Italy has mountains running down its spine from north to south so when the weekend comes and the organisers want to pump the viewing figures they just need to head inland to find ski stations, long climbs and steep finishes.
Today is no exception with the finish in the small ski station of Laceno just 4.4km after the top of the Colle Molella, a climb with double-digit percentage gradients.
In addition to the preview there’s also a look back at the lessons from yesterday’s first summit finish.
Note the start, the race heads uphill from the beginning. This is the perfect launchpad for a breakaway but the sprinters and those on a bad day or with injury or illness will spend the first half hour cursing as the attacks fly up the road. The rest of the day features moderate climbing, good terrain for a breakaway but suitable for a team to chase as well.
With the overall lead we should see Garmin-Barracuda working on the front, if Hesjedal can retain the lead today then it’s possible he keeps the jersey until next weekend given the relative ease of the mid-week stages. The team of the Giro so far, the riders must be feeling the effort though.
The final climb is tough. It’s been used twice before, once classics specialist Roger de Vlaemink won in 1978 (it can’t be that hard then) and then in 1998 Alex Zuelle won ahead of Laurent Jalabert (it must be hard then). There’s a good chance there’s a breakaway but behind several riders will want to test Hesjedal on the final climb knowing whoever takes the overall lead today can hope to keep it for up to a week for minimal extra effort, a huge prize. The old line that “it’s not the route that makes the race hard but the riders” should ring true.
The weather for today looks fine, with sunshine and some light cloud but this is expected to change for the next few days and could reach the mountains today. The finish is expected between 4.50pm and 5.30pm.
Yesterday taught us plenty. The finish was hard but not humiliating for the weaker riders. Instead if offered a steady test with a sharp sting at the end. Paolo Tiralongo had been strong all week in the recent Tour de Romandie, collecting several placings during the stages. He’s had a long career and had never won a race until last year when Contador gifted him a stage in the Giro, although went on a long and painful uphill treasure hunt to secure it. Now the Astana rider is capable of rivalling with the best and it bodes well for the whole Astana team.
Scarponi has been looking the part for over a week, if only because he’s as lean as can be. Yesterday he demonstrated his power-to-weight ratio and left others behind. Frank Schleck is back in the game and Ivan Basso is riding stronger too, building in form. Don’t rule out Rujano who lost 25 seconds yesterday as he paid for his early attacks; tactically not wise but he could still be a threat later in the day.
Hesjedal is an unknown force. The first Canadian to wear the maglia rosa, he’s had some good results to his name but few big wins. A very strong climber who tends to ride like a steady diesel he could hold the jersey for some time. As well as the efforts involved to keep this on the bike he now faces press conferences, photo opportunities, photos and an email inbox that pings with new messages by the minute. Meanwhile Scarponi, Kreuziger, Basso and others are waiting.