The Queen stage of the Giro. 236km, three big climbs and almost 5,000m of vertical gain. It’s enough to turn many of the peloton into ardent anti-monarchists.
Stage 18 Wrap: a win for Philippe Gilbert. On a day that resembled a mini Giro di Lombardia the best Lombardia rider in the peloton took his chances, helped in large part by his BMC Racing team mate Amael Moinard. Gilbert wasn’t climbing with the best up Monte Ologno but made his way back to the leaders over the top of the climb and attacked them on the spot with that fearsome acceleration. Hesitate for two seconds and he’s gone. Gilbert crossed the line without sunglasses, they have their uses but it was refreshing to see his delight with the win written all over his face.
Mikel Landa had a mechanical and Contador decided to profit, not so much payback but an Tinkoff credit cashback delivered to Astana and their decision to profit from Contador’s mechanical the other day. Contador was joined by Ryder Hesjedal, no mean feat for the Canadian. In full flight Hesjedal resembles a wounded giraffe trying to gallop. But it’s effective and if he can keep it up he’ll move further up the GC.
The Route: a 150km warm-up before the mountains. That took you one or two seconds to read, it’ll take three and a half hours of racing.
The first climb goes up to Saint Barthélemy, it’s not a mountain pass just a narrow road that rises up the side of the Aosta valley to reach the village above. It has impressive views but the breathtaking part is the start where the steep gradients kick on, it’s 16.5km at 6.7% but with 10% for the first two kilometres and some flat and even downhill sections. Then it’s straight back down to the valley again on a narrow and at times rough road.
There’s almost no rest before the Col St. Pantaléon starts, 16.2km at 7.2% average but flattered by flat sections making this another strength-sapping and energy consuming climb on a good sized road as it climbs up from Chambave past the vineyards with a series of hairpin bends to cross to the Valtourenche valley with a good descent.
The Finish: an irregular profile above but this is a big main road and an accessible ski resort. The last time the Giro came here Andrey Amador won the stage and Ryder Hesjedal attacked the GC contenders, the race winning move. The climb starts to level out gently 3 km before the finish and then rises up for the final 450-m long home straight.
The Contenders: a breakaway or another GC fight? Normally the former but this Giro isn’t normal. The climbs today are tough in their length, gradient and repetition but they’re the long grinding Alpine sort rather than sharp ramps to launch attacks. Plus the distance could encourage riders to huddle. UCI points go down to 20th place so if, say, the likes of Giovanni Visconti, 14th overall and 21 minutes down, decide to attack they could find others chasing them just to defend a point or two.
Albert Contador is the default pick, he’s now taking pleasure in crushing Astana’s two captains. I think he wants tomorrow’s stage more than today but he’s hardly in the mood to dole out the gifts unlike a week ago at Madonna di Campiglio but we could see Mikel Landa out for revenge; Astana have faded now but L-L Sanchez could be worth watching if he’s allowed to attack on a descent, the same for Vasil Kiryienka if Sky let him ride for the stage win instead of helping Leopold König, he won the penultimate stage of the 2011 Giro, a 242km day out.
This could finally be Steven Kruijswijk’s day as he’s got a decent sprint on him and is showing no signs of fatigue but his problem, if we can call it one, is that he’s eighth overall so he’s not going to get much room to attack, he’ll have to win the sprint. Ryder Hesjedal matched Alberto Contador yesterday and enjoyed his last visit to Cervinia.
Carlos Betancur and Beñat Inxausti need a mountain raid to get blue jersey of Kruijswijk’s coathanger-shoulders. Finally some wildcard names with Ilnur Zakarin, Esteban Chaves and Stefano Pirazzi.
|Alberto Contador, Steven Kruijswijk|
|Hesjedal, Betancur, Inxausti, Landa, Kiriyienka, Visconti|
Weather: sunny and warm in the valleys with 24°C but cooler at the top of the climbs.
The Giro is: almost in France. Just as parts of the Italy’s north-eastern Alps have German and Ladin speakers, the Aosta valley to the north-west was French until 1860 which explains names like Saint Barthélemy rather than San Bartolomeo. There’s no river called Aosta, instead the valley is named after the town of Aosta and the river is the Dora Baltea. If the area has been Italian for 150 years in 1871 Maurice Garin was born but poverty meant he and his family quit the Italian Alps for France and Garin became French. In 1903 he won the first ever Tour de France. There’s a road in Aosta named after Garin. The valley is also host to the U23 Giro della Valle d’Aosta, one of the hilliest amateur stages and won twice recently by Fabio Aru, other recent winners include Davide Vilella of Cannondale-Garmin and FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot who won the race in his first year out of the junior ranks.