For the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia, just like its centenary in 2009, RCS Sport simply could not leave the Blockhaus and all its attendant history out of the route. The Germanic name – a residue of Habsburg influence in the area – is incongruous, but it seemed a fitting kind of place for that most other-worldly of riders, Eddy Merckx, to win his first Grand Tour stage at the 1967 Giro.
Five years later, after Merckx had become Merckx, the Blockhaus was the site of one of the great crises of his imperial phase, as Manuel Fuente danced away to claim stage victory and move into the maglia rosa. Mountains that eat up the Cannibal himself tend to earn themselves a special kind of cachet.
For Astana’s Dario Cataldo, the Blockhaus is a place both sacred and routine. A native of nearby Lanciano, he has been testing himself of Abruzzo’s most renowned climb since he was a teenager and is one of the few riders who will know Sunday’s finale intimately. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), for instance, was unable to reconnoitre the ascent due to snow, though the fact that his brother’s girlfriend hails from Roccamorice, at the base of the climb, means that he will be armed with at least some local knowledge.
Although this will be the Giro d’Italia’s sixth visit to the Blockhaus, it will be the first time it has been tackled from this side, and Cataldo judges the 13.65-kilometre haul to the finish, 1665 metres above sea level, to be the toughest. The ascent is the only climb on stage 9, and comes at the end of an otherwise straightforward 149-kilometre trek through Abruzzo from Montenero di Bisaccia.
“This side of the Blockhaus has never been tackled in a race before,” Cataldo told Cyclingnews. “There are three sides, and both the others have been done before, at the Giro and Tirreno-Adriatico, but this side has never been done before in a race. It’s the hardest of the three, too, because it’s steeper and longer than the others.”
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