Another long stage, but this is different. A late climb means that this is the most testing road stage so far this Giro, with two hundred and thirty-eight kilometres between the start in Cassino (this is the first time it’s been visited by the Giro, and personally I think it’s a big risk) to the finish in San Giovanni Rotondo (which I will translate, using my non-existent Italian, to Fat Saint John). Given the drought of mountain stages in the early part of this Giro, the GC contenders are going to have to view this as an opportunity to attack. Aren’t they? Please?
There’s a little bit of early, uncategorised climbing in what will be a leg-sapping first two hundred kilometres, but it’s the final thirty that will count, a slight crosswind notwithstanding.
This is a category two climb but it is by no means a huge test. Fifteen kilometres at four and a half percent isn’t the sort of climb we generally see towards the end of a Grand Tour stage. If it were in the Tour, INEOS or Movistar would just set a tempo all the way up it to ensure that nothing happened but the Giro is different and the appetite for attacking may be stronger. I can see a small group getting away towards the top of the climb and staying away on the irregular terrain between there and the finish.
If I’m right about how this stage will be won, there’s an obvious favourite for who will win it: Primoz Roglic. He’s got a serious knack for turning a stage that could be GC-relevant into a big moving day and he can do it again. He made the split on Tuesday and I think he’ll be right at the front on Thursday. He’s developed a serious sprint from somewhere and it’ll take a pretty fast rider to beat him from a small group.
If I’m wrong, and the stage is won from the break, my preferred option is Valerio Conti. He can climb, he’s attack-minded and, after finishing second in the Tour of Turkey he’s clearly on a bit of form. I am given a little pause by the fact that he’s only two minutes down on GC but I don’t actually think it will harm his prospects. There’s no reason why anyone should be worried about the pink jersey ending up on his back and even if he doesn’t get in the break, a late attack could see him successful. Fellow home rider Giulio Ciccone will likely be in the break in his very dedicated crusade for the blue jersey. He’s an excellent climber and stands a chance here.
A long Giro stage with some late climbing is always in the wheelhouse of Diego Ulissi. I still maintain that the 2014 version of him would clean up here but this is the inferior 2019 model. Enrico Battaglin could win in the same manner.
I think that’s as many contenders as I can name without this just descending into throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. I’m going to go for Roglic, mainly because of the near-limitless power of the sort of form that man is in.