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Giro d'Italia

Roundtable: What did we learn from the Giro’s first mountain stage?

Finishing with a grueling climb up Mount Etna, the Giro d'Italia's sixth stage offered plenty of takeaways

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The Giro d’Italia took on its first mountain stage on Thursday with a trek up Mount Etna. Mitchelton-Scott rode to an impressive one-two finish on the day, with Esteban Chaves claiming the stage victory and Simon Yates nabbing the pink jersey.

As the first opportunity to see the maglia rosa hopefuls duking it out on the steep stuff, stage 6 offered plenty of talking points. Let’s roundtable!

What did today’s stage teach us about the GC contenders?

Andrew Hood @eurohoody: Confirmations on previously held thoughts: Dumoulin is looking good, and that Froome is a fighter. Dumoulin surprised me when he shelled the time trial in Jerusalem, and today confirmed he could be up for the Giro defense. Froome, meanwhile, is clearly not at his best, but you need to drive a stake through his heart to knock him out. So far, he’s still lurking around. The Giro still has a long way to go and it’s far from over. I didn’t see any fat ladies singing on top of Mount Etna.

Dane Cash @danecash: Mitchelton-Scott’s dynamic duo is a force to be reckoned with in this Giro. Simon Yates acknowledged before the Giro that both riders would lose time against the clock, and would therefore need to race aggressively on the climbs. They’re certainly off to a fine start. Expect more of the same in the coming mountain stages. Thibaut Pinot was another rider who impressed me on the slopes of Etna. He looked very comfortable on the steep stuff.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Tom Dumoulin is poised to defend his title from 2017 — no surprise there. Chris Froome isn’t actually in as much trouble as we thought he was. Fabio Aru and Thibaut Pinot are strong enough to spice up the big mountain stages. And — to my great surprise — Mitchelton-Scott’s multi-pronged GC strategy might actually work.

Yates attacks up to Chaves and then gifts him the stage win (and time bonus). Do you agree with this tactic?

Andy: Claro, hombre! Teammates first, rivals second. It was a class move by Yates and will generate good vibes around the dinner table. Going one-two in any stage is sweet, and it’s doubly delightful because each took away something. Mitchelton-Scott is a team built on a relaxed vibe away from the intensity of the racing. Sharing the wealth reflects the squad’s sense of unity. Imagine the frowns around the dinner table if Yates had pipped Chaves? The beer will be flowing tonight …. for the team staffers.

Dane: Since I highly doubt that the Giro will be decided by four seconds, I’m not too worried about the time bonus. In going off the front, with the possible expectation of having to work for Yates if the situation called for it, Chaves put in a great effort Thursday deserving of some kind of reward—might as well give him the stage win.

Spencer: Definitely, it was the fair thing to do and the smart thing to do to avoid any drama in the team bus. But really, the boys need to come up with a better victory salute … Maybe the classic up-top/down-low “Top Gun” high five? Or how about a “Duck Hunt” skit where Yates flies the bird up with his hands and Chaves shoots it down? Hmmm maybe that classic Nintendo game was before their time. Damn millennials.

What did today’s stage teach us about the team strength of the GC contenders?

Andy: I think we’re seeing the “eight-man rule” starting to show some cracks in the peloton’s collective strength. A group that big on a stage that decisive has never gone away in the Sky era. The last major coup like that was way back in 2010 when the Giro blew up and Richie Porte took the leader’s jersey. Today was about sussing out the climbing legs. And it was a free-for-all right from the gun. I don’t see one singular team strong enough to dominant this Giro start to finish.

Dane: Outside the obvious takeaway that Mitchelton-Scott is a strong team, it’s noteworthy that none of the other major contenders seemed to have much support in the finale on Mount Etna. I suppose Sergio Henao might have been there for Froome if he hadn’t been in the break, but we’ll never know. The one team that did appear to have strength in numbers was Movistar, a squad with several strong climbers but no blue chip GC favorite at this Giro.

Spencer: Astana definitely put all their cards on the table in the final 20 kilometers of this stage. I guess that shows that they are strong — or are they bluffing? Or did Vinokourov just yell at them on the radio for missing the early move? Sky, Sunweb, and Mitchelton-Scott all put riders in the key breakaway, which to me is a more promising (and tactically sound) display of strength.

Should anyone have played a different tactic today?

Andy: The Sky juice wasn’t there today. Maybe Sky wanted to put pressure on BMC to chase, but I think Sky’s reserved racing was more due to the team’s thinking that the Giro will be won in the final week. Sky remains quietly confident Froome is up to the task and perhaps you could make the argument that the team should have raced that way to reflect their belief. Any team is only as strong as their leader. And it’s clear Froome is tip-toeing into this Giro.

Dane: Most of the pure climbers (Chaves and Yates, of course, and Pozzovivo and López as well) raced pretty aggressively, as they need to whenever the opportunities present themselves considering the looming TT. Aru was the big name I was expecting to see more from, but he may not have had it in the legs today.

Spencer: Did Fabio Aru spend too much time this off-season watching tape of Wilco Kelderman and Bauke Mollema? Stop following wheels Fabio! Attack! After all, it was his last day to show off on home turf in Sicily. That said, with an eye to the overall classification, it was probably smart for him to hold his fire — at best he would have gained 10 seconds on other GC favorites like Dumoulin and Froome.