink jersey. It was something I was hoping for but you never really expect it. Plus it was a massive bonus that it was the third Grand Tour leader’s jersey that I have worn. However, even if it was my first one, it would have been just as special.”
Maximilian Sciandri, Sports Director:
“We have seen amazing teamwork every single day. The only thing we knew coming into this stage was that we didn’t know what was going to happen but I think Rohan did a great job. This is Etna. It’s a brutal climb and I think Rohan is moving forward big time. He has made massive steps in terms of the way he handles pressure, the way he handles the team and handles himself on the climbs especially with pacing.”
“If I have to sum up the day, I would say that I am really happy. I think to come up here and keep the jersey would have been a dream, almost too good to be true. We will reassess the race now as we have a massive amount of good stages coming up. I think we’re coming off an amazing moment and we have a lot to look forward to.”
“The GC is still our big objective right now. Tomorrow is a pan-flat stage and we will use that to regroup. Plus we have Jurgen and Jempy who can sprint and they will play their game tomorrow. Then we have two decently hard stages coming up with uphill finishes both of which suit Rohan’s climbing ability more. They are longer and steadier not like the brutal kick ups we saw today.”