By David Hunter
Bologna – Fucecchio 205km
The first road stage.
Not an easy opening to the Giro for the quick men, the cat 3 ascent of Montalbano would really be a cat 2 in most races.
5.2km at 7.3% is a proper test for the sprinters of the bunch. The crest comes with just under 50km remaining, which means the pace will be relatively high, especially as the GC teams will want to string things out to keep it nice and safe for their leaders.
This is the descent that separates the two climbs. Not only will it be very fast, but the road is narrow, which means the GC teams will want to take over and dictate the tempo. This is bad news for any riders dropped on the climb, they won’t be making it back on. Once off the descent, we bounce straight into another climb.
This is a cat 4 climb, which seems to go on forever, but it is only 10.5km at 2.8%. This isn’t particularly hard, but there are sections which riders will find challenging. If some of the sprinters have already gone into the red on the previous climb, they could well struggle to hold on. Once over the top, the riders have less than 30km remaining. There is one final bump to deal with, 3.4km at 2.5%, which ends with 14km to go. This is not an easy day for sprinters.
Nice and flat.
The riders approach the final 3km on nice roads, but all that changes when they turn left, just after the 3km sign. The bunch move onto a much narrower road and teams will want to be in position for this moment.
Once the right-hand turn is made, with just around 2.5km to go, the road gets a little wider and moving up the bunch is possible. This last section of the race will be incredibly fast, strap yourself in for a quick one. The finishing straight is 900m long, which is perfect for the lead out trains.
We’ll have a strong wind from the north, which means a tailwind for the majority of the day. Crucially, it means a headwind on both of the categorised climbs, which is brilliant news for the sprinters. The bad news is the prediction of rain, that will increase the nerves and make the stage tougher than it seems.
Who wants to make the pace hard on the cat 3 climb? We don’t have a rider like Sagan or Matthews in the race, a sprinter who would benefit from dropping the others. Looking at the sprint talent, most of them can climb a bit, but 5km at 7% is a real test.
The sprint teams will be happy if they can set a steady tempo on the climb, this can be done if they carefully manage the break. If the escape is kept on a close leash, it means that the pace on the climb can be relatively slow. The problem is the cat 4 climb just after it, as the peloton will need the gap to be under 3 minutes at the crest, in order to bring it back for the sprint. I wonder if the sprint teams will come to an agreement before the race, it really is in the best interests for most of them.
Make no bones about it, this is a challenging start to the Giro for the quick men. On the plus side is the early part of the stage, which is rather easy. They should all arrive here in great form, this is their best chance of coping with a 5km/7% climb, but all it will take is for one team to put the foot down on the climb and the truce will be blown apart.
Elia Viviani – this is a big moment for the Italian champion. Riding in the tricolore, winning a Giro stage will be a huge moment in his career. He wasn’t on top form in Romandie, but that race was being used a final bit of training for here. QuickStep always have a brilliant team to support their chosen man, but it certainly isn’t their usual sprint train. Viviani has a brilliant relationship with Fabio Sabatini, and he’ll rely heavily on him in this race. Can Viviani survive the big climb? If he does, he’ll be the man to beat on the line.
Fernando Gaviria – the Colombian is known as a sprinter who can handle a few hills. Without a win since late February, he approaches this race lacking a little bit of confidence. UAE come to this race with a team to support their Colombian, a rider who won four stages and the points classification back in 2017, when he made his debut in the race. In 2018 he focused on the Tour de France, where he took two stages, before failing to finish stage 12. I will point out one thing; riders who leave QuickStep rarely do better.
Pascal Ackermann – I cast my mind back to the 2018 Dauphiné, where the German was in brilliant climbing form, but he’s not had a lot of chances to show those legs in 2019. After struggling at the beginning of the year he arrives in Italy after recently winning Eschborn-Frankfurt, a winning sprinter is always one to fear. Bora arrive with a split team, they have high hopes for the GC battle, which leaves Ackermann with fewer riders than usual, but Rüdi Selig is still there.
Arnaud Démare – when FDJ commit to their fast man, they really do it in a big way. Démare arrives with the longest sprint train in the race, every single rider in the team is at his disposal. The French sprinter is yet to record a win in 2019, but he does bring grand tour experience with him, and don’t forget he is fast. He’ll be confident of surviving the climbs, it will then be over to his train to get him to the front of the race at 250m to go; we’ll then see if he can finish it off.
Caleb Ewan – cast aside by Mitchelton-Scott, but found a new home in Belgium. Lotto Soudal have shown the little Aussie the love he requires, and he arrives in Italy with confidence, thanks to two wins in the Tour of Turkey. He’s a sprinter who usually copes well with some hills, sometimes it helps to be small! His team have not hidden their objective; a stage win for the Aussie. Can he cope with this level of pressure?
Davide Cimolai – the Italian arrives with some serious form: 2 stages and the GC in Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and 4th in Frankfurt. Israel Cycling Academy will be keen to prove they deserve the opportunity to ride this race and Cimolai gives them a real option in the sprints. A win at this stage is unlikely, but he should get stronger the longer the race goes on.
Thomas De Gendt – the Belgian will look at this finish and he’ll like what he sees. He knows that the bunch can’t afford to go too hard, as it will hurt the sprinters. He will also realise that the gap can’t be brought down too much before the climb, this would encourage attacks from the peloton and hurt the climbers. This is a perfect scenario for him, if he makes the morning move. Surely the sprinter teams will attempt to mark him at the start of the stage and try to stop him escaping, but that is easier said than done.
This is a brilliant looking stage. Will the sprint teams arrange to take the big climb easy? Will the GC teams simply push to the front and set a fast pace anyway? Will the morning break include a quality rider? My goodness, this stage presents more questions than I have answers.
As we have a headwind on both climbs, this should be a day where most of the sprinters survive to the end, but which of them will have enough left in the tank to sprint for glory? I’ll go with a man in form, Pascal Ackermann to win his first grand tour stage.
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