By David Hunter
Catania – Caltagirone 202km
We are back in Italy, but not on the mainland. The peloton will now have to deal with the roads of Sicily. These stretches of tarmac are not always in the best condition, meaning riders have to be switched on for the entire stage.
There might only be two categorised climbs, but the riders climb 3330m. This is a hugely demanding day in the saddle, especially after all the traveling from Israel. With very little flat road, it will be a hard day for the BMC domestiques to control.
One of the most interesting sections of the race is the rise which starts at 181.8km. This stretch of road is 8.9km at 3.4%, which doesn’t sound too hard, but it will be raced very fast. Once the riders reach the crest, there is only 7km left to race. As it’s a grand tour, we’ll probably see one of the GC teams take control and ensure the bunch is lined out.
There are a lot of twists and turns in the final 5km. Most of the roads are relatively narrow, making for a nervous bunch. There is a big turn just after the 2km banner, positioning is vital at this point.
This is a great looking finish. The final kilometre rises at 8.5%, but the last 500m is at 10.8%. This is a finish that will worry some of the GC riders and excite all of the puncheurs. Not only that, but we have a 500m section at 6.4% with 4km remaining. This finish offers up a lot of chances for riders to attack, it will be interesting to see which team wants to control the last 5km.
Sunny, but not the extreme heat of Israel. The wind is 14mph and coming from the east.
BMC will want to hold onto the pink jersey. I think we’ll see them control the breakaway, but the finish is one that suits a late attack. I wouldn’t waste my energy going for the morning move, but an attack in the final 5km could be rewarded with a stage win.
Most will settle for not losing any time. Not many of them have the kick required to challenge for the stage win, they just need to stay near the front of the bunch, just incase we see a split in the final metres. I wonder if any of them will try and attack in the final kilometre?
Diego Ulissi – Mr Giro! The Italian already has 6 stage wins to this name, he loves racing on home soil. On a short incline like this, he can maintain a big gear and has a fine sprint. This season has been okay so far, he was 4th in the TDU and 7th in Abu Dhabi. He was active in the Ardennes, but his best result was only 14th in Flèche. Riding for UAE, he knows that Fabio Aru will need to be protected, but Ulissi will always be given freedom to chase personal glory. It might be hard for his team to control the end of the race, Ulissi will have to rely on other teams doing the work.
Tim Wellens – one of the riders of 2018. Winning a grand tour stage must be high up on his list of targets and this represents a big chance. He is very fast in an uphill sprint, but like Ulissi, his team doesn’t look strong enough to hold things together. This season we have seen a more patient rider, he doesn’t attack from distance as much as he used to. Given this new riding style, I think we’ll see him stay near the front of the bunch and hope we get a sprint. This could be a dangerous tactic.
Luis Leon Sanchez – with Astana having such a strong team, they will also have a chance in this type of stage. They will look to protect Lopez, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be attacking. The Spaniard has enjoyed a fine season and looks to be in the shape of his life. I think he’ll be one of Astana’s attackers, but will his move create a big enough gap?
Giovanni Visconti – another strong Italian option. I don’t think his kick is fast enough to win the stage from the bunch, if Visconti wants to take his third Giro stage, he’ll need to attack from distance. As Bahrain also need to look after Pozzovivo, I think we’ll see only one of Visconti and Mohoric given some freedom.
Simon Yates – probably the only GC rider who can finish on the podium. He has a better kick than most of his rivals, but not as good as a rider like Ulissi. Mitchelton-Scott have a very strong squad to help Yates, they will be attentive at the front of the bunch, looking to chase down any attacks. If they hold it together, Yates has a good chance of picking up some bonus seconds.
Michael Woods – the man who rarely wins. The Canadian is a talented bike rider, but he seems to get his tactics wrong. He will like this finish, but I doubt his sprint is fast enough to take the win.
Valerio Conti – in the same team as Ulissi, which does complicate matters. Both of them are very similar riders, but Conti doesn’t have the same palmaires as his teammate. He is now 25 years old, I sense the time is right for him to add some more wins to his name. Conti has a very impressive kick and is an attacking rider, I think we’ll see him on the move in the closing stages, allowing Ulissi to wait in the bunch.
Gianluca Brambilla – I’m really interested to see what he brings to the race. He enjoyed a brilliant 2016, which included a stage win and spell in the pink jersey. However, 2017 was a big disappointment for the Italian. He now rides for Trek-Segafredo, his sponsors would dearly love a win on home soil. This is a stage where he really should be challenging.
José Gonçalves – at last, I think José is back to his 2015 Vuelta level! There was hints of approaching form in Romandie, where he was 12th in the mountain TT. This was followed up by 4th place in the opening TT in Israel, a very fine performance. Since then, he’s been around the front of the bunch in the sprints, all of this is telling me that he is back! Despite being a great climber, Gonçalves also possesses a fast sprint. This is a finish which is perfect for him.
Zdenek Stybar – given the season they have enjoyed, it would be wrong not to include a QuickStep rider. Stybar has been very impressive in the Viviani sprint train and we all know he loves sprinting up hills. He is a solid option for this stage.
Who controls the final 10km? This stage has late attack written all over it. As the GC teams look at each other, it is likely that a non-GC rider will get away and spoil the party. I think we’ll see Valerio Conti slip off the front and take the win, but he won’t take enough time to move into the pink jersey.
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