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Giro Stage 18 Preview: And Breathe Out

ANTHOLZ-ANTERSELVA, ITALY - MAY 29: Nans Peters of France and Team AG2R La Mondiale / Chris Hamilton of Australia and Team Sunweb / Davide Formolo of Italy and Team Bora - Hansgrohe / Fausto Masnada of Italy and Team Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec / Falzes Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

So we’ve exited the mountains for a short time and a few of the sprinters have survived. This is the last chance for a lot of riders to take a stage and as for all late flattish stages, the age-old question of break or sprint must be asked.

I’ll attempt to answer it after having a quick look at the parcours.

Clearly we’re losing altitude as we move towards the Venetian coast with only one categorised climb to break things up. The final ninety kilometres are slightly downhill to provide a perfect environment for a motivated chasing team, especially when the forecast headwind is considered.

The finish is as safe-looking as one could expect it to be

Just two right-angled turns in the last five kilometres on a normal provincial road two lanes wide. If a crash is going to happen, it’s going to happen but unless the director’s car knocks over a domestique, I won’t be blaming the race organisers. Anyway, we’ve reached the point in the Giro where most riders know their place and all nerves have faded so the peril of crashes is certainly fading.

So I must ask the question — break or sprint? I think sprint and I have evidence to back myself up. The Giro has one of these late flat stages around stage 17 or 18 reasonably often and a pattern can be drawn. A stage such as this has not been won by a breakaway since Stefano Pirazzi stood on the podium in the Bardiani party that was 2014. Since then, Sacha Modolo sprinted to victory in Lugano in 2015, Roger Kluge outfoxed the sprint trains with a final-kilometre attack in Cassano d’Adda the following year, 2017 saw its final flat stage in the second week but when the flats returned to the final week last year, Elia Viviani came out on top. A stage of the Giro is valuable enough that any sprint train left even partially intact is going to chase in hopes of gaining victory, even if they already have a stage under their belt.

On foot of my belief in this, I’m going to have to say that this stage is between Démare and Ackermann, the only ‘real’ sprinters left in the race. Both of them struggled over the Mortirolo but made it over with time to spare and they had a comparatively easier day on Wednesday so both should be gunning for this one and in all likelihood will be sprinting it out. I favour Ackermann. He was far from the back on the Mortirolo so it’s fair to say that this Giro has not put him on his knees and at this point his grazes will have mostly healed over. Not to mention that he has been the best sprinter in the race. Démare will have improved as the race goes on but I don’t see him taking this one — I doubt he would have won the stage he did if Ackermann had been on his bike.

Ackermann it is then. If the break does end up victorious, look out for Chris Juul-Jensen, Manuele Boaro and Conor Dunne.