By David Hunter
Melide – Verbania 170km
A bit of a strange stage. The opening 120km is very easy, but the Monte Ologno, awaits the riders. This is another difficult climb, with steep gradients.
10.4km at 9%, means it’s another cruel day for the riders. This isn’t as hard as the Montirolo, but it’s not far off. There is very little rest, with no easy sections. You saw the damage done, on Tuesday, we could see something similar here.
The peloton will be happy about this day. With only 1 climb, they can stay together and roll for most of the stage and then get up the climb, at their own pace. With two intermediate sprints, there is even a chance of Nizzolo/Viviani, trying to get in the morning escape.
The break doesn’t stand a great chance, as it’s easy to control on the flat. If a couple of teams want to hold the race together, they should be able to do it. The key, is to ensure the break is relatively small, so the opening kilometres will be important. Of course, if we get a large break, with most teams represented, it could make it all the way. It really depends on the size and content of the break.
It’s clear who the strongest riders in the race are: Contador, Landa, Aru, Kruijswijk, Amador, Hesjedal, Betancur and Trofimov. Of the GC riders, Trofimov has the best sprint, but ensuring a sprint will be very hard.
The race ends with around 26km of descending, expect attacks.
The speed on the descent will be very high, with some technical sections. It favours a good bike handler, who doesn’t mind taking some risks. With such a long descent, it’s unlikely to see a rider attack on the climb and solo all the way home. This stage is made for an attack on the descent.
The cat 1 climb is very important in the battle for the KOM jersey. The stage on Friday suits the breakaway riders, if Kruijswijk wants to take the blue jersey, he needs to take points here. Expect to see Jumbo working in the peloton, to keep the break close.
As a large peloton will reach the climb together, the lower slopes will see attacks from lots of riders. Stefano Pirazzi has had a quiet Giro, expect him to try his hand here. His teammates Zardini and Bongiorno, might also hope to escape the main bunch.
Alberto Contador is yet to win a stage. He has three more opportunities to do so and he’ll be determined to win at least once. Tinkoff-Saxo have seemed happy to deny breakaways much of a lead and I would expect to see this continue. Not only a brilliant climber, the Spaniard is also good at descending. There is every chance of him attacking on the way into Verbania, but the others won’t be happy letting him go.
The tactics on the climb are going to be fascinating. Astana have always been the team looking to make the race hard and have continually blown the peloton to pieces. There doesn’t seem to be the need, anymore. They must now realise that Contador is safe in pink, with Landa and Aru secure on the podium. I’m not sure what they would get from making the race very difficult. One reason, might be to try and tire Contador, in the hope of helping Nibali’s Tour de France defence. Seems a silly tactic to me.
Sensing an opportunity, we might just see Hesjedal and Betancur go in the break. Hesjedal is looking very strong and is now sitting in 10th place. He’s still a long way down on GC, so will be allowed in the break. As we saw on the Mortirolo, he excels on steep gradients. He seems to have given an awful lot to this race and would love to take a stage win.
The same can be said of Carlos Betancur. The enigmatic Colombian, is finally looking in shape. He’s decided to ride with the GC group, in the last few stages, mainly to test his condition. His finishes of 15th and 10th have pushed him up to 19th on GC, but expect to see him going for stage wins in the next 3 days. This stage looks good, thanks to the descent and potential sprint finish. He does have a fast sprint, for a mountain man.
As usual, we have a long list of breakaway contenders. They will be happy to try their luck in the next few days and hope that, at least, one break will succeed. They are: Dupont, Pellizotti, Rosa, Atapuma, Elissonde, Niemiec, Hansen, Fernandez, Visconti, Cunego, Chaves, Clarke, Finetto, Monsalve, Zakarin and Nieve.
As I have mentioned, this stage doesn’t look great for the breakaway riders. The early section of the race will let the riders gauge if this is a day for the break or not. If the race starts fast, they will settle for an easy day, saving the legs for Friday and Saturday. However, if they sense a slow peloton, they will make the jump.
This is not the case for Benat Intxausti. He needs to make the break and collect top points in the battle for the blue jersey. He is now 1 point behind Kruijswijk and this is a massive goal for Movistar. The team might even try to send a helper with Intxausti, to help get a big lead on the peloton. Realistically, the break will need around 4-6 minutes of a lead, in order for him to crest first.
The break will be caught. There are a number of teams who will believe they can win this stage. The climb will see a gradual reduction in the size of the peloton, I don’t think we’ll get lots of attacks, thanks to the distance from the finish.
The descent will be crazy, featuring plenty of attacks. With a small peloton and very few teams with multiple riders, a sprint finish is difficult to imagine. I would expect to see a rider from the top 10 take the stage, but not one from the podium places. With his family in attendance, I think Andrey Amador, could round off an excellent tour, with a stage win.
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