By David Hunter
Gravellona Toce – Cervinia 236km
For me, this is the hardest stage in the race. After 18 stages, good weather, bad weather, crazy tactics, wheelgate, short stages, long stages, brutal climbs and crashes galore we reach the Queen stage. At 236km, this stage is long and packs a real punch. The last 85km of the race contains 52.8km of steep climbing. This is going to make some riders suffer and should settle all the GC arguments. A bad day, will ruin any chance of a high finish.
After an easy start to the race, the riders tackle this beauty of a climb. It’s 16.5km at 6.7%, but those figures do include 4km of downhill. It’s one of those classic climbs, that looks it goes up in steps. The opening 7km is very difficult, at 7.9%. We then have a 5km easier section, before 3.5km at 8%. The final 4km of the climb is easy. As this is the first of three climbs, the peloton would expect to take it at a nice tempo, but nothing is guaranteed in this race.
The middle climb, is the hardest and we should see some serious action. It’s 16.5km at 7.2%. As you can see, there are two rest sections, but mainly the climb is 8% or more. After such a long climb, the final 2km at 9%, is really going to make the riders suffer and looks like a perfect place to launch an attack, especially if you’re worried about the descent.
Here it is in all it’s glory. There are a huge number of hairpin bends and coming straight after, Saint Bart, the riders will really start to feel tired. The tactics on the climb will be interesing, as most teams and riders will be happy with a steady pace and a gradual elimination of weaker riders.
The final climb, is the easiest of the three. It’s 19.2km at 5%, but with fatigue setting in, this will be very difficult. Again, it resembles a staircase. The changing gradient is not what a lot of riders like but it does suit Alberto Contador.
The profile of the day is perfect for the breakaway. Stages with so many climbing meters often end with success for the morning break. With big climbs on the horizon, the peloton will take the flat part of the stage, nice and slow. The break will carry a large gap into the first climb and they will increase it, thanks again to a conservative peloton. The break will maintain their lead, on the descents, or even increase it. The peloton should start to speed up on the penultimate climb, but by that point, the break should have a big advantage. Even when the GC riders attack each other, the lack of teammates, means that they shouldn’t be able to bring the break back.
This is how most “normal” races play out, but this ain’t no normal race! If Astana or Tinkoff, want to control the race, they will! Astana already have stage wins and podium places, it would be a major surprise to see them wanting to control the break. We might even see both teams trying to get men into the escape. If that happens, the break will certainly stay away.
The profile means that only a pure climber will take the stage. Quite a few potential breakaway riders fall into that category: Pellizotti, Rosa, LL Sanchez, Elissonde, Bongiorno, Zardini, Atapuma, Niemiec, Intxausti, Chaves, Monsalve, Hesjedal, Cardoso, Zakarin, Nieve, Siutsou, Basso, Kreuziger and Rogers.
Getting in this break will not be easy. Most of the peloton will assume the break wins, so everyone will want to be in it. We have been lucky enough to see the start of some stages and making a break is an art form. Not only do you have to be strong, but you need luck. It’s not advisable to try and go in the first break, as this often gets caught. The clever riders sit back and time their move to perfection. Some riders only have enough energy for one attempt, but others seem to have endless energy and try to join every move. Strong teams have an advantage, as they can rotate who tries for the break. This can result, in your 3rd choice rider, making the selection, but that’s cycling!
Back in the peloton, the GC riders will be keen to try and move higher on GC. We have seen plenty movement over the last few stages, with both Steven Kruijswijk and Ryder Hesjedal, moving up the GC. Both Trofimov and Geniez are looking to finish in the top 10 of a grand tour, for the first time. Damiano Caruso is continuing his progression, after finishing 9th in the 2014 Vuelta. Leo Konig is set to complete a clean sweep of grand tour top 10s, he was 9th in the 2013 Vuelta, 7th in the 2014 Tour and maybe even better here.
Alberto Contador still hasn’t won a stage and he won’t be too happy about that. Saturday’s stage is much easier to control, so I think his team will take it easy today. All he has to do is follow the wheel of Mikel Landa. Alberto and Tinkoff will be hoping that Astana are tired! His attack today was a little bit of revenge, but won’t have done anything to help relations. I think Astana will want to reply with an attacking day. They are going to make Alberto work for his win.
This is a very hard stage to call, as it really depends on the attitude of a few teams. It is also vital for the KOM jersey, thanks to the 3 cat 1 climbs. If Intxausti misses the break, Movistar will not let it go. The Spaniard, will make the day’s breakaway. Climbing very well just now is Ryder Hesjedal, Alberto Contador, Mikel Landa, Yuri Tofimov and Steven Kruijswijk. They seem stronger than the rest and would like a stage win to go with their form, like Landa already has. That all depends on the attitude of the peloton! If the break makes it, I think Intxausti wins, but Contador if the peloton brings them back.
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