I love the mountains as much as - wait no, more than the next guy but I will always be a staunch defender of stages like this: a reasonably long time-trial with plenty of climbing. What mountain stage can guarantee minutes worth of time gaps between overall contenders, can guarantee a huge GC shakeup and vouchsafe that the best rider will win? After eight days in which we’ve been starved of GC battles, this is where a rider can put himself on the road to wearing pink in Verona. Hence, I am dubbing it the Prime Minister stage. It will be as decisive as any queen stage, in fact it probably has more power. However, it lacks the romance and mysticism of an Alpine battle.
The route is a classic formula for causing pain — part flat, part climbing, with the climbing probably just-about doable on a TT bike, though nobody will thank the organisers for that. Oh yeah — and it will be pouring rain. The climb into San Marino (the only part of this Giro to take place in a country other than Italy) is long and irregular — to be honest I’m pretty sure it’s only registered as one climb for simplicity’s sake in timing it.
The first five kilometres of the climb are at nearly seven per cent before a rolling set of false flats and a final kick up to the line.
As you can see, the whole thing averages out to a manageable-sounding four and a half per cent, but that’s far from the whole story. It’s better to think about it as a five-kilometre climb at seven per cent followed by another shorter climb at the same gradient. Either way, it’s twelve kilometres of pure effort with only a few hundred downhill metres to serve as respite. I really like the design on this stage, I think it’s perfectly set-up to serve up drama. The time-checks aren’t representative of the whole stage and it’s likely that certain riders will run negative splits and save themselves for the climb so if Roglic leads Yates by a minute starting the climb, there’s no guarantee he will extend his advantage. True kudos to the organisers on this one.
As for who’s going to win it, I’ve already mentioned the outstanding favourite. Primoz Roglic is on unbelievable form and now Dumoulin is gone, he’s got the best time-trial credentials in the race. That’s only part of the threat he brings — he’s one of the best climbers in the world at the minute as well. Given his virtual GC lead of half a minute, he’ll look to this stage to give him a buffer that will be difficult to surmount on the climbing stages. He looks like the perfect rider to win this stage and that’s not all that far from the truth. However, there are reasons to think he won’t be quite so dominant — he did hit the deck a couple days ago and there may be persistent pain and even lack of sleep.
Bob Jungels is the only rider with similar qualifications to Roglic in the race but he looks a bit like a lite version. He doesn’t have the climbing ability and even if this time-trial were pan-flat, the smart money would probably still be on the Slovene. However, in Grand Tour time-trials such as this, current form plays a bigger role than almost anything else. If Jungels has turned up to this Giro on top form we could see him come into his own.
Next is Simon Yates who is an interesting case here: I stand by what I said about form and Yates is a great example of that. His win in the Paris-Nice time-trial seems like an anomaly but it hints at an ability to really challenge here. He'll need to if he's going to stay in touch with Roglic.
Other names include Victor Campanaerts, who would be at the top of the list if the stage were flatter, and Ion Izagirre who is more of a top ten contender.
As for my pick I can't see past Roglic. He should take a hefty lead on the rest of the contenders.