The first summit finish of the race. It’s not the high Alps but what this stage lacks in high altitude it makes up for in vicious vertical gain on the final climb where 20% slopes await.
Do we get a showdown amongst the GC candidates or will they sit tight? Normally a grand tour prompts conservatism but this Giro is doing the opposite and on such steep slopes it’s inevitable that the “fight for pink” sees many going into the red.
- Passo Cason di Lanza 12,3km long, 8,5% average, 16% max
- Altopiano del Montasio, 10.9km 7.9% average, 20% max
The Route: 167km this stage gets better the longer it goes on, at least for viewers and mountain goats. The roads to the feedzone in Tolmezzo are largely wide and flat, big ring boulevards that tell little of what is to come except for the peaks that crowd the horizon and the large stony riverbeds that signify mountain rivers. The road then drags up to Paularo and narrows too.
But it all changes with the Passo Cason di Lanza after the TV sprint in Paularo.
As the profile shows the climb is highly irregular. It’s also very narrow, the kind where two cars cannot pass each other. As it climbs through woodland the gradient is constantly changing making it hard to dose the effort evenly. There’s even a descent in the middle to break the rhythm and this is steep and twisty in places. You can see the climbing in the video clip here.
But the filming was done months earlier meaning the snow won’t be there but also the road has been resurfaced as you can see in the gallery of images from French journalist Guillaume Prébois.
The Finish: a steady approach along the valley road until the final 11km when the road kicks up and the climbing begins. An immediate section at 14% will help thin what is left before every rider is left to themselves and the personal battle between power to weight. It’s there there’s nowhere to hide and with 20% slopes there’s almost no benefit to being on the wheel of a rival or a team mate. Riders will have special low gears to confront the slope.
The Scenario: the flat roads at the start will likely see a breakaway go. Expect the usual suspects here from Vini Fantini and Bardiani-CSF to try, along with fellow wildcards Androni and Colombia although each team will want to hold some riders back for the climbing, letting others tackle the high speed main roads of the early part of the stage.
There are three tests today: how will Wiggins descend, what will Astana do, and the obvious display of climbing ability. Wiggins has been “descending like a girl” in his own words even the first climb includes a slippery descent on the way up. The prognosis is not good for him as once you lose your confidence going downhill, recovering it takes time. Nervousness means getting more tense, sitting upright, arms rigid and grabbing the brakes in comfort so you lose time on a corner, then get more of the same on the next bend, a vicious circle; if he has a bad day watch for Sergio Henao who should like this finish. It’s also a test for the Astana team. How well supported is Vincenzo Nibali once the climbs start? We’ve seen Tanel Kangert and Fabio Aru but who else will be there?
A time trial is called the “race of truth” but you can deceive the wind with work in the windtunnel or cheat the clock by knowing the course well, to a degree at least. But arguably a very steep climb is the purest test, for all the spectacle and fear it might engender, a 20% slope is a pure test of a rider’s power to weight ratio. This arithmetic cannot be avoided and results today will give big clues for the next two weeks although don’t extrapolate too far into the high altitude stages as they are subtly different. Is Hesjedal weight loss going to pay off? Will Gesink cope?
“Watch out for Ag2r” is an uncommon warning but things have changed this year. The tandem of Domenico Pozzovivo and Carlos Bettancur is one to watch. The Colombian will want to avenge his Florentine humiliation where he crossed the line in celebration only to learn Maxim Belkov had won the stage. Pozzovivo was surprisingly good in the time trial and but the climber is better suited to this finish. He’s also a piano player so what better place than the Altopiano to win? If not the flatter run to the finish line could suit the punchy style of Cadel Evans and watch out for Michele Scarponi who seems to be floating on the pedals right now.
Weather: cloudy skies with a chance of rain and cool temperatures of no more than 16°C (60°F) for most of the stage with colder temperatures at altitude. Weather forecasts have not been reliable but if it’s been wet it could stay damp on the roads given the overhanging vegetation.
TV: live coverage begins soon after 3.00pm Euro time with the race crossing Paularo at the same time. Tune in to see the Passo Canzon di Lanza but don’t expect big fireworks although we’ll see how Wiggins copes with the descents. The final climb should start around 4.30pm with the finish as ever forecast for 5.15pm.
Local Touch: just as to most Italians Stelvio means cheese rather than a mountain pass, Montasio is also famous for its cheese. The area is also international and sits on the Austrian and Slovenian borders. There are no Austrians in the race but Robert Vrečer (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) and Grega Bole (Vacansoleil-DCM) could find extra motivation although they’re not climbers.