The Route: if Italy resembles a boot, today’s stage starts in the arch of the foot and then starts to ride up the shin. The route hugs the coastline for most of the stage. With 120km the race makes the first of several inland incursions and each time it climbs up. The first climb up to Bonifati is 6km at 6% and on a regular road, although packed with hairpins. The second climb to San Pietro is 5.3km at 6.8% and a rougher, tougher climb. There are 50km to go and the race returns to the coast.
You might think that’s the end of the climbs but just because they are not marked doesn’t mean the climbing is over. From here it’s a tale of two roads, the old coastal road and the new SS18 express road that runs across the hills, perched on giant viaducts and cutting through tunnels and the race will switch between both. The road rises out of Scalea, it’s on a regular sweeping road and the ensuing descent is on a twisting road makes moving up the bunch that bit harder.
The race then heads to the strategic point of the day, the climb of Fortino. The race flicks off the main road to take a small, irregular and steep road. It’s 1.6km at 8% but not even. Crucially it starts steep and finishes steep with a flatter section miday. This means any heavier riders will pay an immediate price at the start and if they’re still within touching later on then the final ramps could prove ruinous. It then joins the big SS18 road and takes the big viaduct but this section is still slightly uphill making it hard for any sprinters dropped to get back on. There’s then a tunnel and 8km to go, a race for the sprinters to get back into position.
The Finish: a gently sloping descent, some bends through the town and it’s difficult to get a chase going, if the bunch up ahead is doing 65km/h into town a chase group will struggle to reach 70km/h. Once back down by the seaside there’s a 2.5km long finishing straight.
The Contenders: Can Marcel Kittel cope with this climb? He is in great shape, the two stage wins already show us how well he is sprinting but his win in Romandie two weeks ago showed us he was climbing well. But while he hung on in Switzerland the climb there was a fast one where being on a good wheel mattered. Today’s final climb is steep, probably too steep and the kind of effort where it’s everyone for themselves, a private fight with gravity. So this climb is surely too much for him. But… if he gets dropped what if he was paced back by his team on the descent? He’s got the helpers on hand so this is why he can still have a chance. Perhaps the question is which teams will try to rip up the race in order to drop Kittel and the other more traditional sprinters? If not then Paris-Tours winner Matteo Trentin is a good back-up plan but will EQS play two cards or use Trentin to help Kittel?
Bardiani-CSF have Sonny Colbrelli for the sprint, he made the podium in the Amstel Gold Race. But do the green team they have the firepower in the team to take command of the race? Probably not but Colbrelli is an outside pick for the sprint if he can hang on while others have been dropped.
André Greipel is always better on short hills than he looks but so far his form hasn’t been impressive although he was a steady fourth on Sunday. Jurgen Roelandts could get his chance too.
If this preview is reviving a few names from the spring classics then what about IAM’s Heinrich Haussler? A small chance but today is just the kind of day to suit. Similarly Nippo-Vini Fantini have two good options today in Damiano Cunego and Grega Bole, neither can win in the high mountains but they pack a fast finish when the others are dropped.
Once upon a time Lotto-Jumbo’s Enrico Battaglin (pictured) would have been a good pick today, a fast finisher who can climb well. But he’s vanished from the results of late. Still worth watching. Talking of past glories Filippo Pozzatto‘s career isn’t over. He’s been lurking and could pop up here.
Cannondale’s Moreno Moser is showing signs of life again and within touching distance of the maglia rosa too but how can he win, he’s unlikely to win a sprint from 50 riders. The team might be all in for Uran’s GC bid but a spell in pink for Moser has to be a goal for a team that’s stuggling to get noticed. Ramūnas Navardauskas is another option for the sprint but perhaps he’ll work for Moser? Simon Clarke is quick too but would probably be better suited if the finish line was on a slope.
Movistar are another strong team and could try to seize the race. It’s almost too early for Alejandro Valverde to take the pink jersey but a stage win would do nicely. Andrey Amador is looking very impressive already while Giovanni Visconti could try to clip away over the top of the climb too.
Finally a few random picks. Tinkoff’s Manuele Boaro could try a late move with 1km to go, Katusha’s Alexander Porsev is sprinting well and can manage a climb and Dimension Data’s Kristian Sbaragli often contests bunch sprints but is good on hilly courses too. Finally if we’re thinking about sharp climbs and then a fast descent into a seaside finish then what about Arnaud Démare?
|Grega Bole, Sonny Colbrelli, Matteo Trentin, