By David Hunter
Saint Vincent – Sestriere 199km
The final mountain stage is here. After one of the hardest grand tours in living memory, the peloton will be happy and scared, all at once. Happy because they are nearly in Milan, but scared of the Colle Delle Finestre. It’s the highest peak of the 2015 edition, topping out at 2718m.
The climb is 18.5km long at 9.2% and the last 8km is on gravel roads. It last featured in the race back in 2011, with Vasil Kiryienka taking an enormous victory, almost 5 minutes in front of 2nd place. Also in the top 10 were Betancur, Kruijswijk, Contador and Kreuziger.
The mountain has a maximum gradient of 14% and this comes at the very start of the climb. There is no opportunity to ride yourself into this climb, it hits you hard! The initial ramps will blow the field to pieces, especially if a team wants to set a fast pace.
The stage doesn’t finish at the top of the climb. There is a 17km descent, before the final climb of the 2015 Giro.
The final climb has a long section of false flat, but the actual climb is 9.2km at 5.4%. After the 45 hairpin bends of the main climb, the riders will be delighted to see the relatively easy slopes of the final climb.
There is an added incentive to be the first to crest the main climb, as it’s the Cima Coppi. In 2014, Dario Cataldo, won the prize and it’s something that the Italians are always keen to claim.
The positioning of the climb, looks like it will be hard for a lesser rider to take the prize. It looks like one for the GC riders.
We have two intermediate sprints, before the climbing begins. Trek really should be sending Nizzolo in the morning break. If he managed to claim the points and the other sprinters didn’t go with him, he would be safe in the red jersey, baring a terrible performance in Milan.
The final mountain stage of a race is usually contested by the GC riders, but this happens less in the Giro. The breakaway has a good record in this type of stage. Riders like Kiryienka, Anton and Rogers have all taken the “big” win, thanks to a slow peloton. Looking at the profile, I just can’t see the break having a chance. With so many teams looking for a stage win, I think a few will work to limit the break. Realistically, Tinkoff and Astana have the biggest chance, but Cannondale-Garmin and Lotto-Jumbo, aren’t too far behind.
The Finestre climb is very challenging. Most of it takes place on exposed roads and it’s possible to see riders who are far behind/ahead of you. The gradient is relentless and we will see small groups of riders all over the place. The 2nd half is completed on gravel roads but this isn’t Strade Bianche! The change in road surface doesn’t increase the difficulty for the riders, it’s the gradient, length and the number of hairpins that makes this climb so hard.
On the descent, it helps to be fearless. Again, the road is exposed, with no barriers. If you get a corner wrong, you could end up half way down the mountain. This is where we’ll see some riders trying to attack. Trofimov and Amador have already shown that they are good going downhill, and I would expect to see them put riders under pressure. Despite his mountain bike background, Ryder Hesjedal, can have difficult moments coming downhill. Watch for him using his feet on tricky corners. I haven’t been convinced by Kruijswijk’s downhill ability either. I won’t even talk about Geniez!
Astana used this area as their final training camp, before the Giro. Both Landa and Aru, know these climbs and descents well. This is a big advantage but quite a few of the riders have been here before and will remember every inch of the climb and descent. They were back to their best today, delivering another one-two. This time it was Landa doing the initial attack and Aru taking advantage of some freedom. That makes 4 stage wins and 2 riders on the podium, a terrific overall performance. Yes, they won’t win the race, but Contador is in a league of his own.
Today was another crazy day. Despite looking like he was on the decline, Fabio Aru, delivered a masterful performance. He’s back in 2nd place and finally has his stage win, just when it looked like he wasn’t going to get one. Amador and Trofimov faltered, with Hesjedal reminding everyone of his super form. The Canadian is now up to 7th on GC, with his eyes firmly fixed on the top 5. To do this he needs 54 seconds on Trofimov and 1:18 on Konig. Considering how he’s going, this is a strong possibility. The same can be said of Kruijswijk, who really deserves to finish higher than 9th.
Contador still hasn’t won a stage, this is going to start annoying him. His problem is the strength of Astana. At the end of every stage, he has to contend with Aru and Landa. He has been reluctant to chase down the rider 3rd on GC, but tomorrow might just be different. In order to halt the numerical advantage, Contador needs to attack first. This attack should be enough to remove Aru or Landa, leaving it a battle between two. If Contador wants to take the stage, expect a massive attack, on the early slopes of Finestre.
I think Astana and Tinkoff will control the break, Jumbo might help too. If Kruijswijk wants to win the blue jersey, he really needs to win the Cima Coppi. I really don’t see Visconti or Intxausti managing to climb with the elite riders, they need to go in the break. Early on the climb, the strongest climbers will be left: Contador, Aru, Landa, Hesjedal and Kruijswijk. These riders have been a level above the rest, in this Giro. I think Contador is going to go, all guns blazing, on the climb. He’s going to get the stage, to go with the pink jersey.
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