Sometimes less is more, and even though the queen stage has been decrowned with the Gavia being removed, while we might have lost an epic mountain climb, the new stage is more likely to lead to epic racing.
Obviously, the big news for this stage is the removal of the Cima Coppi, the Passo Gavia, due to a zombie polar bear outbreak on its slopes. The profile of the stage would have looked like this:
The re-routed stage profile looks like this:
The Gavia has been replaced by two climbs — the Cevo and Aprica. The Cevo is a 10.6 kilometer climb at an average gradient of 5.9% and looks like this:
The Cevo is not the steepest climb, but has some sustained sections above 7% on a narrow and winding road and should act as a good leg softener and an opportunity for stronger teams to shed the weaker helpers of their rivals.
Meanwhile, the descent from the Cevo should have Zakarin doing what Yates suggested his rivals should be doing at the beginning of the Giro. It’s steep, narrow and contains several hairpin turns.
The Aprica, rated a category 3 by the Giro, has a difficult starting kilometer at 9.7% but then becomes more of a false flat climb, averaging 3.7% over 13.2 kilometers. After the descent from Aprica, the riders will have only 13.5 kilometers before the start of the Passo della Foppa (or in non-hipster parlance, the Mortirolo). That run-in won’t be flat, but instead will be a gradual descent with a 6 or 7% two kilometer speed bump along the way. And that’s when we’ll get to the main act of the stage, 40 kilometers before the finish— the Mortirolo.
Will in his and Conor’s mountain’s preview ranks the Mortirolo as the most difficult climb in the race and it’s generally regarded as one of the most difficult climbs in cycling. This is what the riders will be dealing with in profile and map terms:
Following the discesa ripida off of the Mortirolo, there will be about 15 kilometers between the leading rider or riders and the finish. Nothing too steep, but uphill the entire way.
In 2017, the Mortirolo was used, but ascending the easier side from Edolo and was only the first of three climbs on that day. (Nibali won that stage, gaining over 2 minutes over eventual winner Doom). In 2015, the Mortirolo was used in a manner very similar to this stage— coming as the final real climb and then a descent and slight climb into Aprica. Mikel Landa won that stage, taking about 40 seconds from Contador. The GC separation on that day was significant— with only Kruijswijk finishing with Contador. Aru, the next GC contender, was almost 3 minutes back. In 2010, with a similar finish, Michele Scarponi arrived together at the finish with Nibali and Basso, with the next best rider, Vino, over 3 minutes behind. What this shows is that this is gonna be a decisive stage, even with, or maybe because of, the loss of the Gavia.
WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN?
As stated above, I think that the loss of the Gavia makes this stage much more interesting. I agree with Conor’s opinion about this stage pre-zombie polar bear outbreak:
Conor: I think I expressed my pretty clear enthusiasm for the previous mountain stages but I don’t like this one. When it comes to attacking, passes like the Gavia never get the attention especially when there are greater challenges to come. Basically, no one will attack on the Gavia because they’re (rightfully) too scared of the Mortirolo. And nobody will attack on the Mortirolo because it’s impossible to attack on the Mortirolo. To accelerate on that gradient is a very bad idea if you’re not planning to bonk like, five minutes later. The stage will be good and we’ll see guy after guy drop off the back but if you want attacking racing, look elsewhere. By this point we’ll have a good idea of the GC battle and I can picture the top guys whittling the peloton apart until only they remain with a run into Ponte di Legno to come. The guy who will win will be a team mate of a podium contender. I don’t think the race will be won outright here.
Without the Gavia, there are now several factors that lead me to think that this is going to be the decisive stage of this Giro. First, the Gavia-Mortirolo combo would have led to more conservative racing prior to the Mortirolo. As Conor says above, no rider not named Froome would have risked attacking on as high and difficult a climb as the Gavia knowing that the Mortirolo is still to come. Second, the inclusion of the Gavia likely would have led to more conservative racing on the Mortirolo itself— it would have been even harder to attack on the Mortirolo with a massive leg-softener like the Gavia immediately preceding it. Now, presumably, the riders will get to the Mortirolo with relatively fresher legs. The loss of the Gavia also means that the stage has been shortened from 226 kilometers to (a still considerable) 194 kilometers. Hopefully, those (relatively) fresher legs lead to more aggressive riding.
Moreover, though, while there are still three mountain stages to come prior to the final TT in Verona, this stage provides the best opportunity for the purer climbers to gain time on the better TTers. Stage 17 is bumpy, but only has a final 4 kilometers of steep climbing where a rider can make a big difference. Stage 19 is essentially a mono-climb summit finish, but on relatively gentle slopes, averaging 5.7% over 13.1 kilometers. Stage 20 could be a barn burner, but does any rider really want to bank all of their GC hopes on the last stage before the TT? No, Stage 16 is the Giro GC contenders’ date with destiny— if any rider has a hope of wearing pink after Verona, this stage is their greatest opportunity and challenge.
As a reminder, this is the top 10 on GC coming into this stage:
- Richard Carapaz
- Primoz Roglic (0:47)
- Vincenzo Nibali (1:47)
- Rafal Majka (2:35)
- Mikel Landa (3:15)
- Bauke Mollema (3:38)
- Jan Polanc (4:12)
- Simon Yates (5:24)
- Pavel Sivakov (5:48)
- Miguel Angel Lopez (5:55)
It’s an ideal setup for a historic showdown on the Mortirolo. Both Superman and Yates need to attack to have any hope of putting themselves back in contention. Needing minutes, not seconds, they can’t afford to play the attritional game on the Mortirolo. Before the emergence of Carapaz, you would have put both as two of the top 3 climbers in the race. And both have two of the stronger teams in the race— look for both to try to get allies in the morning break to provide assistance on the Mortirolo.
Nibali may find Lopez and Yates to be situational allies. The Shark still needs to find two minutes on Roglic to have a chance in the final TT. He probably needs to find less time against Carapaz, as presumably Nibali will have the upper hand against the time trialling champ of Equador. Look for Nibs to join forces with whomever is willing and to put on a masterclass descending from the Mortirolo.
Movistar has the best hand to play in this stage— with Carapaz in pink and Landa two and a half minutes behind Roglic and one and a half minutes behind Nibali. With Astana and Mitchelton, Movistar also has one of the strongest teams— Amador or Carretero could be sent up the road to assist the leaders in the latter part of the stage. So far, their strategy has been letting Carapaz attack while Landa follows the wheels of the leaders, due to Carapaz being allowed more leeway. Now with the pink on Carapaz’s shoulders, perhaps they now switch that strategy up— unleashing the Landa while allowing Shell (h/t Fausto) to ride an attritional battle against Nibali and Roglic.
The biggest question of this stage is WWTFSJD (What will the former ski jumper do)? So far, Roglic has (perhaps strategically) given up time to attacking rivals in the mountains while hounding Nibali for an invitation to his house to look at this trophy case. While Roglic still has that final time trial to bank on— it’s not that long at only 16 kilometers and Roglic’s performance in the final TT at last year’s Tour should give him pause. In that TT, he gave up over a minute to Doom, Froome, and Thomas, suggesting that he may find it more difficult to TT at the end of a long race. Perhaps Roglic came into this race too hot and has not been able to sustain his peak or perhaps Roglic has been riding strategically and is ready to launch himself up the slope of the Mortirolo. This stage will answer that question.
While there’s always a chance that we get a winner from a break on this stage, the real story will be the GC battle. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d put my money on Movistar— with Landa taking the stage and Carapaz consolidating his lead over Roglic.