Stage 19 : Pinerolo - Risoul 162 km
Once more into the high mountains we go. Strap yourselves in, this is where the Giro is about to be decided.
What's It About?
It's about the Giro doing one of its sort of regular visits to France to make use of some of its magnificent Alpine climbs. Our own Will insists that the Giro here actually makes better use of them than the Tour de France does, mainly by avoiding the usual old climbs and instead visiting some of the lesser used giants like the Agnello, Bonette and Lombarda. All these readily available to the TdF but skipped in favor of the Galibier, Alpe de'Huez and Croix de Fer every year more or less.
The border area between the Piemonte region of Italy and the Haute Alpes in France offer some of the most incredible mountain passes, no doubt partly because it has been a contested border area historically. Nothing drives insane infrastructure spending like armies looking for ways to out-fox each other like the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.
So we have these brutal passes like the Colle dell'Agnello which form the border between the two countries. The race will climb in Italy and descend in France to reach the final climb to the ski resort Risoul.
The day features two climbs, one fairly ordinary and one extraordinary. The ordinary is the finish to Risoul, a good racing climb and one that should be perfectly capable of creating decisive gaps after the riders have come off the the main feature of the day. Colle dell'Agnello is either the most or the third most difficult climb according to the expert who can't seem to agree with himself . What we do know it is, is the Cima Coppi, the highest point in the race with its summit at 2744 m. This will once again test out which of the favorites can cope with the really high altitude climbs. Valverde for example claimed after the Dolomites monster stage that altitude was what did him in and if that was true he won't find the next two days more to his liking.
The race starts with a first hour of relatively flat terrain and this will likely be the battleground to get in the morning breakaway. We often see a large group go on stages like this and with LottoNL-Jumbo having limited resources to control it we may end up with some very dangerous men up the road, especially as Astana and Movistar try to find some ways to use their strength in numbers in some tactically useful way. LottoNL and Orica will likely try and conserve what capable riders they have around their captains unless they too try and get creative sending up helpers to make them potentially useful later in the stages?
Forty kilometers in there is no more easy road for the day. The long, increasingly difficult climb to the roof of the Giro starts and with it we start to see the options opening up for those who want to unseat Kruijswijk. Whether the Agnello is used for attacks or as a leg softener remains to be seen. My guess is that we have at least a couple of riders in the top 5-6 who want (need?) to do more than just put the hurt on the Dutchman and then attack on the final climb to Risoul so there may be fireworks already before we leave Italy.
Weather and the potential for cancellation has been the worry since the course was announced but as you can see in the top picture of the minion we dispatched to recon the climb today, conditions seem magnificent for the stage. Big snow walls but a clear road and no troublesome forecast for the stage. The Giro (and we) got lucky this time.
Riders to Watch
Esteban Chaves is the big remaining joker it feels like. His timeloss on stage 16 was supposedly due to positioning, not bad legs but who knows. Nibali and Valverde seem like riders we can decently pinpoint, we know what they can and can't do in this race and their chance to win the race is probably to keep applying pressure and hope that by some magic Kruijswijk explodes (before they do). Chaves though, along with Zakarin, could actually be more likely to directly challenge Kruijswijk if the legs are there.
AmyBC's Food and Wine Pairings
Wine of the race alert!
2001 Alessandro e Gian Natale Fantino "Vigna dei Dardi" Barolo Riserva From the importer: The Fantino holdings in the steep Bussia vineyard of Monforte are crucial to this endeavor. They sustainably work old vines in the small Dardi sub-section, a perfectly exposed plot that gives rich, structured Barolo as good young as it is old. The traditionalist ways in the cellar, with spontaneous fermentations and an eschewal of new oak, only serve to highlight the impeccably farmed fruit from this time-tested site.
Alessandro lauds the vintage for the elegant, feminine wines it yielded. Full-bodied yet delicate in aroma and texture, it is loaded with savory, spicy, earthy aromas that could only come from the King of Wines.
Food: Bra Duro Starvecchio Cheese
Made in the Cuneo Province of Piedmont, this is the more aged Bra making it firm to hard in texture and more concentrated in its flavors of nuts, herbs and hay. Salty!
Pick to Win:
Mikel Nieve. Most likely the best climber in the race who is not in any way a threat in the overall. Nieve could well salvage Sky's Giro with a second stage win.