What’s that? You’ve missed the mountains? Well, don’t worry.
What’s It About?
We’re deep into the final stages of the Giro, but this race has a sting in the tail. Three stings, to be precise, with consecutive mountain stages on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Stage 18 is the first, and it features the Grand Tour staple; a mountaintop finish in a ski resort.
I know there’s politics and money involved in route planning, not just the rider and fan experience, but it would be lovely if this stage was 30-50km shorter. It is a long way without much happening before we get to the finish, but then things get interesting. This is the finale:
A typical road to a busy ski resort, this climb is well-paved and with a pretty steady gradient. It’ll be about grinding and riders making breaks, rather than about savage ramps. However, as last weekend reminded us, sometimes it is easier for riders to create separation when the mountains are tough (Sunday) that when they’re inhumane (Saturday).
(Apropos of absolutely nothing, as the crow flies there’s two similar routes from Milan - San Remo. One hugs the coast and one pops through this bit of Piedmont. I merely mention this.)
Did You Know?
The Giro hasn’t finished here since 2000. It was stage 18 then too, and Stefano Garzelli won on the day. That year, there was still a time trial to come, and he would take the maglia rosa from an injured Francesco Casagrande in the penultimate stage to pick up his sole grand tour win.
That wasn’t the last time we saw a stage finish here, however. In 2008 the Tour popped in and out of Italy through the Alpine stages and Prato Nevoso featured a finish won by Simon Gerrans, who took an uphill sprint from a four-man break. So far this year, the breaks have been caught by the bigs, but we just might see the men up the road take a win on this stage. Four minutes back, Franck Schleck took eight seconds from Cadel Evans (who’d led by seven) to nick the yellow jersey. He’d cede it to Carlos Satre the following day.
What can we take from races 10 and 18 years ago? Well, I’d be wary of reading too much into them, but this seems to be a climb where separation is possible, but big gaps are unlikely. It also looks like a climb where team strength is helpful.
Whom Does the Stage Favor?
I suspect we’ll see a break contest the stage, but I’ve said that before and I’ve been proved wrong. This isn’t a full Alpine stage, it is a flat stage with a mountain at the end of it, and the question is whether a break can get a big enough lead at the foot of the climb. I think that’s quite possible. There aren’t too many KoM points available so I think Ciccone might be well advised to wait for Friday’s stage - but based on Wednesday’s stage, that isn’t his attitude.
I would expect team leaders still involved on GC to want maximum support on this stage, which limits the number of breakaway contenders somewhat. However, a partial list of riders who might fancy their chances would include Gesink, Cherel, Goncalves, Brambilla, Pantano and Schachmann. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the lower-ranking GC contenders go for stage glory and try and nick some time and world tour points, too – Ben o’Connor, Michael Woods and Davide Formolo are among those with a chance.
The bigs will presumably spar between themselves though I can’t see this being decisive. There’s a suggestion that the steady nature of this climb will suit Dumoulin, and that makes sense, but he needs to take time, not defend a lead. I think Yates will sit on his wheel, or nearby, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he danced away in the last 500m. Team Sky will presumably put in a big effort to lift Froome ahead of Pozzovivo, but I can’t see that happening.
I’ve said this before and often been wrong, but I don’t see massive changes on GC as a result of this climb.
AmyBC’s Wine of the Day
Wine: Poderi Colla Barbera d’ alba 2015
From the producer: Part of the vineyard, located in Barbaresco, was planted in about 1930: this is one reason for the wine’s intensity and concentration, velvety and with a fresh and pleasant acidity. Documents dating from 1703 mark the beginnings of the Colla family’s history in wine making: Carlo Colla, together with his son Stefano, sold “barrels of Rosatello” and “casks of vino negro” produced on his land in Santo Stefano Belbo. In 1778 his grandson Pietro bought a farmstead with vineyards in San Giorgio (formerly Arzignano) di Castiglione Tinella and sold Moscatello.
Pick to Win
This is a bit of a pin on a startlist job, but I’ll take Davide Formolo. He’s far enough down to be given room and is climbing very nicely at the moment. In a bit of a surprise, he wasn’t dreadful in the time trial on Tuesday, either. I do think that the break will take it.
If the break is brought back, I can’t see an attack splitting the group of bigs for long, which means a late burst for the win. If that happens, Simon Yates is the likeliest stage winner.