The action comes late in this 151 kilometer stage running from Morbegno to San Pelligrino Terme, and the Passo di Ganda is the only climb on the schedule. The Giro races over mostly flat roads for the first 100 kilometers and passes through Bergamo. In Bergamo, the riders climb into Bergamo Alta, which served as a finishing town last year. No stopping this time, the stage leaves the city, and begins a gradual, grinding climb up the valley to the Passo di Ganda.
The Passo di Ganda makes its Giro d’Italia début this year. A twisting, switch-backing climb, the Ganda climbs 10 kilometers and hits a maximum gradient of 9%. The road is narrow and overhung with trees, and the steepest sections of the climb come in the switchbacks. It’s not a day to have bad legs by any means, but this climb is not one of the monsters of this Giro.
A tricky descent follows the summit of the Ganda. This is classic, technical Italian racing with narrow roads and tight corners. It’s around 25 kilometers total of descending from the Ganda, and several short climbs interrupt the downhill goodness. The run-in to San Pelligrino Terme is flat. The lead riders will have around 5 kilometers of flat roads to play for the stage victory.
Stage Battle: It looks like another good day for the break to go all the way. Watch for a sizable group to go early, much as they did during Wednesday’s stage to Tirano. The Passo di Ganda may split the early break, but a group should survive to contest the finish.
Maglia Rosa Matters: There is not much reason for the general classification teams to kill themselves here. The 30 kilometers of racing between the summit of the Passo di Ganda and the finish in San Pelligrino Terme mostly neutralize this stage for the general classification battle. A rider might gain an advantage with an attack on the Ganda, but he would be hard-pressed to hold it over the long race to the finish.
With little to gain, the general classification riders would be wise to save their legs. Two hard mountain stages remain, including the finale on the Colle delle Finestre. Stage racing is all about picking your battles, knowing when to ride and when to wait. Thursday’s stage is a time to wait. Here is your current general classification.
Cue Opera For: Giovanni Visconti. He rode the break all day on Wednesday, then lost his head in the final sprint. Kids, sprint straight and keep your hands on the bars. You can catch a replay viddy here (It's U.S.-only, I'm afraid. Bah geo-restrictions!), and a few of the post-race comments are translated.
Stage 18 Maps and Profile at La Gazzetta. (Click Altimetria for the profile.)