Giro Stage 19 Preview

The race reaches its high point the the mighty, gruelling Colle dell’Agnello and then a long descent and the summit finish to Risoul in France. After months of fears and doubt the weather looks fine so the roads are open for two days to test Stevie “Wonder” Kruijswijk.

Stage 18 review: a maxi-breakaway of 24 riders built up enough time to stay away and on the big climb of Pramartino Moreno Moser and Gianluca Brambilla got away and stayed away. Or at least they were going to but reached Pinerolo with only slender lead ahead of four chasers including Brambilla’s Etixx-Quickstep team mate Matteo Trentin. This meant Moser had to work harder and Trentin was fresher for the finish. As Brambilla and Moser prepared for the sprint Trentin surged past on the line. It’s another for Etixx-Quickstep and a solid win for Trentin who is picking off big wins in clever ways. Moreno Moser got done over, on paper he’d be the better sprinter, but if you wonder whether Brambilla was disappointed jusy look at his beaming face above. Behind the GC riders came in together and fought hard on the descent and the sprint for no gain, just the chance to test each other.

The Route: it looks like the mountain climbs from the start but it’s not so bad, the race rides up the Variata valley where the river gradually turns whiter as the slope picks up but it still takes the best part of 50km to gain 900 metres in altitude, a gentle slope but tiring still. The valley closes in after Sampeyre and then a short series of hairpins marks the point where the climbing starts, not far before the town of Casteldelfino and the “official” start to the climb.

Colle d'Agnello

The Colle dell’Agnello (“Lamb Pass”) is not as bucolic or gentle as the name invites, this is an Alpine monster, a gruelling slog. The early road drags up in long straight lines for five kilometres before a giant artificial lake and a flat section to Pontechianale. Once out of the village it continues to drag on and on, this is not something that winds up the valley, it just runs up it parallel to the small river. There are few hairpins and this isn’t anecdotal, it means it’s harder to get away, anyone taking twenty seconds can’t get out sight but remain very visible on these long straights. With just under 10km to go the first hairpins appear and this marks the start of the hard climbing and by now the race is above 2,000m.

2000, 2400, 2700 metres, these numbers can seem as meaningless as astronomical measurements or economic data but it matters, the higher the riders go the harder things get. Even small accelerations mean oxygen debt with it a stinging interest rate. So it’s less prone to big attacks but the flipside of this is that a rider struggling to hold the wheels can find themselves blown away if they stand on the pedals out of a hairpin bend.

At the top there’s still 55km to go. The descent is similar to the climb, there’s a steep for the first seven kilometres and then the slope eases, riders have to pedal. There are some short uphill sections on the way too as they reach the Quéyras region.

The Finish: 12.9km at 6.9%, a typical French ski station summit finish. It’s been new to the Tour de France but used before in the Dauphiné and Tour de l’Avenir (Nairo Quintana won the summit finish and the mountain time trial there). It’s wide and level and the changes in gradient can be seen from afar. It’s uphill all the way to the line.

The Contenders: Steven Kruijswijk says he wants to win a stage but will he risk it today? The finish suits him, a long steady climb without many traps, he can cover the moves and once the group is thinned down, strike. But he may not want to be countered, why risk anything? That’s assuming he’s there in the mix. He covered the moves in the Dolomites but he could be without team mates if Astana and Movistar get to work on the Agnello and will find it hard to cover every move especially with the long descent and flat valley sections. It’s one thing to be strong on the climbs but chasing rivals on the flat valley roads is hard. His hope is that his rivals will mark each other too, if Valverde goes then Nibali will chase and so on.

Esteban Chaves has the explosive finish to take the stage but will he go all out to take time? It’s hard to see how he does it, he’d never take three minutes on Kruijswijk on the climb to Risoul unless the Dutchman implodes and surely an attack on the Agnello would be foolhardy. So he might pounce late on the final climb for the stage win and Kruijswijk can even afford to let El Chavito take a few seconds.

Can Alejandro Valverde cope with the high altitude? He suffered in the Dolomites but was this his jours sans or a recurrent problem when the race goes beyond 2000m? If he can factor again then Movistar will get to work thinning the field.

