Time to empty the tanks, leave it all on the road, give it 110% and go into the red. After all of the fireworks on Friday, hard to believe there’s anything left in this race, but there is, and it is another mountain stage, with the overall title on the line.
What’s It About?
I suppose something could happen in Rome during Sunday’s crit, but if it does, it is bound to be bad news. Saturday, though, is the stage designed to settle the general classification once and for all.
We saw extraordinary activity on Friday and there is some rapid mental arithmetic being done as teams and riders work out what is now at stake. A quick summary:
KoM: Froome leads, with XX over Yates and XX over Pinot.
White jersey: Lopez is 47 seconds ahead of Carapaz, and the latter looked better on Friday.
Podium: Within reach for Lopez and Carapaz, Pinot is 40 seconds ahead of Lopez and 1.27 ahead of Carapaz
Winning the flipping Giro: oh, yeah, that. The defending champion is forty seconds back on the leader, who is also the Tour and Vuelta defending champion. This is a mano a mano battle between the two best GT riders around.
Allow me to reprise a stage 18 rant – what is the point of the first 50km of this stage? I know towns bid for the right to host a start, but at some point you have enough side-income and can focus on the racing, right? How much more exciting would this stage be if it started in Samone and was 118km long?
Anyway. There’s a long and slightly rolling start, leaving Susa and heading along the Susa valley and dodging around the north-western corner of Turin. All of this will provide a good break-launching point, and after 129km the race hits Verres and begins in earnest. We have three cols, which means that I will direct you, for the last time this Giro (sob) to Will’s mountain preview.
First up is the Col Tsecore, which comes with the kind of flexible spelling I applaud. It is also the third-toughest climb in the Giro, according to Will’s formula. With consistent gradients over 16km, and the toughest ramps towards the end, it is well-placed as the day’s first climb, as it’ll split the field and could allow attacks from among the bigs, if anyone is that way (ahem) inclined. Given what happened on Finestre, you’ll probably want to be watching when this climb starts.
There’s a heart-in-the-mouth-for-snowflake-fans-like-me descent to Chambave but hardly any flat stuff before the road rears back up again and the riders are faced with Col de Saint-Pantaleon (literally: the hill of St Lion Pants, named after a holy man who would later be cruelly cut from the script of Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail).
Statistically, this is slightly less steep than Tsecore but a similar length and would test any rider. These guys are on the 20th stage of a Grand Tour, will be lacking teammates and will be desperately trying to save some energy because there’s more to come! Another descent, and then the final climb of the day. The Matterhorn, AKA Cervinia.
This is a longer, shallower climb, but with nearly a kilometre of ascent it is still tough enough. Of course, there’s no reason for anyone to save anything on this climb and we can expect all the bigs to empty the tanks entirely.
Put it all together and you have an interesting stage. One of the themes of this Giro has been the excitement on shorter or shallower climbs, rather than the truly big beasts. This stage sets up in that way. If riders are tired, as well they might be after Friday (to say nothing of the 18 stages before it) they won’t relish 100km of flat.
Tsecore will get into the legs, split the field, and may put some contenders on the back foot. Then there’s the final two descents and the final two climbs. I make Saint-Pantaleon and Cervinia, combined, 32.5km at a fairly steady 7.4%. Lots of space to grind, or to attack, or to defend and wait. Lots of time for someone to lose their legs. This is a tough, tough day in the saddle, but not so tough that attacks can’t happen.
Did You Know?
We’re in and around the Valle d’Aosta for this stage. Mention that region to a cycling fan, and there’s a decent chance they’ll think of the Giro delle Valle d’Aosta, one of the bigger under-23 races of the season. I’m far from expert on such matters, but I do keep an eye on a few of these races. Anecdotally, I find riders who excel here have a chance of making decent pros.
So, of the guys we’re watching here, who is returning to a scene of earlier triumphs? Well, we have one of four dual winners of the race on the startline. Fabio Aru took the win in 2011 and 2012, having been 4th in 2010. This was the highlight of his youth racing, in which he didn’t win a stage race anywhere else. That was partly because Joe Dombrowski, 2nd in the 2012 d’Aosta, pipped him to the Giro-bio title in 2012. Podium Cafe has been covering Aru for many a long year (I can’t write about youth cycling without tipping m‘cap to Vlaanderen90), but unfortunately he abandoned during stage 19 and won’t be involved.
