A long procession and then a superb finish to the stage with the Pramartino climb and, it’s not visible in the profile above, a savage steep cobbled climb just before the finish.
Stage 17 Wrap: Roger Kluge won the stage. It’s a welcome addition to the CV for a rider on a team that’s stopping but Kluge is just one of many valuable riders on the team who can join a team and make an instant contribution. Also if the hypothesis that a team ending motivated its riders then we’d have seen Europcar riders delivering plenty last year but they slumped and previous demises have seen weak results too, think Vacansoleil. No, Kluge just timed his move right, used his prodigious power – an Olympic medallist on the track – and benefited from the paucity of teams able to pull for the sprinters in the finish.
Behind Giacomo Nizzolo could only finish second once again even with all the sprinters gone he couldn’t get that win. His disappointment visible on TV but only momentary before RAI switched to Vincenzo Nibali’s situation with the same “crisis” tone usually reserved for natural disasters.
The Route: the longest stage of the race and placed in the third week too. After a start in the suburbs of Milan the first 170km are reminiscent of the early phase of Milan-Sanremo as the race crosses the pianura padana, the plains with their rice fields to make all that risotto and by the second intermediate sprint point the race has passed Turin and reached the Alpine foothills.
First comes the Colletta di Cumiana, 2km at 7% and on a smaller road and followed by a longer descent down into the next valley and then a ride into Pinerolo to cross the finish line.
Just after the finish line the route flicks right and tackles the Via Principi d’Acaja – pictured- 550m long but cobbled and steep with a 20% section. Once this is done it’s onto the climb to the Via Pramartino.
If the name rings a bell it’s because it featured in the 2011 Tour de France, Edvald Boasson Hagen won the stage but they did this the other way around, up today’s descent and vice versa. This is a sharp and difficult climb through woodland, 4.6km at 10% average means it’s as selective as a switch. It’s followed by a winding descent, then 9km to the finish. This is an awkward point because anyone away over the climb has to push on and conserve their lead because of the sharp climb that is about to come.
The Finish: they tackle the Via Principi d’Acaja wall again and at the top there’s just 2km to go. The descent is much more regular and better surfaced, tarmac with a few flagstones.
The Contenders: a breakaway bonanza or a GC gunfight? If it was shorter it’d be the latter story but the length could dampen things down. If breakaway wants to stick then a Milan-Sanremo style scenario comes to mind where it needs to build up a big lead on the plains in order to stave off the big names and their teams who rush to place their leaders into position. None of the GC contenders can afford to be badly placed in the finale and remember the Forcella Mostaccin, a much smaller climb, was enough to provoke a fierce selection last week.
This is another of those Diego Ulissi and Alejandro Valverde stages, both have the race craft, the explosive climbing ability and a good finishing kick and each has their arguments. Valverde reassures with his ability and form while Ulissi’s lesser status is an advantage as he can creep away while the podium contenders mark each other. Bob Jungels is another candidate, strong in a sprint or he could just barge away.
Giovanni Visconti‘s got a broken rib but doesn’t seem to care and should like a stage like this, Tim Wellens is strong and Nicolas Roche was tipped the other day, missed the move, but came in first of the rest.
Vincenzo Nibali looks downbeat at the moment, like a dog that’s been berated again and again. But if he can get his head together this could be a day for him. He was outclimbed the other day but this included efforts made after dropping his chain and crucially today he can put his descending skills to work.
Among the other breakaway riders this is the last chance for the non-climbers to have a go but it’s not easy, any move going away on the plains is bound to include some lighter riders hitching a ride. Still Adam Hansen or Alessandro De Marchi are the types of riders to pick their moments.
|Alejandro Valverde, Diego Ulissi
|Nibali, Roche, Jungels, Wellens, Firsanov, Visconti
Weather: a pleasant day with a top temperature of 23°C.
TV: the finish is forecast for 5.15pm Euro time.
Eurosport is covering the race across most of Europe. beIN SPORT has the rights in the US and France while Italian host broadcaster RAI offers the best coverage with experienced commentators as well as roving reporters on motorbikes to add extra coverage. As ever cyclingfans.com, cyclinghub and steephill.tv are the go-to sites for schedules and pirata feeds.