Ilnur Zakarin seems to be climbing well again, his Chianti fiasco behind him but a stage win seems hard, he’d be more interested in distancing Nibali and Valverde if possible to get closer to the podium.

Rafał Majka won the last time he raced here when he took a stage of the 2014 Tour de France. It’s a good climb but like Nibali he seems short of form, following the wheels and at times being dropped. Today’s climbs suit him more, he’s a diesel style of climber.

Among the breakaway picks  Joe Dombrowski‘s been looking good and Cannondale need to salvage something after their GC hopes vanished and Moser’s mugging. Will he pick today with the Cima Coppi or tomorrow with the roads he knows so well from countless altitude training camps at Isola 2000? Mikel Nieve can win again and yesterday Tim Wellens came in last, was he coasting as much as possible to save himself? Georg Preidler‘s having a solid Giro but this is a big ask, the long uphill climb is not ideal.

Esteban Chaves, Steven Kruijswijk
Valverde, Majka
Dombrowski, Wellens, Nieve

Weather: sunny in the valleys with a pleasant 24°C. Cooler at altitude and if the Agnello has banks of snow at the top it’ll be melting fast.

TV: the finish is forecast for 5.15pm Euro time and the Agnello is topped at 3.4pm.

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, cyclinghub and are the go-to sites for schedules and pirata feeds.

75 thoughts on “Giro Stage 19 Preview”

  1. What? No Italian pick among today’s contenders? Especially after yesterday’s all Italian affair at the finale–even Modolo got in the act–I would definitely expect an Italian climber, or climbers, in the top three today. Molto piccante, this Giro is for the Italians.

    • C’mon Joe K, ya gotta take off those rosa colored glasses. The Giro may be in Italy but Inrng’s not. “Where Angels Fear to Tread” is my favorite illustration of the Anglo-Saxon love/hate relationship with Il Bel Paese. I still remember TV’s Heckel and Jeckel commenting on Il Giro years ago, complaining about the colors of the various leaders jerseys. Heckel claimed the Italians did this “just to confuse us.”
      UHJ – I’ll be cycling up part of the Agnello today to see the race, but I promise NO running along the road, it’ll be all I can do to get my fat a__ up there! 🙂

    • Who can win? Nibali says tests show no illness but today’s long summit finish will make it hard for him to get away; Scarponi is very strong and – because I’m in Italy I’ve seen him up close Larry 😉 – seems thinner than ever but won’t he be helping Nibali? Ciccone’s pulled out ill, Pozzovivo is holding on and today is probably too hard for Ulissi, and so it’s hard to find a climber who can do it today.

  2. Even if the roads are clear there will be snow on the podium. Mikel Nieve to repeat his 2011 stage victory, hopefully. Aupa the Basque. There must be a fair amount of chesty riders at this end of 3 weeks of riding, couldn’t imagine racing at altitude as well

  3. Great preview. So Ilnur Zakharin isn’t, um, whining about his Chianti fiasco? One serious comment: attacks on the Agnello may be foolhardy, but Andy Schleck showed the way to do it in 2011.

    • Great preview and nice writing. Love this:
      “Even small accelerations mean oxygen debt with it a stinging interest rate.”

  4. Nice summary of the mugging and Friday’s stage.

    I could see a break establishing itself on Friday with many climbers that haven’t done much yet, this seem to be an ‘easier’ stage than the Cima coppi. The downside is that the top teams may try to place someone in the break. It seems like the team race is a bit still relevant again, especially for Cannondale/AG2R/Astana/Movistar. Thus could Formolo – or Fuglsang (who gave up early), could go as well, among many others. (Atapuma again?)

    When are we going to see our first Inrng shirted ‘colleague/commentor’ running along side the peloton?

