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Giro d'Italia Stage 16 Preview: Uphill finish with Pavé

Giro-main_medium Are we all enjoying the rest day? Right, more bike racing, that's what you want. And, tomorrow you shall have it. Tuesday's stage 16 runs from Limone sul Garda to Falzes/Pfalzen. The stage runs pretty much in a straight line south to north and passes through Trento and Bolzano to finish right up next to the border with Austria. There's an uphill finish. With pavé!

The Giro bills this stage as a "middle mountain" stage, which is their catch-all category for stages that are neither in the high mountains nor flat. This stage fits that description to the letter. There are no categorized climbs on the profile, but it's a long uphill grind. The elevation rises steadily as the race runs up the map. Then, there's a nasty kicker at the finish.

There's an early speedbump that summits after 40 kilometers of racing. Then it's all steady uphill grinding until near the finish. A short stairstep comes at 20 kilometers to race, and is a nice warmup for the finishing climb. At five kilometers to go, the road turns up. The climb is cobbled, there's a tunnel, and for 150 meters, the gradient hits 12%. All in a day's work at the Giro, really. The final two kilometers are an uphill false flat.

The time gaps should not be crazy on this finish, but the general classification riders have to race. (As a side note, this is exactly the kind of finish the Amgen Tour of California needed during its first four days. Hey Italy! Lend us a walled city?) It's not a finish where you want to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, if you have ambitions for the overall.

After this weekend's mountain hijinx, the general classification battle remains just close enough to be interesting. With a crafty attack on Sunday, Joaquín Rodríguez took over the race lead from Ryder Hesjedal. Rodríguez has 30 seconds on Hesjedal, which isn't much with so much climbing yet to come this week. Ivan Basso is currently third at 1:22. Basso's best terrain, the long mountain passes like the Passo di Stelvio, are still to come, and he looks well-placed for now.

But Basso has a horde of riders sitting on his rear wheel. The Astana duo of Paolo Tiralongo and Roman Krueziger look dangerous sitting fourth and fifth at 1:26 and 1:27. Both are stellar climbers, and Kreuziger is no slouch against the watch. Don't forget, this Italian party ends with a time trial around Milano.

Last year's winner, Michele Scarponi is sixth at 1:36, and has some work to do between now and Milano. He's probably not overly worried. Like Basso, Scarponi will like the mountain stages to come. The Lampre rider is also skilled on the descents which may give him an advantage Tuesday's stage. After climbing the Passo Giau, the race plunges down to Cortina d'Ampezzo for the finish. It's not a bad stage for Scarponi's teammate Damiano Cunego to play for a stage win either.

Looking further down the top ten, Beñat Intxausti, Sergio Henao, Dario Cataldo, and Sandy Casar are all close on time and could well reshuffle before the Giro reaches Milano. Intxausti at 1:42 is a dark horse for the podium, since the Basque rider has some talent for climbing big mountains. And the Passo di Stelvio? That is a very big mountain.

Tomorrow should not change the overall standings a great deal. Look for minor changes in the time gaps and possibly a reshuffling of the placings. But the real decisions in this Giro d'Italia will come in the high mountains to come, especially the finishes on the Alpe di Pampeago and the Passo di Stelvio.