The Giro heads into the Alps and crosses the threshold of 2,000 metres above sea level for the first time. Round numbers aside, it means the race is heading to high altitude which brings new challenges as well as the potential for bad weather as snow is forecast.
A finish on steep slopes offers another mountain showdown as part of the weekend’s festival of climbing.
Update: snow and bad weather means the climb to Sestriere is off the route. Instead the race will be diverted north via the Val di Susa, a long valley road that drags up to Oulx where the race will rejoin the planned route. If the climb to Sestriere was fast, this route is faster with no major climb before the final ascension of the Jafferau.
Yesterday’s Stage: journalists soon ran out of adjectives when confronted with Eddy Merckx winning again and again. It’s the same with Mark Cavendish. What words do we use to describe the sprinter? Of course Cavendish is different to Merckx, the Belgian could win in the high mountains one day and take a sprint finish the next. But arguably that was easier, if you can ride the bunch off your wheel one day you can do it the next. A sprint finish is something else, riders bouncing around like balls in a lottery draw machine yet time after time Cavendish comes up number one.
The Route: a stage of two halves. The first 80km take the bunch to the feedzone, leaving the plains to head up the val Chisone on a big large road that serves the large valley. Soon after, the climbing begins but it remains on a wide road, only the river beside the road now starts to have more and more white water. The road to Sestriere is fast and often the slope is 4-5% with a few sections at 7% but the kind of climb where a team can really set a strong pace and where riders can benefit from small aero advantages in wheel or clothing choice. The descent is more tricky, it’s a little narrower as well as steep and fast but without too many dangerous corners and then opens up, easing in gradient to Oulx where the dragging valley road to Bardonnechia lasts for 14km, a chance for riders to warm up ahead of the final climb.
The Finish: When the route was announced last year the name of Jafferau stood out because it’s a mountain with an infamous long unsurfaced mountain pass. But as wild as the Giro can et, this stage finish is “only” 7.2km at 9% on standard roads to cluster of ski lifts above Bardonnechia. But just because its easier in relation to the infamous gravel pass doesn’t make it any better.
This is a 7.25km climb – note the profile above is only the final 3km – with some steep sections that bite right from the start. It’s 9% average but hits 14% and consistently reaches 10%. There’s no respite all the way to the finish, indeed the last section of the road is unsurfaced and slopes all the way to the finish line.
The Scenario: a breakaway can go away but the main climb is an energy-sapping place to try and stay away if the likes of Astana and Sky try to set a tempo. With Wiggins back home drinking cups of team Sky now have to take the challenge to Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans with Rigoberto Uran and today’s final climb is one place to start.
But the final climb is short and could suit Ag2r’s twin climbers Carlos Bettancur and Domenico Pozzovivo. Watch for Saxo-Tinkoff’s Rafał Majka who is climbing so well he was smiling with delight and anticipation when interviewed by Italian TV yesterday. But there are still time bonuses up for grabs to expect Nibali and Evans to trade blows.
Weather: a big factor today with the altitude. Spring and summer always come late to these parts of the world and the Giro has given us many images of the race taking part in a snowstorm and this weekend could bring more.
It will be 12°C at the start and then get colder as the race goes on with the thermometer at freezing point in Sestriere and with rain turning to sleet and possibly snow and from here it’ll hardly get warmer, just a few degrees in the valley below. Based on the forecast I expect the race to go ahead but nothing’s certain, especially as it’s been easier predicting the stage winner than the weather.
In addition it seems that Sunday’s Galibier stage will be substantially shortened after the French government préfet has ruled the snow and avalanche danger is too high for the Mont Cenis and Galibier summit finish, instead it’s likely tomorrow’s stage finishes above Valloire so after the Col du Télégraphe but only on the start of the Galibier. We’ll know more but when the route was unveiled I remember writing it was always a gamble to race so high this early in the year.
TV: live coverage starts around 3.00pm Euro time with the race climbing to snowy Sestriere around 4.00pm and then finish between 5.00-5.30pm. If you can’t find it on TV, cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv will serve you an internet feed.
Word of the Day: neve meaning snow. We celebrate past editions of the Giro for the snow, images of Fausto Coppi or Andy Hampsten have become famous. Charly Gaul’s win on Monte Bondone in 1956 must rank as one of the hardest days ever in the sport, 60 riders abandoned and he had to be carried back down the mountain and the clothing cut off him as he was so cold.
There’s a dissonance between the past and the presence here. We celebrate the endurance of the past and venerate those who braved the conditions. But faced with the snow today I feel worried about safety and feel empathy with the riders facing the long descent off Sestriere. Yes we’ll cheer the winner but don’t forget every rider who struggles behind as their fingers turn numb or their core body temperature drops and, teeth chattering, they struggle to think clearly whilst expected to ride at 80km/h.
Top 20 Overall
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 52:38:09
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:41
3 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:02:04
4 Robert Gesink (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team 0:02:12
5 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:02:13
6 Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia 0:02:55
7 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida 0:03:35
8 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:04:05
9 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:04:17
10 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:04:21
11 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling 0:05:06
12 Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team 0:05:08
13 Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) AG2R La Mondiale 0:05:26
14 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) RadioShack Leopard 0:05:57
15 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Katusha 0:06:08
16 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:06:55
17 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:07:46
18 Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:08:41
19 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:08:43
20 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team 0:08:55