    • “When are we going to see our first Inrng shirted ‘colleague/commentor’ running along side the peloton?”
      I like to think we are a bunch of clever couch-athletes that would never do such a foolosih thing. So hopefully never. 😉

  5. Great preview, hopefully we see some GC action on use descent to put the pink jersey under pressure.
    Any one know why Igor Anton was riding on the front towards the end of yesterday’s stage? It makes no sense that he’d be helping lotto

  6. As Michael above alludes with Schleck 2011, I guess we see today whether Astana or Movistar fancy using their team advantage and have a real crack at blowing up the GC: put strong rouleur-types in the early break, work like dogs on the Agnello to thin things out and then attack an isolated Kruiswijk on the descent. Even a handful of seconds at the bottom of the climb for Valverde and/or Nibali and perhaps Chaves (are they perhaps the best 3 descenders?) allow for the breakaway teammate(s) to pace them on the flatter pieces of the descent and early parts of the final climb to get a meaningful gap on anybody left behind on the Agnello. Wishful thinking? Probably. Would love to see someone have a go though.

  7. @ Inner Ring
    At 2744 meters there is 73% oxygen compared to 100% at sea level (yes, I did look it up I am not that good). So if you were to conduct a VO2max test at the top of Colle dell’Agnello you should expect a drop of 27% which is quite significant and certainly has an impact on racing performance even at sub-maximal efforts that last an hour or more.

    P.S. Of course it is the actual percentage of oxygen in the air does not really diminish, it’s the barometric pressure that falls so each litter of air contains less oxygen molecules.

      • Seeing as 21% of the air is oxygen and there is 73% air, I’m fairly sure that makes only a 6% decrease in actual oxygen – if my maths is right. That seems slightly insubstantial especially as they’re obviously not riding at that height the whole time so there will be sustained climbing with 2 or 3% less oxygen than normal.

        • I don’t think your maths is right. Expressed as an amount, the reduction in oxygen is equivalent to 6% of the air you’d normally breathe in, yes, but it’s a 27% reduction relative to the amount of oxygen normally breathed in.

        • Your math is correct but irrelevant because only partial pressures matter. The percentage of oxygen in the air remains constant at 21% but the partial pressure of oxygen at the upper reaches of the Cima Coppi is less than fourth fifths of its sea-level value, as stated above. At this level supplemental oxygen is already recommended in aviation to avoid degradation of cognitive function, and that is for a pilot comfortably seated in their cockpit. Now add the effort of cranking out 5 ~ 6 W/kg …

    • Also I would say the drop of O2% at the summit is less relevant than, say at 2000m and 2500m since they’ll be at the summit for only a brief moment of time but they’ll be climbing up the slightly lower slopes for much longer. In a way it’s just pedantic nitpicking, but for the warriors pedalling their iron horses up the Agnello this matters of course.

      • What factors influence how it effects people?
        is it essentially ‘random’ like altitude sickness or are there any clues as to typical riders who will affected?
        I guess ‘altitude natives’ such as Chaves should be less affected?

        • I’ve not seen any proof on this “altitude native” aspect. You can get conditioned to altitude by living there but being born there doesn’t invoke some permanent Lamarckian conversion to the altitude. Instead a local from high altitude who moves to sea level seems likely to see their blood values return to ordinary sea level values after a while. So it’s being at altitude that conditions the blood, more red cells, and the blood chemistry, but this wears off. The science seems to say that, everything else being equal, a Dutchman and a Colombian are equal, the Dutchman just needs to got to, say, Tenerife for a month. Be interesting to see if this Sky/Henao paper ever appears.

          • Racing at altitude is not only about the physical aspect – its also about the mind. You’d need to accept that your threshold is lowered and understand your bodys signals at alitude and avoid stressing.

    • Presumably this is the kind of environment where having a high haematocrit really helps?! Do we know these things anymore, does anyone have a certificate saying their’s is naturally high or are those kind of things not really bragged about anymore? If any 6ft+ domestiques take off a la Riise in 96 on the Hautacam (I think) then we know to be a little suspicious!

    • I’m not sure the reduction in partial pressure of oxygen would exactly correlate to performance decrease – the paper everyone was using to guess hour record distances at altitude (Bassett et. al. 1999) predicts 50W lost for a 400W rider, and 30W lost for a 400W “acclimatised” rider.

