By David Hunter
Foligno – Sarnano Sassotetto 219km
It’s time for the big mountaintop finish.
This stage is much more than just the big finish, there is a ridiculous amount of climbing before we get there.
We have three categorised climbs coming within 40km of each other. First up is the cat 3 ascent of San Ginesio, which is 6.3km at 4.7%. Next up is the climb to Gualdo, which is 2.6km at 8.2%. The last categorised climb, in this section, is another cat 2 effort of 5.1km at 6.2%.
This section of the race could be very important. The bunch will not simply roll to the foot of the final climb, with 4704m of climbing in the stage, I expect to see lots of attacks before the final climb. This is not a typical mountain stage.
The final climb is 12.3km at 6.3%. For a big mountaintop finish, it’s not as hard as some would like. After an easy opening 2.5km, the riders hit the first serious ramps, with two kilometres around 8%. We’ll have a brief lull, before the serious section of the climb, with 4km at 8.8%. There is a small area to rest, as the gradient goes to 4.6%, before 500m at 8.8% and 1km at 9.4%.
As we approach the finishing line, there is 500m sections of 5.2%, 3.2% and 7.4%. This climb is harder than the overall figures make it sound.
Another sunny day with a little wind coming from the south. That should ensure a fast final climb.
Geraint Thomas – after a good climb today, he now sits in the race lead. Team Sky are the only squad who can control this stage, but do they want to? In the Algarve, they decided to go for the break and allow Michal Kwiatkowski to take the race win. Will that happen here? Thomas will be excited to match up against the best climbers in the world, especially after being so close to winning here in 2017. On that occasion, only Nairo Quintana could stop him, he’s not here this year! Thomas starts as the man to beat.
Chris Froome – domestique for Thomas.
Primoz Roglic – another a brilliant win today, he’ll be looking for another one. Such a shame that he lost time in yesterday’s crash. He did a recon of this stage with his team, something that should help him out. Roglic had a brilliant 2017 and is looking to continue his improvement. Compared to other riders his age, he is miles behind in terms of racing. Every year, he will make huge progress. The aspect he is working on is big mountains. That is climbing and winning from the GC group, not from a breakaway. I think he’ll go the distance in this stage.
Wilco Kelderman – climbed well in Abu Dhabi, but couldn’t follow the moves of Lopez and Valverde. After finishing 4th in the Vuelta, this could be a big year for the Dutchman. As Dumoulin seems to be struggling with a cold, he should be team leader. To beat Team Sky, he’ll need Dumoulin to be feeling better.
Tiesj Benoot – 3rd today, he is simply outstanding! After his performance in the Tour de France, it would not be a surprise to see him challenging for the win. Despite being a classics man, Benoot manages to keep his weight down, allowing him to challenge in the mountains. Look at his body shape compared to the other classics riders, he doesn’t look the same as them. He spends a huge amount of time in Granada, climbing the beautiful mountains of the Sierra Nevada. He will relish the challenging day in the saddle, it will make some of the climbers feel a little tired, but not him.
Bob Jungels – I always think it’s unfortunate that he rides in the same era as Dumoulin. Without the Dutchman, we would be amazed by the transition he has made into a GC rider. The problem is, it’s not a patch on Dumoulin. On the plus side, he is two years younger than Dumoulin. The QuickStep rider still has time to improve his climbing and become a serious GC contender. I can’t see him winning this stage.
Rigoberto Uran – this is a good stage for him. I’m a massive fan of the Colombian rider, he is a delight to watch. He has a level of consistency that most can only dream of having, so expect him to be challenging for the win. He always does well in Italy.
Romain Bardet – after a brilliant performance in Strade Bianche, he’s back in the big mountains, that will please him. One of the best climbers in the world, he will be confident of climbing faster than Thomas. Team Sky will be a little worried about the Frenchman, this is where their numerical advantage could come into play.
This is one of the hardest stages I can remember seeing. It is rare to have so much climbing outside of a grand tour. Coming so early in the season, we are sure to see many riders having difficulty. Team Sky have the numbers, especially as we’ll see Moscon and Kwiatkowski lasting a long way into the stage. Despite this, I’m going against Team Sky. I’m going to choose the best climber to win, this is one for Romain Bardet.
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