By David Hunter
Guillestre – Sant’Anna di Vinadio 134km
Another short beautiful stage.
No flat kilometres, all climbing and descending.
First up is Col de Vars.
18.2km at 6% is not how a lot of riders would like to start a stage!
Then it’s Col de la Bonette.
A little longer and steeper than the opening climb, this really is a brut of a mountain.
Finally it’s a return to Italy for Colle della Lombarda.
The organisers have saved the best for last. 19.8km at 7.5%, but with plenty of steeper sections, this is a fantastic end to the stage, such a shame it isn’t actually the end! I’m not sure why the organisers decided to end with a cat 3 climb, but they have!
Instead of an easy little cat 3, we have 2km at 9.7%. Sounds like the organisers do know what they’re doing! With just 44 seconds between Chaves and Nibali, the Giro could be decided on this little climb.
Orica are now in the race lead, thanks to Kruijswijk’s unfortunate crash. They have just 44 seconds of a lead to Nibali and will be fearful of what Astana will throw at them. They are a stronger unit than Jumbo, with Howson, Txurruka and Plaza expected to last well into the stage. Tomorrow is going to be one of those days where a teammate is worth their weight in gold. It is vital someone stays with Chaves, until far up Colle della Lombarda. Can Orica do it?
Astana will be faced with the same dilemma as today. I think they will choose to send a few riders up the road, so Nibali can bridge across, exactly like today. Not only do they want to help him win, but securing the team classification is also important. They have a 12 minute lead over Cannondale, but the Green Brigade have started to look quite strong and will certainly look to get into the break.
With the gap at just 44 seconds, Astana could just wait until the penultimate climb and then go crazy. To be honest, Chaves cracked today because of fatigue. It would benefit Astana to make the race very hard. The other teams don’t have much to play for, Valverde will hope to overtake Kruijswijk, but the rest will just be in the shadows. This is all about Chaves v Nibali.
Vincenzo Nibali – just when you think he’s out of it, the shark bites back! His performance today was exceptional, he is a master at peaking at the correct moment. With an amazing team backing him up, Nibali will be confident of cracking the little Colombian. Expect a full Astana assault.
Esteban Chaves – the finish is good for him, but with 3 weeks of racing in his legs he’s starting to look a little tired. With the pink jersey on his back, he will find that extra 5% required. Chaves has every chance of holding off the shark.
Another short stage but the extra cat 1 climb, compared to today, is good news for the break. With 32 KOM points for 1st over a cat 1 climb, Cunego has to make another break. With huge gaps on GC, we should see a big break get away. All the usual suspects will be keen to make the move, especially some in positions 13-20 on GC. To win the stage you must be a good climber. Good options for the break are:-
Sebastian Henao, Maxime Monfort, Nico Roche, Diego Ulissi, Stefano Pirazzi, Darwin Atapuma, Alessandro De Marchi, Joe Dombrowski, Igor Anton, Sergey Firsanov and Mikel Nieve.
It’s hard to see any of the GC teams wanting to chase hard, as no one is really a threat to the top 10 riders. It’s a good day for the break.
Cunego leads with 134 points, Nieve is second on 98. That means a lead of 36 points. A cat 1 climb offers 32, 20, 14, 10, 7, 4, 2, 1 points. We have three of these climbs and a cat 3. Expect Nippo to do everything in their power to help the little prince, the jersey would be a huge result for them. Cunego has the best sprint, so he needs to try and follow Nieve. The Spaniard could well be tired after another big stage, he might not fancy another day up the road. That is difficult to imagine, Sky will send multiple riders in the break to try and break Cunego on the first climb. That looks like their best strategy.
There is a chance of thunderstorms most of the afternoon.
Break wins, I say Ulissi.
Behind, Astana will destroy everyone and set Nibali up for his 2nd Giro.
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