The “further, higher, faster” nature of the Giro d’Italia is on pause today. Stage 16 is 12,7km and if it’s a mountain time trial, the first 5,000m are about rolling out of town before the actual climb to the Nevegal plateau and ski station starts and even then, the final part eases up. It’s not at all like the Plan de Corones course used in previous years when riders winched themselves up a tricky road. The middle part of the course includes some tougher gradients, with 10% for a while and sections at 12% and one short ramp at 14%.
The top riders are expected to take 27-28 minutes to complete the course and there won’t be big time gaps. Given it’s so short, what could make the difference is the rest day and the warm up. Some riders respond well to a rest day, others don’t. Suddenly having to get back on the bike and produce an explosive and intense effort means a small step into the unknown: will the legs respond?
Technical skills matter. Riders will be checking out the course in order to get the best line and to think about what gears to use as the short nature of the course means these details can determine the winner.
It’s hard to see beyond Alberto Contador for the win today. He seems untouchable in the mountains and is also willing to win stages, something less apparent in the past. So I’m expecting him to go full gas today. Although the course features 600 vertical metres, the flatter sections should favour bigger riders, whilst the likes of John Gadret and José Rujano will struggle to push a big gear at the start and don’t have long enough to make up time on the climb. As such, the overall should change a bit as sixth to tenth place are all within a minute. Look to Scarponi, Kreuziger and Menchov to gain time today.
But 75% of the field will be taking it steady. Not slow at all but they know they can’t win and it’s not worth wasting precious energy given tomorrow’s mountain stage and the fatigue already accumulated.