The longest stage of the Giro, today has a few hills and steep, twisting descents packed into the end to disrupt the sprinters and make the TV more lively.
Despite the flat profile, today’s stage is a historical, gastronomical and cultural route where Coppi and Bartali, truffles and Nutella, Verdi and Conte can be found.
Yesterday’s Stage: another win by Mark Cavendish. He’s still a few days short of his 28th birthday but already has a place in the sport’s greats. I enjoy the sport’s history but sometimes the talk of champions can seem distant with black and white images of the past but we can see one of the all time best sprinters in action in HDTV. Behind, well you hardly notice who was behind, but in the chaos for second place Nacer Bouhanni rode a fierce sprint which sailed close to controversy and the ex-boxer’s reputation for final kilo combat continues.
Things didn’t go so well for Wiggins, we can now say for sure he won’t win the Giro this year. There’s a huge amount of kremlinology linked to Wiggins and Team Sky, their every move and word seems to be parsed by people looking for meaning. Will he race on, will he leave the race? What does this mean for Team Sky? Meanwhile Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans ride on and few are asking whether Evans will be BMC’s leader for the Tour with Tejay van Garderen riding so well in California.
- Update: Wiggins and Ryder Hesjedal are out, both are too ill to continue
The Route: 254km today, a distance equivalent to Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders. Talking of the classics, you know the first part of Milan-Sanremo where little happens for hours? Well that’s when the race crosses the flat pianura Padana, the plains of the river Po. And the race spends hours in the same place today although in a west to east direction rather than north to south. It’s only after 175km that the terrain starts to change.
The climb to Tre Cuni is the decisive point for the sprinters. It’s listed as 10km long and averages 4.8% but infact it’s a 15km drag from Alba and there’s a section for 5km at over 5%. Not much to drop the sprinters but a fast pace here could tire the legs of some enough to slow them in the sprint. The descent afterwards is fast and technical with molto curves and 10% gradient. This continues to the finish with several rises along twisting roads past the Barolo vineyards, not ideal terrain to set up a sprint finish.
The Finish: if yesterday’s finish had twists and turns all the way until the last 400 metres, today’s stage is the opposite. Once the climbing and descending is done we get a long straight road with 6km to go. And that’s it all the way to finish, a high speed railway for the sprint trains where the only obstacles are the edge of the road and the other riders.
The Scenario: a sprint finish is probable but not certain. The longest day in the race means tired legs by the time the climbing comes, reducing the probability of a sprint. And if there is a sprint finish, different riders could feature.
But would you bet against Mark Cavendish? The climbing suits a rider who can tuck into the slipstream of a team and he’s now wearing the red points jersey, in case he needed an extra incentive to win. Matthew Goss sat out yesterday’s sprint to save himself for today, will this strategy work? Sacha Modolo got boxed out by Nacer Bouhanni yesterday but the Frenchman has gone home. Modolo’s been targeting this day too but if it’s not for him perhaps team mate Battaglin could do it instead?
But it could still be a day for a breakaway, maybe an early move goes and gets a big gap because the sprinters’ teams don’t want to chase too early… or some riders sneak away in the finish, perhaps exploiting the tricky descents and twisting roads that make an organised chase hard. A battle between the classics hardmen and the sprinters awaits. After all the weather is like April too.
TV: live coverage starts at 3.10pm Euro time. Because this isn’t the certain sprint finish, tune in for the climb from Alba to Tre Cuni and the tricky descent afterwards. The race is expected to reach Alba around 4.00pm with the finish for 5.15pm. If you can’t find it on TV, cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv will serve you an internet feed.
Weather: rain again although this time showers rather than a bath. The cool weather stays with the temperature around 16°C (60°F).
Word of the Day: pioggia meaning rain. Has there been a wetter grand tour?
History: the route bends past the training roads of Fausto Coppi when it passes near Tortona and Alessandria. The five time winner of the Giro started cycling as a delivery boy, racking up hours in the saddle to ferry food around these roads.
Gastronomy: look closely at the profile and you’ll see Barolo near the end. It’s famous for its fine wines whilst Alba before it is known for its truffles. You can eat well along every stage of the Giro but if you had to pick one day to full up a basket with local supplies, it could be today.
And if fine wines and truffles are too much, the region is also famous for its hazelnuts. A local tax on chocolate in the 19th century encouraged a switch into hazelnut paste with sugar, known as gianduja but better known around the world as Nutella. In 1946 a local baker from Alba called Pietro Ferrero produced a block of this paste which sold well and in time began to mix it with vegetable oils to make it into a spread. This sold so well that in the space of a few years Ferrero had so many delivery trucks that only the Italian army had more vehicles. Today Ferrero is one of the world’s confectionery giants – it sells twice as much as Hershey’s - and remains family-owned. The company has long been a sponsor of the Giro but has cut back this year but its Esta Thé drink is still part of the race.
Culture: the race starts outside the house of composer Guiseppe Verdi. It then crosses the Piemonte region of songsmith Paolo Conte. You might know him for “Vieni Via Con Me” with its English chorus of “it’s wonderful, s’wonderful” which has gone beyond Italy for film soundtracks and ads. The race passes through Stradella, and Conte wrote about the “Accordeon of Stradella.” This isn’t coincidence or a tenous link, Conte loves his cycling. His lyrics include lines like a fondo come ciclisti gregari in fuga or “going flat out like cyclists in a breakaway” and of course the energetic tribute to Gino Bartali:
Top 20 overall
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 46:28:14
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 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:05:22
14 Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) Ag2R La Mondiale 0:05:26
15 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) RadioShack Leopard 0:05:57
16 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Katusha 0:06:08
17 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:06:55
18 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:07:46
19 Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:08:41
20 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:08:43