It feels like it has been a long time until someone can say this, but here we are at last:
Tomorrow sees the Giro field take on a stage with a first category mountain for the first time this year!
For those of you keeping score at home, it has taken 11 stages, 1,871km and goodness knows how many bloody Go Compare adverts (your irritating commercial may be different) before we’ve got here, but we are properly getting some climbing tomorrow. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I don’t have any compromising videos of Conor being rude about Spanish weeklong races or anything – he chose to preview stage 11 when offered this one. Anyway, let’s get into it.
First, take a look at the parcours:
Now, if you haven’t seen the details of the stage anywhere else, and you haven’t read about the stage, you’re probably thinking what I was thinking: breakaway stage. Maybe a group of bigs bring them back over the mountain, but with 32kms from the summit there won’t be substantial gaps between the favourites. It is more complicated than it appears, but we’ll come back to that. First, the mountain. It is Montoso. It looks like this:
If you haven’t yet read Will and Conor’s take on the climbs of this Giro, I’ve pinned it among the top stories because we’re all going to be relying on it for the next week or so. I’ll also remind you of what they said.
Will: Montoso is only 9 kilometres long, but it’s steep. Is it tough enough and close enough to the finish for a mountain-goat to take the stage?
Conor: Will, I think this stage and my perception of it are a hint at how cycling has changed in the last few years. My instinct is to say that this is one for the break and that the peloton won’t bother itself over a climb that peaks thirty kilometres out but then I have to stop myself and say that that hasn’t been the trend. I think we can expect some GC attacking especially since they’ll all have been dying to have a go and yes, a good climber to win. There’s a good chance someone could lose out on Maglia Rosa hopes too.
For what it is worth, I agree with m’colleague. There is a very good chance of some GC attacks and a few with hopes of success in the overall will see their chances dashed on Montoso. It is a tough, tough climb and there are riders and teams who’ll be hungry to make a contest of it.
Now it is time to return to the preview. Let’s have a look at those innocuous looking few kilometres after the descent of the Montoso.
Yes, that’s a 20% marker. There’s a proper, proper wall in this stage as the riders take on the Via Principi d’Acaja. In fact, they take it on twice, once before the main climb and once, pivotally, in the last few kilometres. In a nod to a different month and region altogether, this is actually a cobbled climb passing a religious building.
The cobbles may not be too bad – at least for riders with classics experience – but new tarmac they ain’t. That road is also very narrow and there’ll be chaos as riders try to position themselves and survive on the slopes. It is so close to the finish that the stage winner will need to be in the first few over the top. The good news is, there’s no rain forecast. Imagine this field taking on damp surfaces on that finish and even the most sadistic of us will be pleased to have a rare dry day in this race.
So, that’s the menu. A rolling start, a first look at the wall and the Pinerolo finish, out to Montoso, up and over, and back into Pinerolo for one more scaling of the wall. After the thin gruel of the last couple of days, this is a rich meal indeed. What I’m not so sure about is what sort of stage we’ll get. Let’s think about it.
What sort of day will it be?
Scenario A – the classic breakaway day
A group of 15-25 riders go clear, including a couple of decent climbers but no GC threats. They break up on the mountains, someone kicks clear on the wall and wins.
Likely beneficiaries – the likes of Giulio Ciccone or Diego Ulissi (assuming Conti isn’t demanding all hands to defend his grip on the pink jersey for another day). Roglic would be pleased by a day of truce.
Why it might happen – the parcours is well set up for it, and the horrors to come later this week preclude too much aggression from the bigs.
Why it might not happen – the bigs are fresh and spoiling for actions, the decent climbers in the field are mostly either injured, out of form, or too close on GC to be trusted with a big gap.
Scenario B – breakaway with action behind
Rather like scenario A, except we don’t see the truce. The break just stays clear, but there’s a group of favourites getting separation behind. This, incidentally, is the sort of action that all TV directors can be relied on to make a total hash of. We won’t have a clue what is going on in either the stage or overall.
Likely beneficiaries – for the stage, as with scenario A. For the overall, great news for the better climbers.
Why it might happen – if the peloton police bring the break back, this is the default option unless someone makes something happen on Montoso. There are better days to attack coming and this isn’t impossible.
Why it might not happen – Montoso could well be too difficult for a large group to be back together by the arrival in Pinerolo. Alternatively, those who want pink might think they can’t waste any chance to attack Roglic.
Scenario C – the sprint finish on the wall
This is scenario A, but with the break brought back by a large group following a tame ascent of Montoso. This is the sort of scenario that will lead to crashes on the Via Principi d’Acaja and all sorts of nervousness.
Likely beneficiaries – any classics riders still with the front group. Pieter Serry, say.
Why it might happen – I don’t think it will. Still, never underestimate the ability of GC riders to make a race more boring than you expect.
Why it might not happen – too many riders have good reason to make the climb hard. Also, the climb just is hard.
Scenario D – the select group truce
In this scenario, there is a tough ascent of Montoso and five or ten riders are together in Montoso, having swallowed the break. The gaps aren’t too big over the top.
Likely beneficiaries – the bigs in the front group, whoever they may be. This will clear the deadwood from the top of the GC and let the likes of Yates, Lopez, Nibali and Roglic see how they and their rivals are climbing.
Why it might happen – this is a tough stage and there are riders with the desire to make things difficult, especially given Roglic’s advantages. If he shows any sign of weakness or injury, his opponents have to be willing to go deep to try and break him.
Why it might not happen – natural conservatism. Also, the fact that however tough the climbs are, the wall is very short and Montoso is only 9km long (and a decent distance from the finish).
Scenario E – the cream rises to the top
This is scenario D with great big brass knobs on. There’s a fearsome pace set on Montoso, the field is split to pieces and riders are in ones and twos all over the road, fighting each other on the run to Pinerolo and stamping on the pedals for every second in the last wall. We see huge gaps, riders bonking, and there’s twenty minutes between first and tenth by the end of the day.
Likely beneficiaries – well, the stage winners. In this case, pure elastic climbers. Lopez and Yates, if I had to guess.
Why it might happen – a boy can dream. I suppose this is possible if we see Roglic cracking in the first couple of kilometres of the climb, or if there’s a crash and no truce, or unforecast bad weather. Or if someone JGM.
Why it might not happen – again, natural conservatism, coupled with the fact that I don’t think the difference in abilities between the best climbers is sufficiently high. There isn’t enough climbing for team strength to create breaks, either.
How will the race play out?
This poll is closed
Scenario A - breakaway
Scenario B - breakaway and action behind
Scenario C - sprint finish
Scenario D - bigs truce
Scenario E - chaos
So, a range of possible outcomes. I’ll put a poll in, and we can discuss how we think the stage will go.
For my money, the likeliest outcome is D, with a decent chance of B. I don’t think the break has a decent chance but the right riders could stay clear. Even if someone is off winning the stage, I think there’ll be some separation back in the pack. Whilst I don’t think the biggest names will be dropped (so I’m ruling out E), I do think that the climb will cause sufficient separation to preclude scenarios A and C.
I can see the “maybe they’re GC contenders after all” figures – Jungels, Masnada, Mollema, those sorts of riders – being dropped, and a smallish group forming at the front. If I had to guess, Yates, Roglic and Nibali are near certainties for that group. Lopez is likely. I would expect two or three others to make it – names like Vuillermoz, Formolo, Majka, Nieve, Carthy, Kuss and Bilbao are on my list.
So, let’s say we get seven of those guys hitting the wall together, and finishing within fifteen seconds. Who wins? My money is on Simon Yates. He’s hungry and he’s great at this sort of finish.