  8. Didn’t see the finish live yesterday, and on the video recap I’ve seen Trentin seems miles away, then there’s a cut and suddenly he’s on their wheels and immediately launching his sprint. From what I hear, Moser was as surprised as me, claiming not to be aware that Trentin was so close. And of course, he had lost/removed his radio earplug…

    Makes me wonder why the riders bother lugging those clunky radios around (when you see the outline of them through their jerseys, they seem big, don’t they?) when they can’t be relied on at critical points of the race. Heard the same excuse/explanation from both Visconti and Valverde after stage 13, when Visconti couldn’t be ordered to sit up and let Valverde sprint for bonus seconds and Valverde himself supposedly didn’t hear that there were still bonus seconds on offer.

    Seems the remote controlled robo-riders are only as controlled as they feel like being…

    • Sometimes the radio comes out because riders need to hear what’s happening instead of the “vai vai vai / go go go” so that they can hear a rider behind shift gears as they sprint and so on. One clever tactic used by a few in a two-up sprint is to reach, say, 350m to go, in second place and then dump the gears with a loud clang, the rider ahead hears this and thinks their rival is launching his sprint and so launches their sprint, leaving the cleverer rider to sit tight in their slipstream until passing at the right moment. In short sound helps but some exploit it too.

    • Brambilla said that he both saw Trentin coming and that Bramati alerted him over the radio, that’s why he didn’t pull anymore within the last km. Seems like a big mistake on the part of Moser/Cannondale. Allthough what could’ve been done in that late stage to salvage the win?

      • After Etixx-Quickstep’s epic loss to Ian Stannard in the Omloop Het Nieuwsbald last year when they were 3 on 1, its good to see them make their numerical superiority count. I don’t think Moser had a chance with Trentin going on the opposite side of the road and Brambilla sitting on his wheel. Hats off to Brambilla for not getting greedy and trying for the stage win himself which would have given Moser a chance.

      • Also Moser actually never checked back after passing 1 km. He kept looking forward, never once glancing back at Brambilla; a strange way of doing a sprint, to not check your opponent. Had he looked back he surely would have seen Trentin approaching.
        All he ever saw was a blue streak and he was owned!

    • I was playing with some race radio units at the Giro last week, and was surprised that in addition to being bulky, they are also quite heavy… at least a couple hundred of grams or so (mainly battery weight, apparently). This seems odd for a sport obsessed with reducing weight however and wherever possible, but I guess the weight penalty is considered acceptable to be able to communicate with each rider on a real-time basis.

    • Moser was told by Brambilla that he wouldn’t pull b/c of Trentin coming from behind so he wasn’t completely in the dark.

      I had to wonder that no roadside spectators didn’t yell out ‘look out’ or ‘he’s coming’. Maybe they did and Moser was blocking too much oy?

  9. I wonder if Lopez will go instead of Nieve today and he’ll try tomorrow instead? Nieve came in with the last group like Lopez yesterday..

    What about the Gazprom Firsanov and Foliforov? Havn’t seen anything from them since the TT..

    • +1.
      He’s had a super Giro, so far (relinquished the Maglia Rosa without a sulk seemingly), and that ride yesterday was the epitome of team playing. None of the Omloop nonsense from a couple of years ago, that was mentioned above.
      Really good to see, and text book stuff.

    • @ Somers
      The great Eddy Mercx agrees with you, yesterday he gave his prediction* for the podium: 1. Kruijswijk , 2. Chavez, 3. Nibali

      *He was a guest in Processo alla Tappa (RAI sport 1)

    • You have to laugh at the amount of jip Betancur gets about his weight. I bet he weighs 10 stone absolute tops, probably less. About half a stone less than the lightest of us and a good bit less than even most climbers. He’s never looked overweight to me. He may have been out of shape and under trained for the last couple of years, but he’s certainly not heavy.

  10. sounds like it’s fast a furious for the first hour, and I guess about to break up as the road tips up. Such a shame that we can’t see this happening live!

