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Giro Preview Stage 19: Bergamo-Macugnaga, 209 km

The Giro d’Italia continues its westward track across Northern Italy with this 209 kilometer stage between Bergamo and Macugnaga. Mountaintop finish! The stage passes over the Mottarone and finishes at 1360 meters on the Macugnaga.

The Mottarone is classic northern Italian climbing. It runs 10.5 kilometers and hits gradients in the 10%-12% range. Grupetto! Are there any sprinters left in this Giro? Anyway, they won’t like this climb. Podium Cafe Giro d'Italia The Mottarone summits with 70 kilometers left to race. It will force a selection and shrink the field, but there is still a long way to go to the finish.

Twenty kilometers of mostly flat racing follow the long descent off the Mottarone, and some riders who have lost the plot on the Mottarone may prove able to return to the field. The good times won’t last long. The final 30 kilometers of the stage are uphill from Piedimulera to the finish in Macugnaga, which hosts its first ever Giro stage finish.

The finishing climb to Macugnaga starts with a steep wall in the first 2 kilometers. Then, the gradients mellow out, and it’s a steady grind to the top. At 3 kilometers to race, the gradients tilt up to 7%, and offer the perfect launch-pad for a race-winning move. The road to Macugnaga is not the most difficult climb of the Giro, but it should offer plenty of opportunity for an ambitious rider to give the race a good shake.

Stage Battle: After two days of liberty for the breakaway riders, the fun ends tomorrow. Just two more mountain stages remain in this Giro d’Italia and the general classification teams will have to ride now if they want to win. Expect a break to go early, but they will be lucky to stay away on the final climb to Macugnaga when the bigs come out to play. The main story tomorrow will be the battle for the final podium, and especially, the tight rivalry between Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale and Michele Scarponi of Lampre-ISD for second place.

Maglia Rosa Matters: Alberto Contador still floats comfortably above the fray in this Giro with nearly 5 minutes in hand over second-placed Michele Scarponi. It would take a truly bizarre turn of affairs to unseat Contador from his position at the top. Anything can happen in these final two mountain stages, but it’s hard to imagine an anything that could break Contador’s grip on this Giro.

The battle for second place between Scarponi and Nibali remains tight, with just 47 seconds separating the two riders. Nibali has typically ridden better against the watch than Scarponi, so the Lampre rider has an incentive to attack on these final climbing stages. Neither Nibali nor Scarponi has won a stage in this Giro, and both are running out of road. It’s time for some bike racing.

Looking further down the classification, there is also a close race for fifth. Kanstantsin Sivtsov moved up after he rode the breakaway on Wednesday, and the HTC-Highroad rider currently sits fifth. Four riders are all within shouting distance of Sivtsov: José Rujano, Mikel Nieve, Denis Menchov, and Roman Krueziger. Of the four, Menchov has the most grand tour results to his name, but the Russian has never really found his legs in this Giro. Certainly, he will be wishing the final time trial in Milano were just a bit longer. Really, it’s anyone’s race for fifth. Here is your current general classification.

Cue Opera For: The breakaway. Someone has to go out on the attack early. It’s a rule. With everything to ride for, the general classification teams will likely keep the race tight. Could there be anything more demoralizing than being caught on the final climb with just 5 kilometers left to race? Probably so. But riding the early break is still a rough day at the office.

Stage 19 Maps and Profile at La Gazzetta. (Click Altimetria for the profile.)