Etna eruption is an extra spur for Russell

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An explosive finish is almost certainly guaranteed during tomorrow’s ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia.

Rotherham’s Russell Downing and Sheffield’s Adam Blythe will be in the field for the ascent of Mount Etna in Sicily.

The 169km stage, which starts in Messina, will go ahead despite ash raining down on the town of Catania and surrounding villages in the early hours of Thursday after the volcano became active, opening a crater pit on one side.

The riders will climb the volcano twice, including at the finish line 1,892m above sea level.

Downing told The Star: “The race organisers will be keeping an eye on it, but it acts as an incentive to ride up it fast!

“It looks a hard climb, so it will be a pretty brutal day.”

Race director Angelo Zomegnan said in a statement: ”The stage is not at risk. The stretch in question is only that of the last 6.5km on Etna. But on-site teams are already working to clear the road.”

Before crossing to the Mediterranean’s largest island, Downing and Blythe have to negotiate today’s 217km stage, which takes them south along the west coast of Italy from Sapri to Tropea. After yesterday’s mountain-top-finish stage from Maddaloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano, Downing of Team Sky is 137th, 36 minutes and one second behind leader Pieter Weening.

Blythe, aged 21, with the Omega Pharma-Lotto team is in 193rd place.

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