This is a funny old game. We’re coming up to the last hurrah in the mountains and for most the race is down to the fourth favourite for the race and the fifth or sixth favourite, with said fifth or sixth favourite holding all the cards. This stage is going to be such a spectacle for one major reason — Nibali has not gone all out yet this Giro despite giving an interview in which he said that anything but the pink jersey is a failure. He didn’t go all out on stage sixteen and he certainly didn’t do so before then, instead playing the opposite of four-dimensional chess with Roglic while Movistar disappeared up the road. Hence, he has to attack on the way to Croce d’Aune, probably well before the finish if he’s going to live up to his promise.
He’ll have an opportunity to do so on stage twenty.
Here’s a major feat of analysis: that’s a lot of climbing. Starting from the ninth kilometre, the fast-dwindling peloton will be either climbing or descending for practically the whole day which is fertile ground for attacks. Passo Manghen, the retconned Cima Coppi as it was designated the title after the Lago Serrù stage, is a seriously tough climb, sort of reminiscent of a Tour de France giant only with steeper sections, topping out at fifteen per cent. If this stage is going to go down as an insane, look-back-on-in-twenty-years classic, Nibali is going to attack on Passo Manghen. First though, let’s try not to get caught up in what might happen and look more dispassionately about how this stage could disappoint. One thing that kills mountain stages is a flat section of greater than negligible length before the final climb and there is a hint of that here. After the real descent of the Passo Rolle, there is fifteen kilometres at around minus two percent. A team-mate would be needed for an attacker to make it through that section, which complicates things. Then there’s the Passo Rolle itself:
It’s not that hard. I mean, it’s a twenty kilometre mountain, of course it’s hard, but air resistance will play as big a role as gravity in hindering who wants to get to the summit.
My point is, this is a stage where attacks from far out are possible, maybe viable, but there are greater benefits to staying in the peloton than it may look. So what is actually going to happen? Well, let’s look at what people want:
Nibali wants eighty seconds on Carapaz and for Roglic to make no impact.
Carapaz wants to keep Nibali within arm’s length: no more than forty seconds.
Roglic wants eighty seconds on Carapaz and for Nibali to make no impact.
Landa wants to win, obviously, but at this point I think he’ll settle for taking time on Roglic so he’ll look to crack the Fastvenian and take at least two minutes on him.
Lopez...now this is the interesting one. I’d imagine he wants anarchy. That’s the only way he’s making the podium.
Yates wants to jump on Lopez’ wheel when he starts attacking.
So based on these wishes, I think we can see who’ll do what. Nibali won’t go early. I think he might crank up the pace on one of the climbs to make some attempt to weaken Carapaz with a view to attacking on the penultimate summit, bombing the quick descent and charging to the finish but that’s a strategy that requires Carapaz to be on a bad day. There’s a reason this is the best strategy for the Sicilian — he requires Carapaz to be on a bad day to win in any circumstances and this is the one with the lowest risk. At this point I think Nibali and Carapaz are at around the same level of form so anything Nibali does is likely to fail if bad luck does not intervene.
Now we come to Roglic, who showed some signs of returning life at the end of stage nineteen. Do I think they’re a sign of things to come on stage twenty? No, in fact I think they’re a bluff. Did you see him crossing the line? He practically looked sick. I’ll look monumentally stupid if I’m wrong, but I see him losing more time.
Landa might have to forgo a podium place in helping Carapaz under certain circumstances — if Nibali does get away, Landa pacing Carapaz for ten kilometres seems like a winning strategy, but if it goes anything like the Mortirolo there’s a good chance he’ll at least occupy third before the time trial.
Lopez is the wildcard. I can see him jumping on Manghen but in terms of GC he’s irrelevant. In fact I don’t see this going any way different to the rest of the Giro, in which Lopez has had all the aggression but none of the legs. He’ll finish behind Carapaz.
As for the stage winner, I’m not going for a break pick, I hate guessing games. I’ll take Nibali. Carapaz knows he can afford to give him a short leash so I think he might ride conservatively and let Nibali off in the final few kilometres rather than risk going into the red. Nibali will do it by ten or twenty seconds and Carapaz will finish the stage with ninety seconds in hand on his nearest competitor.