“Royal hunting”, that’s what today’s start town of Venaria Reale is a called and fitting for the Queen Stage of the Giro, especially given the hunt is on to see if Simon Yates can be cracked again. Today’s stage just a lot better thanks to yesterday and this morning’s Gazzetta announces “È apertissimo“, it’s wide open.
Stage 18 review: finally the breakaway made it only it was full of non-climbers as they reached the foot of the Alps and the climb to Pratonevoso. Ruben Plaza had a few goes to show us the Israel Academy team hadn’t vanished from the race and soon it was down to a duo of Max Schachmann and Matteo Cattaneo but with Ruben Plaza and Pfingsten dangling behind, often just out of the lead duo’s slipstream but not out of contention for much of the climb with Plaza making it a trio in the final kilometre before Schachmann jumped away for the win. While the trio were watching each other it was never a tactical finish, the German was simply the best.
Behind Carapaz and Lopez traded blows for the white jersey, Lopez looked to be struggling early on the climb but was this a bluff? Carapaz attacked and got easily countered by Lopez who ended up taking 35 seconds. After a few flurries from the others Tom Dumoulin put in a big attack and then Chris Froome countered and Domenico Pozzovivo sprung in return which forced Dumoulin to respond. Simon Yates didn’t follow. He couldn’t. The maglia rosa ended up losing 28 seconds and seeing his lead on GC halved. An energy gel short or the start of fatigue or a health problem? The answer will come out today.
The Route: 184km beginning on the outskirts of Torino, or Turin in English. A brief trip across the plains and then it’s into the Alpine foothills. The Colle del Lys has 5km at 7% three quarters of the way along before easing towards the top. The descent is hard work, it twists and turns a lot on a narrow road and is often steep. Then follows 30km up the Val di Susa.
The Colle delle Finestre (“Windows Pass”) is a giant of a climb. It’s largely a level ascent but as the profile shows has a steep moment or two early on as it leaves the valley floor via the village of Meana and a short tunnel. Having ridden the climb memories include parked cars in Meana with blocks of wood under the wheels to hold them on the slope. Then it gets linear, this climb is as regular as a Swiss train with the most even of gradients. It was built this way, military grade in both senses of the term so horses could pull cannons up the climb to the Finestre fort. Today it means a steady climb. The final 9.5km are on gravel and if in recent days the authorities have used il grader to ensure a smooth surface it’s still subject to the weather. The descent is back on tarmac and fast.
The road to Sestriere is a gradual climb, lots of 4,5,6% sections but hard going for anyone feeling the effort so far and still climbing beyond 2,000m. A long and gentle descent awaits to Oulx and a reciprocal ride up the valley floor to Bardonnechia on the French border and then the lower slopes of the Jafferau await.
The Finish: new for TV viewers but not the Giro, the climb of the Jafferau was used in 2013 but low cloud meant no TV pictures. It bites from the start, it’s 7.2km at 9% on standard roads to cluster of ski lifts above Bardonnechia. It’s 9% average but hits 14% and consistently reaches 10%. There’s no respite all the way to the finish, indeed in a recon ride ahead of the last Giro visit it was unpaved in parts and slopes all the way to the finish line.
- Queen stage? a term applied to the biggest and most important stage of a race. It’s from the French, étape reine which is literally “queen stage”. The noun étape is feminine so has the matching feminine adjective or adjectival ending, reine meaning queen rather than roi or king. Normally in English it would be “King Stage” but the more literal translation seems to have been copied across. There’s no obvious royal connection, just something to suggest importance, size and perhaps the power to shape the GC or even crown the winner.
The Contenders: the breakaway has another good chance of sticking and the climbers will need to hitch a ride. Again Jan Polanc and Darwin Atapuma (UAE-Emirates), Joe Dombrowski and Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) or Robert Gesink (Lotto-Jumbo) and let’s add Alex Geniez (Ag2r La Mondiale), the Colossus of Rodez, and Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), the Rock, as they’re not GC threats but are powerful climbers. Also Guilio Ciccone (Bardiani-CSF) has been wearing the mountains jersey but it belongs to Yates and if he can crest the Finestre while Yates hangs back he can take the jersey for real and he has a chance at the finish too.
Among the GC contenders this ought to be a climb for Simon Yates but after yesterday the doubts are creeping in. Are we going to see a Paris-Nice repeat where he loses his grip on the race right at the end or was Pratonevoso his jours sans? Miguel Angel Lopez was good on the climb yesterday and seems to be coming around in the third week, much like he did in the Vuelta last year. Otherwise Domenico Pozzovivo and Chris Froome look like picks for today, for both the stage win would be nice but their main aim will be to test Yates with Dumoulin close too. If they can crack Yates early so be it but given the seconds involved they need only leave it ’til late, especially the defending Dutchman. Indeed as much as the Finestre is the highest point of the race with the Cima Coppi prize it’s mid-stage and with some big long roads to the Bardonnechia and the final climb so the action should happen late.
|M-A Lopez, Giulio Ciccone|
|Chris Froome, Domenico Pozzovivo|
|Yates, Geniez, Atapuma, Woods, Formolo|
Weather: 24°C at most but with the chance of rain showers along the way and much cooler at altitude
TV: Host broadcaster RAI offers the best coverage, Eurosport has the rights for many countries across Europe and Australia and it’s streamed via Fubo in the US and Dazn in Japan. They start the Finestre at 2.15pm CEST finish is forecast for 5.15pm.