Still going, and going well, in the Giro this year is Davide Formolo, who was in the GVd’A top ten in 2012 as a 20 year old. He’d go on to finish 2nd in 2013, behind David Villella. Both are here, and Formolo has a much better placing coming into today’s stage. Another relevant year was 2016, which was won by Killian Frankiny with the winner of stage 18 Max Schachmann in 7th. A promising junior who hasn’t quite panned out yet is Manuel Senni (3rd in 2014) made some noise early in this race but dropped out after stage 14. Way, way back in 2004 some kid called Domenico Pozzovivo was second. He was beaten by Tomasz Nose. Who nose what happened to him, but something smells funny.
Whilst Aru can boast the best record in the race among the starters, he doesn’t hold the record for the youngest winner of the Giro delle Valle d’Aosta. That honour belongs to Thibault Pinot, who was 19 when he took the title in 2009, ahead of, among others, Alexandre Geneiz (who won the Queen stage and took seventh) and Carlos Betancur, who
ate tartiflette for the first time finished 18th. Pinot’s love affair with Italy, then, is long-standing.
Does this mean anything for today? Well, no, it doesn’t. I would just mention, however, that the last time we climbed these slopes, the winner was... Fabio Aru. Yeah, this stuff won’t help, but maybe it’ll give Pinot some hope of hanging on for third.
Whom Does the Stage Favor?
I don’t know. Like I said with Sunday’s post-Zonc stage, a lot of this comes down to recovery, which makes for exciting racing and inaccurate prognostication. Clearly this is a climber’s day, but I don’t think it favours either goat or diesel. I’d rather have one superb domestique than a mountain train here, because I think any train gets smashed to pieces on the first climb. Reichenbach, if he has anything left, Poels, Oomen and Bilbao have been hanging around late into races and might be of serious value.
This isn’t the best day for a break, as there will be three long ascents and we can expect the bigs to go hard on each of them. I don’t know what sort of lead any break would need, but we should be measuring it in kilometres, not minutes. I would expect to see someone up the road early, and I’d expect them to be to hoovering up some KoM points, which is to Froome’s advantage.
A greater chance of success comes with a decent climber making a break on the first or second climb. That’ll still be tough, but it is within the bounds of possibility, and it’ll depend in part on whether a GC threat follows a move. I could see a couple of climbers on a good day and 15-minutes plus down on GC getting a lead on Lion’s Pants and holding it to the end. Think Woods, Ciccone, that sort of rider. Hermans will probably join a break if he can. This might also be when we see the big teams trying to get a man up the road. An Oomen/Ten Dam, Elisonde/Henao rider in the break would be a massive advantage for the front two, if either team is clever enough, fit enough, and aggressive enough to make it happen.
None of it really matters too much, ultimately. A break could stay clear, though I doubt it, and I suspect the winner of the stage will be in the top few on GC. I think our winner will be whichever climber is having the best day and whoever has got Finistere out of their legs.
Fundamentally, this is a knock-down-drag-out between Froome and Dumoulin. The former is the more experienced rider at this elite level, has looked in imperoius form on the high mountains, and has a lead to defend and a strong team around him. Against that, he suffered after his huge effort on Zoncolan and he went just as deep in stage 19. There might be one more twist in this extraordinary Giro’s tail yet.
AmyBC’s Wine of the Day
Wine: Chateau Feuillet Torrette Superiore
From the importer: Maurizio Fiorano grew up outside Turin and moved to Milan for his studies, but his life took an unexpected turn when he married and moved with his wife to her hometown of Saint Pierre in the Valle d’Aosta. Fiorano continued his work as a surveyor, but his long commute became burdensome when the two of them started a family. By the time their second child came along, Maurizio had had enough and left his old job for good. He didn’t have any definite plans and he knew that his wife’s business of running a small inn was not for him. But she had inherited vineyards from her family, so why not make wine to serve in her restaurant? The idea suited him perfectly, and he went to work in the vines. In the beginning his production was tiny: he signed up to show his first vintage at VinItaly but arrived at the gargantuan expo with just four bottles! Today his production remains small, but he is careful to export to many different markets. He may not be born and bred, but Maurizio says he feels like a Valdostano, and this is his way of showing off the local products all over the world.
Pick to Win
Honestly, after the last few days, how can you possibly pick a winner from all of this?
I’m going to say that Team Sky somehow hold it all together, defend the attacks and keep Froome in pink. I’ll go a little mad and suggest that Froome will gift the stage win to Wout Poels, who’ll be a big part of any defensive riding that Team Sky manage.