A stage only the Giro can do. A ride up the Tiber valley, central to the myth of Rome before the Alpe de Poti and its steep gravel road and then a wild descent to the finish in the medieval city of Arezzo. Roman history, a medieval city and gravel roads that evoke cycling’s early days, the Giro as a time machine. In more practical terms this is the first proper test of climbing in the Giro, a chance to measure Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin and the rest.
If you have to ration your Giro viewing this weekend then this stage is the one to watch given tomorrow’s time trial is important but unlikely to be as exciting.
Stage 7 Review: after a fast start with Nippo-Vini Fantini keen to get Damiano Cunego clear in order to take points for the mountains jersey the race split with two thirds of the field, including Ilnur Zakarin, suddenly chasing to stay in the race. Things calmed down soon but it made for a sapping stage. The breakaway had its strongmen, notably Stefan Küng who stayed out as long he could; and Daniel Martinez, the 20 year old Colombian who impressed. Anecdotes aide the inevitable sprint finish happened with André Greipel a clear winner. Marcel Kittel punctured, denying us the contest but he had been huffing and puffing all day.
The Route: the early climb to Assisi is postcard-scenic and maybe just enough difficulty to let a breakaway go and then there’s a long road up the Tiber valley, the Tevere to the locals. The road rises to the hilltop town of Anghiari, not a marked climb but it’ll start to sap the riders before the road narrows and they take the Scheggia pass before descending back to the plains and use relatively small roads as they pass Indicatore – home of Tinkoff’s Daniele Bennati – on the way to Arezzo. They pass the finish and head for a 31km loop in the hills.
This is hard climb, cut out the flat start and the reported 6.5% average is more like 7% but crucially there are over 3km at 9%. It starts on a tarmac surface but that’s little comfort, it’s a rural road with a rasping surface that’s cracked like an old oil painting and it’s steep and narrow too. Then comes over 6km of strade bianche amid a stunted oak forest. There are double-digit gradients to begin with and some hairpin bends and this is going to be a very hard moment in the stage but those who can stay in contention here ill find the second half easier. The riders might be done with the climb at the GPM point but the climb isn’t done with them, there’s an awkward ridge section to cross on a rough road, perfect for a rider to jump away and profit from those who thought the mountains marker signalled the top. Then comes a tricky descent on a narrow road through the woodland back to Arezzo with little opportunity for those who have been dropped to get back on.
The Finish: if yesterday’s finish in Foligno looked familiar, a repeat of 2014’s Giro arrival then there’s an air of déjà vu again. This time the finish in Arezzo is identical to that used in the 2015 Tirreno-Adriatico where Greg Van Avermaet beat Peter Sagan and Zdeněk Štybar. The race runs into town on the usual suburban style roads with bends and roundabouts before going back 1,000 years in time at the kilometre to go banner. Here they pass under the old city gates and start climbing an irregular road paved with large flagstones and a 5% slope all the way to the line outside of the city’s cathedral.
The Contenders: the finish suits punchy, explosive riders but there’s the matter of the Alpe di Poti to tackle before. There’s also the time trial tomorrow which raises the question of how deep some riders want to go today.
Vincenzo Nibali needs the win more than most. After a good opening time trial his pride took a hit at Roccaraso and there’s a soap opera plot building about trouble in the Astana team. He’s expected to lose time in the time trial tomorrow – coach Slongo says 50-75 seconds to Dumoulin – so a win today would get his tail up. He can cope with the climb and he can sprint for the win too, especially if Astana can reduce the lead group and if pride turned the pedals he’d be going up the Alpe di Poti in the big ring, only it doesn’t and so question marks hang over him. One rider bound to be at ease on the strade bianche is Jacob Fuglsang, once a pro MTB rider. Some are wondering if the Dane committed lèse majeste by beating Nibali but Astana have two leaders, this was always the plan.
Tom Dumoulin should feature. This might be the Alpe but it’s not the Alps and the short intense effort suits him and he can put down the power for the final sprint.
Esteban Chaves was among the best the other day and now faces a longer test uphill. He should be at ease here too and trains on rough roads in Colombia. Form-wise Rafał Majka and Rigoberto Uran seen in a good place too.
Alejandro Valverde was the pick for Thursday but fell flatter than Nibali because if The Shark floundered he was alongside Valverde who’d sat on the wheels. Still if he can make over the climb with the leaders he’s got a good chance in the sprint. The same for Diego Ulissi, tipped for the top but he was a flop at Roccaraso. However the headwinds didn’t suit his style either but Valverde is probably the better climber for today if we had to split them.
When Dumoulin countered Nibali in Roccaraso Domenico Pozzovivo made the move too. He’s a rare winner but has a punchy finish today. Rusvelo’s Sergey Firsanov isn’t going to be anyone’s first pick but that’s the point, he can clip away when others are marking each other, it’s how he won the Giro dell’Apennino earlier this year.
There’s also a good chance a breakaway makes it. Look to the likes of Stefano Pirazzi, Moreno Moser, Darwin Atapuma and Igor Anton, all good climbers and punchy riders who are well down on GC.
|Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali|
|Tom Dumoulin, Esteban Chaves, Jacob Fuglsang, Diego Ulissi|
|Pozzovivo, Moser, Firsanov, Majka, Jungels, Uran, Kruijswijk|
Weather: rain showers and sunshine and a top temperature of 18°C which suggests a damp climb and descent too, probably not a mud bath but it only takes one hard shower to tilt things. Forecasting the weather for the Giro can be harder than picking the stage winner sometimes, the predictions of various sites (3b, ilmeteo et al) often coincide with each other but not the reality on the day.
TV: coverage starts on RAI at 1.45pm Euro time with the International feeds picking up soon after. They cross the finish line in Arezzo for the first time on their way to the big climb at 4.15pm and the 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.