By David Hunter
Cuneo – Pinerolo 157.9km
Time for the Giro to really begin.
After 11 stages, we finally have our first proper mountain of the 2019 edition, and what a mountain it is!
8.5km at 9.6% and it’s every bit as difficult as it sounds, especially with a 6.5km section at 10.4%. This is a climb where we’ll see some serious attacks, despite cresting with 32km remaining. This is the first opportunity for the GC riders to test their legs and start trying to wear down the Jumbo-Visma domestiques. They won’t break them in this stage, but it will force some riders into burning valuable matches. This is the first moves in a game which will last for eight stages.
What goes up, must come down. The descent is bloody awful looking, something that will strike fear into a few of the GC riders. Those who carefully study the descent will know where calculated risks can be taken and which corners demand respect. There’s an old saying in cycling; fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Once off the descent, we have 20km on flat roads, before a little sting in the tail.
500m at 12.8% and we’ve got some nasty looking cobbles. The road is incredibly narrow, it simply heads up some tiny little back road in the town. The crest comes with just 2km remaining, which is perfect for a late attacker. The peloton will get to see the climb before the end of the stage, they cover it before heading out on a big lap with includes the cat 1 climb.
If you have a gap over the top of the climb, you won’t be caught, unless you make a mess of the small descent. This is a genius of a finish; I applaud the organisers.
A cracking day, with sun and hardly any wind.
Let the shit hit the fan. UAE clearly aren’t strong enough to control the cat 1 climb, they only have Ulissi and Polanc who can climb. Given the energy he’s already expended, it’s likely we’ll see Conti dropped and the pink jersey move to Primož Roglič.
Astana will be the team to boss the climb. They will set their team to work, hoping to isolate Roglič, which I don’t think will happen. The climb is so tough, we won’t see massive gaps between the top riders and it’s likely we’ll see at least two domestiques surviving to help Roglič with the rest of the stage. As I’ve mentioned, it’s not about cracking them in this stage, but making them use energy they’ll need in the big mountain stages.
Then we have the descent, where Nibali could well try something, but remember that Roglič is also a superb descender, it’s highly unlikely he’ll be gapped going downhill. The size of the peloton will dictate what happens on the flat section of road as the bunch head back to the finishing town. If the bunch is small, we’ll see many attacks before the final climb and the winning move could well go on the flat. If not, the final climb is crazy, and we’ll see some surprising names getting dropped. It might look like a standard stage, but it’s far from it.
Not a bad day to get up the road. The flat start might even tempt Arnaud Démare into the move, in order to scoop up some important sprint points. UAE won’t care who makes the move, in fact, they might even try and get Ulissi or Polanc into it. Everyone knows that Conti will be out of pink by the weekend, there is no need for them to waste energy chasing moves down and trying to act like big boys.
Will any of the GC teams see this as a big chance to win a stage? Will they use any energy chasing down the move with a huge day ahead on Friday? Yip, it’s a good day for the early break.
The flat start is bad news for climbers trying to make the move, they’ll need the assistance of a big teammate to get up the road. Instead, this should be a break for the strongmen of the bunch, but they’ll all find the big climb very difficult. This could well be one of those days where we see a surprise winner.
Louis Vervaeke – after the departure of Dumoulin, the Belgian seems to be riding like his old self. I’ll take a minute to remind you what a talent he was and could still be. Back in 2014, Vervaeke beat most in the under 23 ranks, taking the overall titles in Ronde de l’Isard and Tour des Pays de Savoie. Not only that, but he won the final stage in Tour de l’Avenir, finishing 5th on GC. That led to a pro contract with Lotto, but a mixture of bad luck, over training and some poor management decisions led to his career drifting off into the sunset, before Sunweb stepped in with a deal for 2018 and 2019. We still haven’t seen him back to his old ways, but there’s been some promising signs. I would be delighted to see him remind everyone of his special talent.
Larry Warbasse – the American is here for AG2R and they’ll make a point of trying to infiltrate every mountain breakaway. If he makes it, he has the climbing ability to have a big say in the outcome of the race.
Diego Ulissi – it all depends on the tactics employed by UAE. Personally, I would let Conti fend for himself and get Ulissi to try and make the morning move. Not a pure climber, he has the engine required to join the move.
Chad Haga – delivered a brilliant TT, and gives Sunweb another good option for the morning move. Let’s be honest, they’ll give it their all to try and rescue some glory from this race.
Thomas De Gendt – standard breakaway pick. As the great man is riding all three grand tours, he’ll be a little more selective than usual when choosing his breakaway days.
Simon Yates – this will be a great test of his legs; we’ll soon see if Sunday was just a bad day or the start of something a lot worse. The climb is ideal for him, in terms of length and gradient, he’s bound to animate the race. If the front group is still together for the final muro, he’s the best in the peloton on these climbs and would back himself to take the stage and begin clawing back some time on Roglič.
Primož Roglič – this marks the beginning of a long eight stages for the Slovenian rider. His team should be strong enough for him to just ride in the wheels, but he’ll have to respond to the moves himself on the final climb. As the last 2km is flat, he’ll hope we’ll get a reduced sprint as he’d be the favourite to take the win; wouldn’t that be a sickener for his rivals.
Vincenzo Nibali – strong in the opening TT, strong on Sunday, he looks strong! There’s no need for him to go chasing anything at this stage, he’ll simply sit back and see if the other teams can put Roglič under pressure. He might have a little shot on the descent, but there’s still a lot of flat before the final climb. 500m at 13% isn’t ideal for Nibali, making winning the stage quite complicated, but he is the Shark.
Breakaway day and one for Diego Ulissi, if allowed freedom by UAE. Back in the peloton, despite many attempts, I think the gaps will be relatively small.
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