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Giro Preview Stage 20: Verbania-Sestrière, 242 km

Grande Finale!

The Giro d’Italia comes at last to its climbing finale with this stage running from Verbania to Sestrière. The first 190 kilometers are flat, but don’t let the profile fool you. The Colle delle Finestre, with its steep gradients and gravel roads, awaits. Just as it did in 2005, the Giro pairs the Finestre with the climb from Cesana to Sestrière. The finishing climb follows directly after the long, sinuous descent off the Finestre, and offers one last chance for the climbers to play for a moment of glory in this Giro d’Italia. Giro d'Italia Podium Cafe

From Susa, the Colle delle Finestre climbs 19 kilometers, mostly on gravel roads. It’s a relentless climb with gradients in the 9%-10% range. Near the summit, the road unwinds in a series of steep switchbacks. There is nothing easy about this one. In 2005, three riders crossed the summit together, as the rest of the race splintered into small groups. Here is a video preview of the Colle delle Finestre.

From Cesana to the finish in Sestrière, it’s 11.5 kilometers of climbing. After the Finestre, it would be easy to underestimate this finishing climb, but it has sections of 7% and 9% gradients along the way. At the end of a long stage, it’ll leave a mark. There’s plenty of road from the summit of the Colle delle Finestre to the finish in Sestrière for the race to turn over completely. In 2005, Paolo Savoldelli, with the help of a few friends, rode himself back into the race on the road to Sestrière and won the Giro d’Italia.

Stage Battle: It is unlikely that the early breakaway will survive the Colle delle Finestre, so the stage winner should come from the lead group. As we saw today, stage wins often come at the pleasure of Alberto Contador, who has a tight hold on this Giro. Whom does Contador owe a favor? Whom does he want as an ally down the road? Those considerations may do more to decide who wins the stage than the pedaling. The legs don’t always do the talking.

Maglia Rosa Matters: Alberto Contador remains well out in front of this Giro d’Italia, and it would take a truly unusual turn of events to undo his 5:18 lead over Michele Scarponi. The battle between Scarponi and Vincenzo Nibali remains tight, though, and Nibali picked up a few seconds on the road to Macugnaga. Thirty-four seconds now divide the two riders with just two stages to race. John Gadret, meanwhile, sits in fourth 2:01 behind Nibali. The French climber might offer a nice ally on the slopes of Saturday’s climbs. Here is your current general classification.

Cue Opera For: The team mechanics. The Colle delle Finestre is a bit of a nightmare from their perspective. Gravel roads could mean flat tires, and with the race likely to blow apart, it may be impossible to get the team car up to the lead riders. In 2005, several teams stationed staff on the climb with extra wheels and water bottles. You never like to lose a bike race on a mechanical.

Stage 20 Maps and Profile at La Gazzetta. (Click Altimetria for the profile.)