Stage 20: Guillestre - Sant'Anna di Vinadio 134 km
After first looking a bit like this was going to be a little bit of a sleepy victory parade, this stage can now probably best be summarized in three words: omigod!, omigod! and omigod!
What's It About?
First we climb 2 and 2/3 little climbs in France and the we cross back into Italy and keep climbing for the last 1/3 of a little climb. And then a little kicker right at the finish up to the sanctuary at Sant'Anna. How hard can it be?
Well the slight wrinkle is that all the climbs are at over 2000 meters, the climbing starts right from km 0 and all of the Giro hangs in the balance. But the riders should really try and put that out of their minds and just enjoy the scenery.
The Colle della Lombarda (or Col de la Lombarde as we should perhaps say since we will be climbing from the French side) will probably be the most fascinating part of the day, especially the descent part as the race has returned to Italy. The French side that the race climbs is apparently the slightly less fantastic side of the Lombarda. And can you picture a more fantastic finish than the short dash to the sanctuary?
This is another of the short short pure climbing stages that have proved such a successful concept in the last few years. Almost guaranteeing exciting, attacking racing and incredibly hard days for the riders, they make for the optimal way to finish off a Grand Tour.
For the second day in a row the Giro is showing us little seen gems of the southern Alps. Vars and Bonette have featured a few times, most memorably in the last few years when John-Lee Augustyn tumbled down the Bonette. The Tour mostly choses to go north from Guillestre over the iconic Izoard but what we will see in stage 20 here is perhaps every bit as good. In Will's mountain preview Colle della Lombarda ranked as the hardest climb of the whole race, Bonette the second and Col de Vars, the climb the riders have to tackle from Km 0 is the fifth hardest climb. You can bet there will be riders warming up for this one on the trainers before they sign in for the day.
After the tumultuous stage 19 it is hard to make predictions how riders will tackle this but clearly Vars is a danger point. How will a battered Kruijswijk deal with the hard start and how will anyone for that matter. The giant Bonette in the middle may be the place for regrouping and a moment of calm before the incredibly difficult finale that features first the brutal 20 km Lombarda climb that averages 7,5% but as we just saw you can't ignore the long descent to get there either. Having crested the Colle della Lombarda there is another 8 km descent and a short and steep final push up to the finish. It seems insane to say it but it feels like there is a very real chance the whole Giro will be decided in those last 10 kms as things stand now.
Riders to Watch
Steven Kruijswijk, how broken is he? Can he try and regain the advantage he had? Or perhaps more relevantly, can he recuperate enough physically and mentally to protect his podium place from evil Alejandro Valverde? At this point that would be no small achievement even if we don't quite know the extent of his injuries.
All eyes will of course be on Vincenzo Nibali after stage 19. Is he truly back and what kind of pressure can he put "poor" young Esteban Chaves on a stage like this? If the power balance is the same as on stage 19 then Chaves' 44 second lead looks very very slim but do we just ignore all the days that came before? There is no way of predicting this in any meaningful way. What we do know is that we can ignore all the little side stories, this stage will be decided among the Bigs and no one else.
AmyBC's Food and Wine Pairings
Wine: Institut Agricole Regional Fumin 10 deep color, lots of vibrancy, herbal, cherry
The Institut Agricole Regional was founded in 1951 as a professional agriculture program with the sole purpose of preserving the traditional agrarian practices and products of the region. This encompasses everything from wine to native fruits, vegetables, and cheeses.
Food: Sola cheese: semi soft, mild, sweetness, slight tang, really like this one. Favorite cheese of the race!
“Sola” in Piedmontese dialect is the soles of shoes, so this squared cheese, from the bare bottom, was jokingly compared, especially after a long maturation period.
Pick to Win:
Lupo Wolfie?. I don't know what else to tell you. Who in their right mind would be dumb enough to try and predict this? *
* Me, that's who. Of course Nibali is going to take this. The stage, the Giro, the whole shebang. You do know what happens when sharks smell blood in the water don't you?