By David Hunter
Palmanova – Cividale del Friuli 170km
Friday the 13th!
This is the first of three huge days in the mountains.
Still no mountaintop finish, but this is a big day of climbing, featuring a couple of cat 1s and cat2s.
After 50km of false flat, the riders have to tackle Montemaggiore. It is 8.3km at 9.3%, with a maximum of 15%. That makes it one of the most demanding climbs in the whole race. If a team really wants to have a crazy day, they could start the fighting right here. Some riders hate fast starts.
After a steep descent, we have a short climb of 2.5km at 7.6%, before another steep descent and the climb to Crai. It is 8.8km at 6.4%, but that does include a shallow second half. The opening section is 4km at 9.7%. Brutal!
The riders will welcome some rest, and they’ll get it. A nice descent, followed by 30km of flat will let them get some lunch! Then the pain really starts to begin.
Cima Porzus is 8.8km at 8.2%, with a maxmium of 16%. The boys from Astana are going to have some fun. Once over the top, we get another steep descent, before the final climb of the day.
The climb to Valle is the easiest of the day, 6.2km at 7.8%, but it’s still demanding. By the start of the climb, the peloton could be tiny. Once over the top, the riders have a 7km descent, then 7km of flat.
Forget about the fact that Etixx lead the race, this stage is all about Astana and Movistar. Astana look like being the aggressors, but Movistar cannot be underestimated. Astana will have Zeits, Kangert, Scarponi and Fuglsang to put the pressure on the other teams. The problem for them is the presence of Betancur, Visconti and Amador. No matter how hard Astana make the race, it’s going to be hard to isolate Valverde. Amador has to be a concern to them. I still expect them to make this a crazy day and see if they can eliminate some of the other challengers, before the weekend.
Movistar will be careful. They haven’t been defensive, as Visconti, Betancur and Amador have all been attacking. Valverde even put the hammer down in Arezzo. They are aware that Valverde doesn’t cope with the high mountains as well as Nibali, so he will follow wheels and hope that Amador can pressurise the others.
The rest of the teams don’t really have multiple riders. This being the case, they will simply try to support their leaders, as best they can. The team leaders will know that they will have to box clever and not waste too much energy.
The descent to the finish is great news for Nibali, Amador, Valverde and Chaves. The Colombian has really looked good going down the mountains.
Vincenzo Nibali – with Landa gone, Nibali is a huge favourite for the race. He knows how to manage his efforts over a 3 week period, something the others don’t. Astana were keen on keeping Fuglsang, Scarponi and Kangert high on GC, but crashes have stopped that from happening. It means they have to change their tactics, hopefully making them more attacking early in the stage. The climbs and descents are in the favour of the Italian and he’ll be keen to move up the GC, before the TT. This marks the first big test for the shark.
Alejandro Valverde – he really should have taken a stage by now. The hardest climbs are usually just a little out of his reach, but the fact that we finish with a cat 2 climb is great news for him. It’s hard to imagine that Valverde will be dropped, so he should be in line to take a stage win. I would like to see Movistar commit to him, not looking to take a surprise win with Amador. Control the final climb and descent, Valverde will win. Time for Movistar to take control.
Ilnur Zakarin – I’ve been really impressed by him, despite his crashes! He’s 1:16 behind Nibali, so needs to make up time. That time gap might just allow him a little freedom, but the GC rivals are well aware of his strength, so they should cover his attacks. Has a fast sprint, if it comes down to a small bunch kick. He’s not good on the descents though, so the others will try to put him under pressure.
Rafa Majka – another rider that has sailed through the opening 11 stages, although his TT was poor. The top 5 should be his target and he’s on course for that. He really is a talented climber, we should see him at his very best in the next couple of stages.
Esteban Chaves – Orica will be delighted with his performance, so far. He has easily followed on the climbs and descents. His 5th place in the Vuelta has clearly given him a lot of confidence, but he needs to remain calm. The more experienced riders will hope to exploit his tactical awareness.
Steven Kruijswijk – he has started the Giro, they way he finished the last one! I hope he doesn’t start to get tired in the 3rd week. He’s always near the front of the bunch and is climbing as well as I’ve ever seen him. The Dutchman is starting to look like the real deal and must be thinking of the podium. However, the downhill run to the finishing line is not perfect for him.
Domenico Pozzovivo – now 3 minutes down to Nibali, the wee man will get some freedom. Was held up by a crash yesterday, but that’s what you get for hanging round the back of the bunch. Will go on the attack and is a superb climber. He’s another that won’t be a huge fan of the descents.
Looks like a lovely sunny day.
That’s 4 breakaway wins now and 0 for the GC boys, time they sorted themselves out! Etixx will have no interest in chasing the break and with only 18 men within 5 minutes of Jungels, it’s unlikely a GC threat will be in the morning move. The exception to that is Giovanni Visconti. Etixx will need to be careful that he doesn’t slip into the morning move.
The success of the break will again depend upon Astana, but with Kruijswijk also looking good, Jumbo might just help out too. If Astana smash the first climb, this will be a GC day. If not, the break has a great chance. Looking at the climbs, you would presume being a good climber is essential, but surprises do happen. Bert-Jan Lindeman won a mountain stage in the 2015 Vuelta!
The best climbers who love a break are: Damiano Cunego, Alessandro De Marchi, Igor Anton, Przemyslaw Niemiec, Tim Wellens, Mikel Nieve, Seb Henao and Nico Roche. Sky have already stated that they will not focus on GC, so expect them to be very attacking.
Time for Astana to light it up! Nibali to win.
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