At 149km Stage 15 was always going to be a short stage. Now it will try to climb the Galibier but will stop short of the top of the pass because of the bad weather. Instead the finish will be near the Granges du Galibier, a collection of a couple of rough looking barns and also home to a small tribute to the late Marco Pantani.
Tectonic forces have combined with rain, snow and ice to make the Alps what they are today. These forces continue to sculpt the landscape. It’s what makes racing or riding in the Alps so attractive. Only nature is always bigger than a race, even the Giro. If snow and ice block the road, so be it. We can’t have these mountains without the forces of nature. Perhaps opting for the Galibier in mid-May was a gamble but it’s worth a try.
Yesterday’s Stage: it wasn’t live on TV but the race still went on, albeit with a big change to the course where the race avoided the climb from Pinerolo to Sestriere but instead took the Val di Susa, a long valley road to cut across and reach the proposed race route towards the end of the stage. I don’t think this changed the result much because Sestriere is a long drag whilst the Val di Susa is flatter but still goes up and up.
Vincenzo Nibali rode away and only Mauro Santambrogio and Carlos Betancur could follow, with the Colombian later dropped. It looked like Nibali gifted the win to Santambrogio. Hardly a free present because Santambrogio was the only rider there but it could pay dividends later in the race, especially as Astana lost Alessandro Vanotti to a crash during the stage.
On the subject of losses, Robert Gesink came in four minutes down. Consistency is a difficult thing but he and his team have to review their options now, certainly for the race but perhaps for the long term too, perhaps with the aim of winning a few one week stage races as a platform to build towards grand tour success?
The Route: the race will stick to the plan as much as possible. The first climb of the day, the Col du Mont Cenis could be neutralised. If so the race will climb at tempo set by race officials, enough to keep everyone warm and moving but not enough to drop anyone.
The Mont Cenis takes the race into France and is a steady climb that resembles a staircase with upward ramps and then flatter intervals, averaging 6% but with a few steeper parts. The descent is fast and regular without many technical points although it includes the uphill section from Sollières to Aussois, an annoying rise on the way down to Modane: long enough to matter but not a proper climb compared to the terrain around.
Then down to the Maurienne valley where they will turn left onto the Col du Télégraphe. Often seen as the first part of the Col du Galibier, it’s a mountain pass in its own right and at 12km long with an average if 7.2%, it’s hard work. More so since some of the steepest slopes come at the start meaning it can be selective right from the start.
The Finish: instead of going to the top at 2642m, the stage will finish by the Pantani memorial at 2295m. On the profile of the Galibier below it’s before the 14km point.
A short descent follows into the ski resort of Valloire from where the Galibier proper starts. It’s a long straight climb out of Valloire with some flatter sections in Les Verneys and then up the valley to Plan Lachat where after a slight respite, the road bends, crosses a bridge and then seems to tip up to the sky. It’s here that the legendary part of the climb begins, a desolate place where the tarmac is one of the few remaining traces of civilisation, the kind of place where even on a good day the cyclist feels small, a speck below the peaks. A series of hairpin bends at 8-9% and the finish looms at the Granges du Galibier, the barns of the Galibier where some rough stone buildings hunker under rusting roofs of corrugated steel.
The Scenario: the shortened finish makes a big difference. The Galibier lacks the high altitude and relentless slopes to the finish. Instead it has a few breathing points along the way that allow, or perhaps, tolerate, a moment for riders to regroup. So when we see that the Galibier lacks 4km, it misses the hardest four of the day.
We’re in France and today is Saint Yves’s day. Who better than the one the French call Cadel Yvans to win? Samuel Sanchez came good yesterday, perhaps he’ll do well? Or maybe Team Sky’s stints at altitude work for Uran once the race rises above 2,000m.
But I think this is the stage for Vincenzo Nibali. He’s in top form and the Pantani memorial awaits, the prize and symbolism means this is not a day to gift the win. He made the move yesterday and seems above everyone else in the mountains.
TV: the start of the race is being moved so that the finish of the race can happen on time. Live coverage is planned for 3.00pm Euro time with the finish expected soon after 5.00pm but as we saw yesterday, if race has no aerial coverage then the TV motos cannot transmit their images. If the weather is bad there’s a chance this is repeated again.
Weather: riders can cope with climbing through falling snow but the road is blocked from fresh snow. Much of the uncertainty during the past 48 hours has come from avalanche risk and the local authorities will be detonating charges to reduce the risk before the race passes. Here’s some footage of snow ploughs on the Galibier at dawn today:
For the stage itself the weather remains miserable. Rain showers will turn to sleet at altitude and on the climbs and descents the thermometer will be around 7°C (44°F).
Word of the day: bonjour as in good day in French. The Giro has often been into France, the Alps are a shared area for the Tour de France and the Giro. Indeed go back in time and most of the Alps here belong to the Kingdom of Savoy… which if you remember Margerhita di Savoia on Stage 6 was means, thereabouts, the Italian royal family. But other parts of the Italian Alps have French sounding towns, for example the Aosta valley is packed with French names. But nationality is a modern concept, the mountains have really been remote enclaves, distant from any political capitals in a way that goes well beyond kilometres.
Top 20 overall
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 57:20:52
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:01:26
3 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:02:46
4 Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia 0:02:47
5 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:03:53
6 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida 0:04:55
7 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2R La Mondiale 0:05:12
8 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:05:32
9 Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) Ag2R La Mondiale 0:05:39
10 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:05:51
11 Robert Gesink (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team 0:06:40
12 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) RadioShack Leopard 0:06:42
13 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling 0:07:06
14 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Katusha 0:07:19
15 Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team 0:07:36
16 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:08:11
17 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:08:24
18 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:09:53
19 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team 0:13:23
20 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia 0:14:29