It’s Ascension Day and not just the ecumenical celebration, here’s a short stage packed with climbing, descending and next to no valley roads. A fearsome stage? Possibly but for all the 4,000m of climbing packed into such a short space these climbs are all on well-engineered roads, a test of power rather than wild ambush country. It’s on TV from start to finish.
Stage 17 Wrap: a big day for a big breakaway but initially only three riders went clear including Pierre Rolland and they seemed to be dangling in front for a while with 200km to do. It wasn’t until later than a maxi-breakaway bridged across including Jan Polanc who was almost virtual race leader as the group built up a substantial lead. It split too and at one point Rolland was caught behind with others but got back to the front again. In the finale there was a flurry of attacks from the group, Rolland surged clear with just under eight kilometres to go, his legs bench-pressing the pedals to force himself away. It was a triumph of perseverance, Rolland had tried so many times in the race but came up with nothing and he was helped by team mate Michael Woods marking the moves behind. For all the talk of Rolland 2.0 leaving behind the 1970s on his signing with Cannondale this was vintage win, barging clear in the finish after a long break. Also Tom Dumoulin rode well with no sign of illness.
The Route: 137km around the Dolomotes. After the start they ride for 14km up the valley to the intermediate sprint and that’s it for flat roads for the day. They turn for the Passo Pordoi, 11.9km at 6.7% and a steady climb with plenty of hairpin bends amid the ski lifts and with views of the towering Dolomite peaks. A matching descent awaits and then several kilometres of what looks like a valley road to the next pass but actually an awkward section with some slogging gradients.
The Passo Valparola is next, or rather the Falzarego is, a pass climbed on the way to the Valparola and a gem amid the Dolomites as it winds uphill with scenic hairpins and even the engineered parts of the climb have a certain elegance with archways supporting the road and a gentle hairpin bend through a tunnel. The top section to the Valparolo is a long straight ramp with steep gradients.
The Passo Gardena is next and a gentle climb, wide enough for two buses to pass in opposite directions for most of the way and with yet more hairpins. The descent is fast and has fewer hairpins, instead the bends are wider and there’s almost 50km downhill here with a short break as they reach Ortisei – but don’t cross the finish line – and head out for a 33km look.
The Passo Pinei is a steady climb. 15%? Yes says the profile but only if you take the inside line on a hairpin bend but otherwise a regular climb and just 4.25km, a interval during the long descent from the Gardena. It’s followed by a very fast descent down to the Isarco valley and then they climb straight back up. Here it’s 9.3km at 6.8% but gets steeper towards the top, all on a big road but more irregular in gradient along the way. From the top of the climb in Pontives it’s just four kilometres to the finish and gently uphill…
The Finish: uphill into town with a slight gradient. The profile says 13% in the final kilometre but it’s not as steep before a right turn and then a downhill run to the line on a street lined with urban cobbles and with a flatter paved section in the middle of the road.
The Contenders: break or big? An early move can stay away because the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana are unlikely to plan long range attacks, they’ll surely prefer to try the final descent and final ascent respectively? If so Mikel Landa is an obvious pick for the breakaway, he can collect more points for his maglia blu.
Tom Dumoulin has plenty to fear on a stage like today, the climbing and the altitude plus his team could be on the rack again but if he can match the others then he’s in with a good chance at the finish, he can match the moves on the final climb and then power away on the false flat to the finish or boss the sprint.
Nairo Quintana can try the final climb as a launchpad, especially if Movistar rip things up during the stage but jumping clear and then using the false flat to the finish to stay away isn’t his kind of terrain. Vincenzo Nibali may try a move on the descent but on the Umbrailpass two days ago he looked frisky and fresh, he might prefer to wait for the final climb. Thibaut Pinot has been fading but in case fortunes change he’s an outside pick for the sprint, he’s been climbing as fast as Bob Jungels who showed consistency and power on the Stelvio and Umbrail and could take the sprint from a group of the big riders.
|Mikel Landa, Tom Dumoulin, Nairo Quintana|
|Jungels, Nibali, Pinot, Yates, Zakarin|
Weather: sunshine and a few clouds with a top temperature of 21°C.
TV: the stage starts at 1.00pm CET and 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.