  11. These riders have no honour – if the pink jersey goes down in a crash, you have to wait for him, end of story. Even if the race is on, you have no choice. You wait for him, and then if he keeps having trouble, then you go for it. But, right now, if Chaves takes him, there’s an asterisk on the 2016 Giro…

    • I’ve shut this stage off – I can’t believe none of the riders waited for the pink jersey. If the leader goes down, all GC contenders have to wait for him and then hash it out on the next climb. Ok, I’m done, I hope Kruisjiwijk comes back on the final climb and takes no prisoners.

    • When Nibbles won the 2014 Tour with his amazing ride on the paris-roubaix stage, I had tonnes of respect for him, but I completely lost it today. No question, he should’ve waited for the pink jersey, and then when he got back then crushed him if he really is this much stronger than everyone else.

      Wait for his narcissistic justification for attacking after the crash. Good thing he has Michele on his side… Ferrari, not Scarponi. He’s great at recovering from an abysmal first half of the Giro.

      • sorry CA I disagree.
        He crashed of his own volition, the race was already broken up, Chaves and Nibs wanted to stay away from Valverde and Zak (at that point) also. They had no idea if he was out of the race or straight back on his bike or whatever. Desperately sad for Cruiseship, but that’s the way it is.
        Perhaps if the lead group is all together and the jersey gets a puncture or something it’s bad form to attack, but this was already full-on, and you can’t just all sit up all of a sudden because the jersey made an error.

      • Couldn’t agree more, Nibali and Chaves have showed no honour or sportsmanship and capitalised on Kruijswijk’s misfortune. Similar to Contador in 2010 tour, attacking Schleck after he had a mechanical.

      • I disagree as well. A mechanical yes, but a crash due to someone not being as good at descending, no.

        If someone takes more risks and doesn’t crash they get an advantage, if you they do crash that’s the gamble you take. Were they to wait for Valverde to catch them whilst they waited to see if Kriujiswijk was going to get back on.

        If there is a crash in the bunch and a GC leader gets held up then waiting is easy to justify, but forcing an advantage on a downhill in full race, they did what any other rider in that race would have done

        • Mechanical my ass… – The ablity to be able to shift gears without dropping the chain, braking BEFORE a corner, decending, climbing, navigating in a buch are all parts of the skills required to race a bike.

    • These cyclists race their bikes downhill, too, you know? I haven’t seen the stage video yet, but from what I read, it seems like Kruisjiwijk was following Nibali and Chaves, overcooked a turn and crashed. Part of the reason why Nibali goes downhill like he does is to try to force other cyclists into making mistakes like this. If indeed Kruisjiwijk made a mistake, why should they wait for him? It’s not as if his bike was sabotaged or if an spectator made him crash.

      • One of the unwritten rule of cycling is not to attack the race leader when he has a mechanical. Kruisjswijk got straight back up after the crash, it was the fact his bike was smashed up that he couldn’t chase back on straight away.

        • It doesn’t count as a mechanical when you plow it into the floor/a wall. Sounds like they were already attacking and that IMO is fair game.

        • This was not a mechanical. A mechanical is when your equipment fails unexpectedly and due to circumstances outside your control. Kruisjiwijk crashed and severely damaged his bike. That’s his fault and there is no reason for his rivals to wait for him because he made a mistake.

  12. I still can’t figure why Lotto- Jumbo didn’t have at least one guy in the break. Who is the DS? he should be fired. They still have a full squad. Did they really think those guys were going to make it up first climb with the group? If he had one guy to help on the descent and across the valley he may have saved pink. He was descending so slowly after the crash he needed someone to lead him down. Did you see have fast Clarke went by him. He could have probably caught the Valverde group which definitely would have kept him in pink.

  13. sucks to suck for Kruisjiwijk . bike races go downhill as well as up. these ain’t w/kg contests and if you can’t handle technical riding, you don’t deserve a GT win.

  14. Bike racing at its best and most exciting, with the exception of the two unfortunate accidents on the final descent.

    Tomorrow should be a case of the best rider coming out on top of the GC.

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