By David Hunter
Commezzadura – Anterselva/Antholz 181km
The GC battle continues.
Not a day with big mountains, but still well over 3000m of climbing. This is a day where some GC riders will hope to relax a little and save energy for the final days of the race. The problem is that some teams might not let that happen!
The first climb of the day is this relatively easy affair. The distance is good for the morning break, which will hope to get away at this point. Expect a big fight, breakaways have been very successful in this race.
This is where the pace of the race will start to pick up and the bunch will be thinking about the finale. We have 4.4km at 7%, cresting with 66km to go.
5.2km at 8.4%, this is the toughest climb of the day, but we’re still a long way from home.
The final 30km of the stage is uphill, but mostly on shallow gradients, this changes in the last 5km. As you can see, the climb is 4.3km at 8%, which will feel a lot tougher coming at this point in a grand tour. The climb tops out with around 1km remaining, which is on a false flat, which also includes a short tunnel.
As Carapaz and Roglič are the only GC riders to take stages, I can see the big teams wanting to chase this one. The difference between this stage and the other mountain days is the lack of climbing until near the end. This will allow teams to have all of their domestiques to chase the morning move and keep the gap down heading into the final 30km.
The big problem could be the size of the move. If a big group escapes, it will be hard to control. Can some teams ensure the break is small and weak? The opening 10km of the stage is on a standard two-lane road, which isn’t the widest. It will be possible for a couple of teams to get on the front and block once a small break has been established. The narrowish road continues on the climb, which is not ideal for the escape artists of the group, but it does need a couple of teams with the will to say from early on, “this is a day for us.”
A small break will also interest FDJ, which might surprise you. The intermediate sprint comes at the foot of the first categorised climb, which means the bunch should contain Démare and Ackermann. We could even see FDJ chase down the morning move to try and let Démare take crucial points in the sprint jersey fight.
Some riders are certainly starting to get heavy legs. The final climb is 4.3km at 8.1%, but it’s one quite a wide road which makes it a little easier. If some riders are still feeling the impact of the Mortirolo, it is possible for them to lose a little time in this finish. We’re not taking minutes, but every second helps.
Vincenzo Nibali – for me, he’s the strongest rider in the race. He knows that Carapaz is going to be a hard man to beat, but he has three mountain stages left and Nibali will want to get the gap down to 30 seconds, heading into the TT. Taking a stage win would bring 10 seconds, which would be very welcome as he currently sits 1:47 behind the race leader. This finish isn’t classic Nibali, but after such a tough stage, he has a habit of surprising. Will Bahrain commit to chasing the morning break?
Richard Carapaz – on paper, this finish is great for him. Carapaz is a rider who has an explosive kick, but just how much will be left in the legs after today? He sits with a big gap to Nibali, but he must be a little nervous about what’s to come, particularly stage 20.
Simon Yates – today was further proof that his form just isn’t where he/I expected it to be. The shorter climbs in this stage are much better for him, which means he could still be challenging for the win.
Hugh Carthy – oh my goodness, what a ride in the last couple of stages. The big lad from Preston is now surpassing expectations and hanging out with the big boys. Still way down on GC, an attack in the closing stages won’t necessarily be followed, which will hopefully entice him to launch a big move!
Mikel Landa – as long as Carapaz is feeling okay, I think Landa should be allowed to attack in the closing kilometres. Movistar shouldn’t simply wait for the others to attack; they should go on the offensive and force them onto the back foot. Landa provides a great option.
Fausto Masnada – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Michael Gogl – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Andrea Vendrame – breakaway hopeful number 3.
Valerio Conti – breakaway hopeful number 4.
This is when things get a little interesting. We have some rain around and the peloton will likely get wet at some point, but the wind could well be a problem. Coming from the north, it’s a headwind for most of the opening 130km, but then they turn east and we have potential for crosswinds. We’re not talking exposed Belgian roads, but with tired legs, there is a chance a team wants to cause some havoc. The problem is that the forecasters can’t agree on the strength of the wind; some say it will only be 10mph, others say gusts of over 40mph. Most forecast say light winds, that is the most likely wind strength.
Time for a shark attack? Although the final climb isn’t ideal for him, when Vincenzo Nibali gets to this point of a grand tour, he performs miracles!
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