A time trial to reshape the overall classification. Tom Dumoulin can ride in the race lead and we’ll see how Nairo Quintana can limit the damage.
The Route: 39.8km. This might not sound like much but it’s the longest time trial in all the grand tours this year (hat tip the Hors Delai podcast). It’s on flat, regular roads through the first time check and on to 12.7km where it heads uphill. The road rises at a steady 4-5% for much of the way, in places it levels off and then picks up again at the same gentle gradient.
Think vineyards and you might think wine but for the cyclist vines mean exposed terrain. If the course is billed as the wine time trial there are vines but it’s more a tour of Italian agriculture with a course lined with fruit trees, olive groves and cereal fields. The course twists and turns without too many traps, a test for how long riders can stay tucked low for the whole course. Note the second time check at Bastardo, named after an old coaching inn apparently and apparently a draw for tourists today and maybe what some riders say as they suffer on their way through?
The final part turns into the wind, six kilometres into a headwind. It rises up to the line in Montefalco, a walled town and there are some tight corners to the finish line. Overall this is a fast course, it’s not flat but over gently rolling hills.
The Contenders: Tom Dumoulin the obvious pick. He was an easy winner of the Ardèche time trial stage of the Tour de France last summer but this was when he was in full time trial mode with an eye on the Rio Olympics. Only as sharp as this focus was he still picked up a mountain stage along the way: the lesson is that he was climbing and time trialling well. So his ride up Blockhaus needn’t mean he’s lost much against the clock, especially as today’s course suits him and the maglia rosa awaits.
Who is Team Sky’s best rider? Geraint Thomas normally but Vasil Kiryienka has been world champion and won the 2015 Valdobianne time trial stage of the Giro. This course could be too short for the Belarussian so Thomas could be the revenge pick if he’s over his injuries and any stiffness.
Bob Jungels enjoyed a good spell in the race lead but found the Blockhaus’s irregular slopes too much which seems to confirm that as promising as he may be he’s a rouleur. Now he’s back on much better terrain and if he’s yet to win a time trial at this level he’s come close and the course is just right for someone of his power.
Thibaut Pinot says he wants to win the stage. He’s won time trials before, he’s even won and beaten Tom Dumoulin. But that was on a sharper course and if Pinot is in great form now, today’s course is much more test of brute force. The stage win seems improbable but he’ll look to make substantial gains on Quintana and Nibali.
Andrey Amador is a powerful rider and if he’s got to work for Nairo Quintana, look to him to set a good reference time and possibly finish among the highest places.
Tanel Kangert isn’t a big name but the Astana rider is excellent against the clock and in good form as his top-10 on the Blockhaus shows. Another outsider is Victor Campenaerts of Lotto-Jumbo. The Dutch team may have had a knock with Steven Kruijswijk’s performance on the Blockhaus road but Campenaerts is an emerging time trial talent with a win in the Ruta Del Sol to his name. Finally Tejay van Garderen needs a result more than ever otherwise he’s going to be presented on a wet February morning as Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s new signing. BMC may well already be shopping for a new leader but the American can still deliver, a stage win seems unlikely but he could feature.
|Geraint Thomas, Andrey Amador, Vasil Kiryienka|
|Jungels, Kangert, Campenaerts, Pinot|
Weather: warm and sunny with 25°C. The wind will below from the north-east at 15-20km/h meaning it becomes a tactical factor, a headwind early on, then a tailwind and then a crosswind.
TV: 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.