By David Hunter
Montenero Di Bisaccia – Blockhaus 149km
The first of the big GC stages awaits the riders.
The climb to Blockhaus looms on the horizon. The stage is short and easy, apart from the brutal finish. The climb is one of the hardest in cycling.
13.6km at 8.4% is harder than Mount Ventoux! It starts “easy”, but ends with around 10km at 9.4%. That is cruel.
You can see that the climb gets a little easier near the summit, there is even a little downhill run into the final 300m. This is a hill made for the mountain goats.
Take it easy until the climb. Once there, you need to hope your teammates are on a good day. No doubt we’ll see some of the bigger teams take control on the climb, but if you have one or two riders left to help inside the final 5km, it would be a massive help. With lots of attacks expected, teammates can help close down gaps.
Should be another sunny day for the peloton and again a headwind on the final climb. The good news for the attackers is that the wind is very light and even though it is a headwind, it shouldn’t cause much of a problem.
Not great. The stage is mostly flat, that makes it very difficult for climbers to join the morning move. Expect to see plenty of big engines in the move, but they will suffer on the climb. To win from the break, you must be a great climber. To make the break, you must have a big engine. It’s an interesting dilemma.
Nairo Quintana – the little Colombian has survived the first eight stages and now reaches a stage that suits him. His form has been steadily building and he’ll be delighted to arrive on the same time as most of his rivals. He’s the best climber in the peloton and the brutal test of climbing ability will excite him. This is a rider that can beat all but one in the world, luckily Chris Froome isn’t here! This is a huge moment in the race, as Quintana is sure to lose time in Tuesday’s TT, Movistar will want to make time on the TT specialists and put a big marker down for the rest of the race.
Vincenzo Nibali – he attacked on Mount Etna, but couldn’t escape the bunch. His team are not strong enough to dictate the pace all the way up the climb, they are sure to run out of domestiques with a considering distance left to go. There are still a lot of questions surrounding Nibali’s form, but the history books tell us he’ll do well. Nibali is one of the best grand tour riders of his generation, expect to see him at his very best.
Steven Kruijswijk – despite losing 13 seconds on the opening stage, Kruijswijk will be satisfied with the first eight stages. He is a rider that is strongest in the final week of a grand tour, but he needs a big performance in this stage. He does like hard climbs, just as well really! He won’t have a huge amount of help in the closing kilometres, but if he has the same form he had last year, he will go very well.
Geraint Thomas – another huge day for the Welshman. He climbed well to Etna, but this is a different level altogether. Team Sky will dearly hope that he can match his GC rivals, as he will take time on most in the TT on Tuesday. Given the severity of the climb, you would imagine that Thomas would start to show some weakness, he is the poorest climber of the elite riders here. Saying that, he continues to improve and has climbed better than most this season. If he survives this stage, he is a serious contender for the pink jersey.
Mikel Landa – plan B for Team Sky. He needed to change his tyre on Etna, but made it back to the bunch without much worry. He is the opposite of Thomas, such a gifted climber, he should love this climb. Knowing that he will lose time in the TT, Landa will want to make a move on the climb. If both he and Thomas are in the front group of around 10, it puts Sky into a great position. Landa will be allowed to attack, letting Thomas follow wheels back in the front group. However, don’t expect Quintana to let him have any freedom.
Thibaut Pinot – the great French hope! Such a talented climber, I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do on this climb. FDJ do have some talented helpers, expect to see a lot of Morabito and Reichenbach on the climb. Pinot is a very attacking rider, he will not be happy to just follow wheels, he’ll want to animate the race. He’s beaten the best in the world already in 2017, he has a big chance in this stage.
Ilnur Zakarin – the Russian would have been happy to have finished 2nd on Etna, but disappointed not to have won. After a brilliant performance here in 2016, he is looking particularly strong just now. In some ways he is very similar to Pinot, both are very attacking climbers. Some still think Zakarin lacks a bit at this level, I disagree. He has the ability required to win this stage, he already has two grand tour stage wins to his name.
Tom Dumoulin – a huge day for the Dutchman. Can he finish on the same time as his main rivals? With a long ITT waiting for him on Tuesday, he will hope for a good climbing day. Given it’s only the ninth stage, I full expect him to be climbing with the best. If we get big attacks from Nibali and Quintana, expect to see him setting his own pace and TTing up the final kilometres.
Domenico Pozzovivo – the little Italian has been very visible in this race. His good form in the Tour of the Alps certainly seems to have continued, but I can’t help but think this climb is just too hard for him. He should have enough to finish in the top 10, but he’ll need the legs of his life to win the stage.
I can’t see the break making it, as Bahrain will ride hard for most of the day. On the climb, we’ll see the main contenders come to the fore. Looking at the severity of Blockhaus, I think we’ll see Nairo Quintana conquer the house of pain and ride into the pink jersey.
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