Yesterday’s stage had a fast start, saw the big names fighting hard on the Colle dell’Agnello, pulling on the long descent and emptying the tank on the summit finish to. Now they’ve got to do it all over again and Vincenzo Nibali will duel with Esteban Chaves.
The Route: just 134km so hold on to your hats. This has one of those cruel starts that forces everyone to warm up before the start in order it get ready for the Col de Vars. This is no gentle way to start the day, it’s a hard Alpine climb that’s been important to the Tour de France over the years. This is 18km at at an average of 6% but it’s hardest at the start and the average is flattered by a descent along the way. If the upper part looks easier remember it’s above 2,000m. Cruelly there’s an intermediate sprint. There’s a descent in two parts, first the other side of the pass including some tunnels then the gentler but awkward Ubaye valley section to Jausiers, downhill but often a windy spot.
Next is the Col de la Bonette, another Alpine giant and like yesterday’s Agnello, a long drag. It’s a wide road and well surfaced, a regular climb defined by both its length and its altitude, starting at 1221 metres is high enough already and reaching 2715m. It’s followed by a long and fast descent.
The Col de la Lombarde takes the race into Italy via Isola and the Isola 2000 ski resort. It’s both a ski station access road and a traditional col, a wide road but with an irregular gradient. The steep start makes things hard and the road sweeps its way up via a series of hairpins. It’s scenic if anyone has the time to look up. Once past the ski station there’s the temptation to think the pass is coming up right away but the best or worst is saved for last with a snaking road and 10% slopes. A fast, technical, winding descent awaits.
The Finish: a tiny place to end a giant race. There’s a small road on the side, the kind that’s easy to ignore when you’re hurtling down the mountain. The road is just 2km uphill but punchy at 10% and very narrow.
The Contenders: today could be as much a test of recovery as form. Yesterday’s efforts will felt walking down to breakfast, yet alone on all these climbs.
The finish is perfect for Vincenzo Nibali. A climb and then a tricky descent where he can try to go solo and make the most triumphant return to Italy since Garibaldi in the mid 19th century. Still as successful as he was yesterday and that he does seem to run on pride he is also volatile, one good day doesn’t mean he’s certain to deliver again. Astana will do all they can and they have the team to try and take the fight to Chaves on the climbs, if the Colombian shows the slightest weakness Nibali can jump, take ten seconds over the top of the Lombarde, parley this into 40 on the descent and grab the stage victory and the accompanying time bonus to win the Giro in extremis.
That’s the Hollywood script but this is no spaghetti western. Esteban Chaves is in control of the race and only need mark Nibali, he knows the Italian will attack but between the two he should have the more explosive finish if the reach the final climb, he’s built for a finish like this.
Watch Joe Dombrowski, almost a local given numerous altitude camps at Isola 2000 on the slopes of the Lombarde. Yesterday he finished down on the action but could be back in the mix. Cannondale team mate Rigo Urán has got over his bronchitis but was pushing hard yesterday which means less energy for today but he has room for manoeuvre.
The same for Mikel Nieve who fought hard to finish second yesterday. He still has room on GC for today. Alejandro Valverde doesn’t liek the altitude but can he hang on for the finish?
Without Ilnur Zakarin Rein Taaramaë might have a go but there’s big competition. Tim Wellens hasn’t placed high for a few days but I’m told it’s deliberate, he’s been saving his legs. Igor Anton is a good climber who has been quiet so far.
Finally there’s no mention of Steven Kruijswijk. His crash and chase alone is enough to make him sore but a hospital visit has revealed a broken rib and he’s in pain, it’s not certain he starts. Is there a crueller sport?
|Vincenzo Nibali, Joe Dombrowski|
|Wellens, Valverde, Anton, Taaramaë, Majka, Nieve|
Weather: sunny and warm in the valleys with a top temperature of 25°C but cooler at altitude and an increasing chance of rain later in the stage. It could be windy in places too.
TV: they’re forecast to cross the Bonette at 3.00pm Euro time, to start the Col de la Lombarde at 3.50pm and finish is forecast for 5.15pm. Eurosport is covering the race across most of Europe. beIN SPORT has the rights in the US and France while Italian host broadcaster RAI offers the best coverage with experienced commentators as well as roving reporters on motorbikes to add extra coverage. As ever cyclingfans.com, cyclinghub and steephill.tv are the go-to sites for schedules and pirata feeds.