The first “reveal” of the race and one of two mountain stages in the under-rated Apennines mountain range, this 179km stage climbs Monte Carpegna first on one flank and then another with conclusive 13% ramps just before the finish line. Both are extremely difficult climbs with narrow roads and double-digit gradients. This is no medium mountain prelude to the Alps.
Stage 7 Wrap: a bunch sprint but it wasn’t certain. The day’s breakaway was yo-yoing of the front, their lead helped by the Valico della Somma climb which thwarted the chase. It provided some extra suspense but they were caught with 3km to go. Nacer Bouhanni took his second stage win and a deserved result after a first win was achieved in odd circumstances. He had to ride very close against the barriers but Luka Mezgec kindly left him just enough room to pass.
Those two fingers are an arithmetic signal not anything more. But Bouhanni’s having a difficult time. FDJ have given Arnaud Démare a big contract extension while Bouhanni and his agent have yet to sign down with team boss Marc Madiot. Some teams cope well with two or more sprinters but FDJ have a modest budget and high taxes so a sudden increase in salary for Bouhanni is hard to find. So he’s feeling undervalued and frustrated because he’s unlikely to ride the Tour de France. Note if Bouhanni does go he’s likely to leave with at least one team mate.
Meanwhile Michael Matthews has one more day in the maglia rosa. In an audio interview with Ride Magazine he says the plan is to ride the Tour de France… which invites the question of when he’ll leave the Giro.
The Route: this 179km stage runs across the spine of Italy with the Appenine mountains. An easy start on rolling roads with the feedzone at Acqualagna is followed by the scenic gorges. Onwards and the stage is dominated by the twin ascensions of Monte Carpegna.
The first time up is to the Cipo di Carpegna and beyond, 6km at 10% but after a gentle start out of the town of Carpegna the race quickly finds steeper sections. It’s an irregular road and very narrow this is more mule path than ski-station access road. Or it would be if you only followed the road but it’s become a monument to Pantani with his name painted on the road at regular intervals. Note that he has doesn’t have it all to himself, large signs celebrate the duel between Eddy Merckx and José Manuel Fuente. Then follows a very technical descent with tight corners on a narrow road.
As soon as the descent ends the climb up to the finish starts. The section between Maciano and Villagio del Lago is gentle and should see a truce ahead of the final climb.
The Finish: a steep and irregular road that’s exposed to the elements. The 7% averages in the graphic would be enough to suit the climbers but better the road alternates between steep pitches and flatter sections. It pitches right up before the line with 10-13%.
The Scenario: today was supposed to shape the GC after an opening week of sprint finishes, time bonuses and relatively gentle uphill finishes but crashes have pulled apart the riders. It makes the strategy awkward because the GC contenders will have to work out who they can let up the road and who they need to mark, a memory game to add to the physical contest.
We could see at least two races today, breakaways fighting for the stage win while the GC contenders mark each other until the 13% ramps. A breakaway has a good chance because Orica-Greenedge surely won’t defend Michael Matthew’s lead. Instead it’s up to other teams to do the work but BMC probably don’t want to take charge either. So any fugitives might find a reduced pursuit behind at least until the GC riders hit the final climb and the pace goes up.
Don’t expect huge time gaps, it’s possible most wait for the final ramps to launch a move. They’ll want to test their rivals rather than bet the ranch although these roads are particularly tough, there’s no hiding. Still three Saturdays to go.
The Contenders: no more hiding and petty skirmishing, today will allow us to see who’s got their climbing legs for this race. The irregular slope suits a pure climber rather than a mountain train. Still Cadel Evans seems in great form and is a good pick. The stealth selection is Rigoberto Uran. Stealth because we’ve hardly seem him in the race yet he’s sitting third overall.
The big question is Nairo Quintana. Tipped to romp away in the mountains he’s already 1.47 down on Cadel Evans and can expect to lose time to the Aussie in next week’s Barolo time trial. Monte Carpegna is fine place to make up for lost time. This doesn’t mean a bold move but stealing 20 would be fine… if he can especially with the 10 second time bonus for the stage winner.
Domenico Pozzovivo is in excellent climbing shape and will find today’s finish suitable. Colombia’s Fabio Duarte is climbing very well and could benefit from some space from others.
Normally Trek’s Julian Arredondo would be a pick but he’s nursing an injury and has lost time. Riders like him as well as Dani Moreno, Franco Pellizotti and Nicolas Roche have all lost time. They might try to crowd the breakaway but it’s a dilemma: go up the road and hope for some luck or sit tight and put the climbing skills to the test in the final metres.
Michele Scarponi is the local rider, he was in form in the Giro del Trentino but carrying a few scars. Saxo-Tinkoff’s undisputed leader is now Rafał Majka, he’s good but has yet to win a race as a pro and could be heavily marked as he’s fourth overall.
|Cadel Evans, Rigoberto Uran, Nairo Quintana|
|Fabio Duarte, Julian Arredondo|
Weather: it was forecast to rain yesterday but it stayed dry. Today’s stage has the outside chance of a rain shower. Temperatures are still cool for the season with 18°C in the valleys and single digits at altitude. No wind.
TV: the race is on a variety of TV channels according to where you are in the world. Eurosport is covering the race across most of Europe. beIN SPORT has the rights in the US and France. There’s cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv for TV schedules and pirate feeds and more.
The finish is forecast for 5.10pm Euro time. There’s an hour’s extra coverage… tune if you want the scenery but the action is for the end with the climbing forecast to begin around 3.45pm, aim to catch the final 90 minutes.
“Il Carpegna mi basta”
– Marco Pantani
Pantani Memorial: today’s stage finishes on a mountain used by Marco Pantani for many of his big training rides, “The Carpegna’s enough for me”. Some have questioned the Giro’s multiple tributes to Pantani this year. Rightly so.
No doubt many in Italy media will review his career highlights through rosa tinted glasses. He was thrilling to watch. Indeed Pantani his exploits reached well beyond the traditional cycling audience, he became a superstar in Italy.
The fame is all the more reason for others to point out the less glorifying aspects. Read Matt Rendell’s “The Death of Marco Pantani” for the full story. Indeed we should always remember Pantani for to remember is to learn lessons. It would be worse if the Giro had forgotten him.