D-Day as in Dumoulin’s day in the high mountains and a huge stage awaits with three hard climbs spread over a gruelling 222km, or six and half hours.
The Route: 10km downhill and then the race tracks the Val Camonica north to Monno at 72km where the Mortirolo begins.
The Mortirolo enjoys a terrifying reputation but this is the easy eastern side, not the infamous ascent with consistent 12-13% gradients exploited by the likes of Marco Pantani and Alberto Contador. As such it’s a wider road and more gentle but it’s all relative, there’s plenty of 8% and it tightens up more after the village of San Giacomo. Points are doubled on the Mortirolo climb in commemoration of Michele Scarponi, a first category climb normally means 35-18-12-9-6-4-2-1 so it’s 70-36-24-18-12-8-4-2 for the first eight riders. This is more than arithmetic, it’s huge carrot for the early breakaway because the first rider over the top will collect molto points. The descent is steep at the top and steep at the bottom but again it’s not the infamous road either as they take the main road down to Grosio via a series of hairpins instead. Then it’s 25km up the main valley road to Bormio.
The Stelvio is a giant of a pass, Europe’s second highest paved pass in fact and with a relentless feel. The start at Bormio sits at 1209m above sea level and there’s 1.5km of vertical gain coming up. This side is 21km long and averages 7% but is often steeper. It’s a big wide road with an engineered feel, whether wide hairpins or the series of illuminated tunnels all leading to altitude above 2,000m where oxygen debt comes with a usury interest rate and the profile curiously omits the 12% ramps near the top where the snow banks await. Then comes the descent to Prato with 48 hairpins including the Trafoi section. The race loops into Switzerland and takes the uphill valley road to Glorenza.
The Umbrail Pass is the sister of the Stelvio, it joins the road Stelvio road just below the top of the pass. To get there it’s 13km at a hard 8.4%. If you’ve ridden up in the past you might have done the gravel section… but it’s got asphalt since the summer of 2015. This is a long grinding climb and they’ll start with 190km in the legs already.
The Finish: they descend the Stelvio via the road they climbed earlier, a skilful rider can exploit the road in places but there are lots of long straight sections where a group can see a rider ahead and where the tuck is more important than cornering and braking, it’s not the obvious place for a daredevil descender but in 1980 Bernard Hinault and Jean-René Bernaudeau exploited the then unlit tunnels to ride away for the stage win and eventually Hinault’s overall win. They reach Bormio with 2km to go and the final kilometre flattens out as it snakes around town, several tight turns end with a crucial left-hander with 100m to go on a slight rise.
The Contenders: the breakaway can go but surely Movistar are going to set a tough pace today so that Nairo Quintana can launch on the Umbrailpass. As we saw on the Blockhaus Quintana can soar and he might find the added altitude even more to his advantage. Yet he’s not coming across as so assured, as if El Condor’s wings have been clipped a little.
Mikel Landa has the freedom to attack. He was hanging with the best on the climb to Oropa but sits 44 minutes down on GC so he can attack without worrying the GC favourites, although the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Thibaut Pinot both sorely want a stage win.
Adam Yates is a similar story, he’s unlikely to find Tom Dumoulin hunting him down in person because he’s 11th overall and seven minutes down but could find others watch him. He paid the price for trying to match Dumoulin on the climb to Oropa but should find his lighter build more advantageous today.
A descent to the finish? Once upon a time Vincenzo Nibali would be the top pick and he’s still got a good chance but hasn’t got much freedom to move and hasn’t been climbing so well so he may not be in position to launch that late attack and nor does the descent suit, it’s fast but not the most technical toboggan run so this isn’t the shoe-in stage for him even if he’s still an obvious pick.
Thibaut Pinot wants a stage win and this could be a good stage for him, he sprints well and as we saw in the Tour of the Alps, knows how to fight for position to come out of the final corner well. But how did his rest day go, he’s still more an artist than a machine and riskier for it.
What about Tom Dumoulin? Finishing within a minute of the names above would be good for him but the Umbrailpass is his finish line, make it there with his rivals and he can surely match them on the descent to Bormio… and if he can repeat his vertical speed from Oropa again then he could seal the deal here.
As mentioned earlier the chances of the breakaway sticking seem slim, some will aim for the double points on the Mortirolo and Stelvio and see this as the goal rather than the finish line but L-L Sanchez is riding strong, Pierre Rolland finds terrain more suited to his energetic attacks and Omar Fraile was so strong last week he could have a go again but the high mountains may be too much for the Basque.
|Nairo Quintana, Adam Yates, Thibaut Pinot|
|Landa, Nibali, L-L Sanchez, Rolland, Dumoulin, Fraile|
Weather: never mind all the scare stories – a little hype sometimes goes a long way – it’s a great day to ride in the mountains as it’ll be sunny with a few clouds and a temperature of 24°C in the valleys, 4-6°C at the top of the Stelvio and Umbrail passes.
TV: the stage starts at 10.40am and live images should begin at 12.20pm CET. The finish is forecast for 5.15pm CET. There’s live coverage on home broadcaster RAI in Italy and Eurosport for much of Europe and beyond. Otherwise cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv are the go-to sites for schedules and pirata feeds.