So, a brief for the writers ahead of the Giro starting in earnest next week: pick your top three stages. Tricky stuff.
I haven’t seen the other posts yet, I know what’s coming… lots of stuff about accumulated kms, multiple climbs, the end of the race, all that. We might even get some flannel about romance, about historical significance, or the story of the race.
To all of that, I say “pish, psshaw and bunkum”. The correct answer is below.
As ever, let’s kick off with some caveats. It is up to the riders to make the race. We don’t know the weather, the moods of the riders, the moments when calls of nature hit, or any of the million other things that will impact on the stages that really matter. When we come to look back any stage could have been critical.
You could argue, too, that there’s more to the race than the GC. Sure. However, I have no ability to judge when we’ll applaud a win by a brave breakaway with the ageing pro’s first win, or the breakout race for the young climber. I don’t know Italy (or Israel) well enough to know which will be the most photogenic stage (though I know it well enough to know there won’t be many unattractive days). I don’t care about the Giro “sprinters”. So, for me, this is a simpler question: which three stages, all things being equal, will have the biggest impact on the overall classification?
1. Stage 16 – ITT, Trento – Rovereto, 34km.
Yup, 34km of chrono. That’ll make a difference. The contenders field has plenty of guys who are “occasionally competent”, “better than we give them credit for”, or “pretty good climbing/GC all-rounders”. It also has Froome and Dumoulin. Like it or not, this stage is going to have a massive impact on the overall shake-up.
2. Stage 6, MTF, Caltanissetta – Etna, 164km.
Etna. As in, Mount Etna. As in, a great big lump in the road. Specifically, 15km of lump, at about 6.5%, but with two sections of mid-teen ramps. The stage basically goes uphill for most of the last 40km, so if your teammates can help today, they can help any day. This is the first time in the race that the gloves come off and the climbers can go for it. The first time. That’s why I have this as the most important mass-start stage. I know how much organisers love to arrange a race with a devil of a day right up until the end, to keep the suspense going. It can work. You might get a two-way or a three-way battle for the win, which is brilliant. However, you know that at least a couple of early favourites will have failed to measure up long before that. Measuring begins on stage 6. We’ll have a much, much better idea of who is going home in pink after that.
3. Stage 14, MTF, San Vito al Tagliamento – Monte Zoncolan
Why? Well, not because of Shawn’s inevitable jokes about the patron saint of pasta (which I’m looking forward to). There’s something… what is it?... why do I care about this stage?
Because it finishes on the effing-jeffing Monte Zoncolan. Zoncolan. 10km, 12%, ramps in the twenties. Inhumane.
There are some mountains earlier in this stage. There are also some furiously difficult days to follow, with multiple mountain passes and mountain top finishes. If you want separation, though, this is where you come. Last time they climbed, 21 riders finished within 5 minutes of the winner. That passes for a bunch sprint on Zoncolan, and those are the sorts of gaps that will string out the GC and determine the overall winner.
So there you have it. Etna will chuck out the pretenders, the unfit and the distracted. Zoncolan will annihilate the field, leaving only elite climbers in the GC. Then the ITT will move people around by minutes and answer the final questions. All those lovely climbs in the last few stages? The ones the rest are about to tell you about? They won’t really matter. Sorry.