A late change because of the weather sees less climbing and a small increase in distance but for all the alterations this is still a brutal mountain stage and the Giro cannot alter the weather.
The start and final summit remain but what if the biggest difficulty of the day was the bad weather?
- Update: today’s stage is cancelled. As suggested below a change of route was one thing but the race can’t avoid the cold weather. Riders will be cheering the extra rest day but will still have to work and go for a ride. The forecast for tomorrow looks better but the stage is far from certain.
Yesterday’s Stage: La Gazzetta described the mountain time trial as “match point” in the Giro. If the stage was a tennis match then Nibali smashed everyone with a grand slam performance whilst Cadel Evans double-faulted along with Mauro Santambrogio who also had a bad day, building on his problems after the rest day on the stage to Vicenza. Robert Gesink suffered too.
It leaves no doubt about Nibali’s superiority. In early stages he’d used attack as a form of defence, stretching and testing other riders but you wondered if this was in part because he’d run out of team mates to set the pace. Now we know he’s just the strongest. But match point has yet to come, the whole point of these mountain stages is to put the riders under pressure.
The Route: the start is the same but instead of heading north, the riders go east to take the Passo Tonale. Listed on the profile above as 7.5% average, it’s actually less and rolls quite fast although it has to two separate stretches where the gradient is above 8% for a kilometre at a time. The road is large, big enough for two coaches carrying skiers to pass without problem in the winter season and the same for the descent. It’s a regular in the Giro and typical fare for a climb early in a stage.
The race turns into the mountains through Preghena, switching to narrow roads and then on to the Passo Castrin, also known as the Hofmadhjoch. It’s new to the Giro, in fact the road is new. So much so the ascension is characterised by a regular road and a very long tunnel to offer temporary shelter but no TV of course. A regular descent follows and then a long section on valley roads.
The Finish: the race funnels up the Val Martello, a wide road that gradually gets steeper and more narrow the further you go. This means the 22.4km distance and average of 6.4% is not real, as the climb gets much tougher than the average suggests. Note the constantly changing gradient on the diagram above, it illustrates just how irregular this climb is.
A series of hairpin bends lie near the finish as the road rears up to 14% and only the final 70 metres are flat.
Weather: snow and freezing temperatures have forced the route to detour but the stage is hardly swinging by the Mediterranean. Instead the race will avoid some of Europe’s highest mountain passes but still finishes two kilometres into the sky.
Today the zero isotherm, the altitude at which the air temperature is 0°C (32°F) will be around 1,400m. In fact the thermometer will be hanging around the freezing point at the start. In addition it’s wet with snow falling at altitudes above 1,000m. This might turn to sleet but it means wet clothes for the riders no matter what.
This means the top of the Tonale and Castrin will freezing and the long descents will be an extreme test. At best it’s a logistical exercise with teams posting staff to supply warm clothing for the descent but warm and dry clothing doesn’t stay like this for long if the weather is foul. At worst, well use your imagination. Imagine a peloton caught between stopping to don layers whilst riders trying to steal an march on the descents, taking time but also taking bigger risks.
In addition cloud cover could interrupt TV coverage but more importantly it means damp clothes and wet roads for the riders. Given all this if they’ve diverted the race there’s still a chance the stage is cancelled or perhaps the riders will be driven in convoy to the final climb?
The Scenario: if the day begins in Ponte di Legno (“Wood Bridge”) many riders will have wooden legs after yesterday’s efforts. The new route will allow riders a chance to stretch the legs because even if some take off to get in a breakaway others can seek shelter on the wheels of others with the early slopes of the Tonale at 5%.
The Passo Castrin is hard but cross the top and you have 80km to go meaning it’s to far for any of the big names to attack because they’ll be reeled in on the long valley roads. This is the real change in the course, the orginal route was either going up or down but now there are long valley sections.
The final climb is so long that a breakaway will need a big advantage and it’ll have to include some good climbers to be in with a chance of staying away. Amongst the big names there are still many hunting for something, whether a place on the GC or a stage win. These two objectives can be opposing goals. A rider trying to secure a high place overall has every incentive to track Vincenzo Nibali for as long as possible and defend their position whilst a stage winner needs to take risks on the final climb.
Nibali seems in such good shape that he might want another stage win. Michele Scarponi has recovered from a mid-race dip in form and could be a threat. But the climb seems suited to the punchy climbers like Carlos Betancur or the confident Rafał Majka, both duelling for the white jersey too.
But the weather is the big story and anything can happen.
TV: this stage is planned to be broadcast in full with live video from 12.30pm Euro time until the finish five hours later. But the weather could hamper the transmission as it did on Stage 14 to Bardonnechia.
Word of the Day: Joch meaning pass in German. The literal translation is “yoke,” the wooden frame used to harness cattle to pull a plough but the Germanic word is used locally in this part of Italy to mean a mountain pass. The famous Passo Stelvio is also known as the Stilfser Joch.
We might think of Italy as a land of Italians but many parts of the country have people speaking regional dialects. In this area of Trentino they speak a different language altogether, German and along the way the riders will pass bilingual road signs warning, say, of hairpin bends in Italian and German.
Top 10 Overall
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 73:55:58
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:04:02
3 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:04:12
4 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:05:14
5 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida 0:06:09
6 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:06:45
7 Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) Ag2R La Mondiale 0:06:47
8 Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia 0:07:30
9 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:08:36
10 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:09:34