Many race organizers throw mini-versions of classic races into their stage races-- most notably recently with the ASO including mini-Roubaixs in the Tour. Earlier this race, there was even a stage that resembled a mini-Milano-Sanremo, though on the opposite coast of Italy. Well, this stage is that, but cranked up to 11-- otherwise known as going the full Vegni-- transposing the full Il Lombardia into a Giro stage-- length and climbs and all. In fact, the last 60+ kilometers of the stage follow the route of last year’s Il Lombardia almost exactly.
Here’s the profile of stage 15 and the profile of last year’s Il Lombardia:
Let’s try to spot the differences. Stage 15 is 9 kilometers shorter at 232 kilometers to the Lombardia’s 241 kilometers (don’t totally believe the above profile for Stage 15, which comes directly from the Garibaldi as it cuts off the finishing 3 kilometers that are flat on the urban streets of Como). The finish of Stage 15 will come 3 kilometers after the descent from the Civiglio, while the Lombardia took the peloton up and down a modest 1.7 kilometer climb at an average of 5.2%. The 160 kilometer run in to the hilly finale on Stage 15 is mostly flat, except for an uncharacterized climb at the start of the stage (3.9 kms at 5.6%) where the break of the day is likely to form. The 160 kilometer run in for Il Lombardia contained two not very difficult climbs. As for course differences, that’s about it— it’s a monument’s parcours plopped down right in the middle of a grand tour following three difficult mountain days.
And that’s the biggest difference between this stage and the Il Lombardia— this stage comes after 14 days of riding with a rest day ahead and then 5 decisive days (4 in the mountains and a time trial) ahead. Watching this stage would be a good lesson for a newbie cycling fan about the difference between stage and one day racing. Where Lombardia is the climbiest of monuments and often produces a solo winner and significant time gaps, expecting such a hard and decisive race here is foolish. Perhaps if Vegni had decided to put this stage in the middle of the interminable first 11 stages, it would play out differently. The best hope for some GC fireworks on this stage is probably reliant on the decision about the Gavia— if it’s removed, the chances for taking time from Roglic before the final TT become fewer and may necessitate aggressive riding here, even if it only means taking back 20 or 30 seconds.
Let’s take a closer look at the decisive part of the course after the 160 kilometer run in from Ivrea. The first challenge will be the Madonna del Ghisallo climb, which has gradients over 9% sandwiching a flat middle section as the riders climb to the iconic church on the summit.
After the riders say their prayers to the patroness of cycling at the top of the climb, there will be a short descent and then they’ll tackle the Colma di Sormano, which is a much steadier climb at a 6.6% average gradient over 9.6 kilometers. After a long descent, there’s about 20 kilometers of flat road, which should lead to a regrouping of a front group of riders before the Civiglio climb, which is short but steep at 4.2 kilometers at 9.6%.
While the decisive attacks usually happen near the top of the climb or on the subsequent twisty descent, any GC rider wanting to gain time will need to make the most of the steep gradients and put in an attack near the bottom. While the descent is technical and as seen in Lombardia capable of producing a gap, there’s still three kilometers of flat road before the finish line in Como. To gain any real time on this stage the attack needs to come before the descent.
DID YOU KNOW?
Anyone who has watched Lombardia probably already knows about the legend of Madonna del Ghisallo and the appearance of the Kung Fu Virgin Mary who saved a medieval count from a bunch of bandits through some immaculate drop kicks, and the Cycling Pope (Pope Pius XII) later declaring her the patroness of cyclists. I won’t repeat that story here, except to note that it bears a striking similarity to the legend of how Miguel Angel Lopez received his nickname Superman— after fighting off a bunch of bicycle thieves. Perhaps we’ll see the appearance of an attacking angel over the top of the Madonna del Ghisallo?
Instead, let’s talk about secret recipes and a specialty dessert of the starting town, Ivrea, a cake known as Torta 900.
I was intrigued when I saw the Torta 900 listed as a specialty food of the region in the Garibaldi because we all know that when you add a long number to the end of anything it makes is super awesome— the T-1000 is some much better than the original terminator, HAL 9000 is a vast improvement over former Cincinnati Red Hal Morris— so I had to investigate Cake 900. According to the Garibaldi, the Torta 900 was invented by the “famous” Ivrean pastry chef Ottavio Bertinotti in the year 1900 to commemorate the beginning of the new century. Ottavio, however, was a master of deception, not only removing a “1” from his cake to confuse us persons from the future, but also “sending everybody away while he was preparing the cream, so that nobody could steal his ‘sweet secret.’” Realizing that he had a creation on his hands that was 900 times more delicious than a Hostess Ding Dong, Ottavio patented his confection. Proving that time is a flat sponge cake for Italians, this patent was entered by Ottavio in 1960 and then sold to the Balla family in 1972. Today, the recipe for the cake remains a secret, only being known by Stefano Balla and protected “for many years by qualified Turin lawyers so that nobody can use the name ‘Torta 900.’” While I only have the assistance of unqualified country pseudo-lawyers, I’ve already started a kickstarter campaign for my new cake— the Torta 901. Come at me, Turin lawyers!
WHO’S GONNA WIN?
There are two former winners of Lombardia in the peloton-- Vincenzo Nibali and Esteban Chaves-- and while Chaves is working for Yates and not the same rider he was in 2016-- this stage has to be attracting Lo Squalo like a bucket full of chum. Whether he has a chance to go for the stage victory or to surprise the GC group behind the break, Nibali is going to attack. In 2017, Nibali attacked a half kilometer before the summit of Civiglio, bridging up to Thibaut Pinot, and then using his superior descending skill to distance him and the rest of the peloton on the twisty descent. In 2015, Nibali also attacked on the descent of the Civiglio, proving that while he might have a small motor, he has a big pair of balls.
While the time gain might be modest for Nibali, with the finish shortly after the descent unlike the recent edition of Lombardia, where there’s still another small climb and descent, if he can make Roglic feel the pressure like he did with Kruijswijk in 2016, he will take the opportunity. Finally Nibali might be able to do something besides complaining about Roglic always being on his wheel.
If it’s a fight for the stage between the GC guys, then Nibali is the obvious favorite. However, I fear we might get the dreaded two races/one stage scenario with a strong break forming on the first uncategorized climb. If so, perhaps Ion Izagirre can get another stage victory of Astana.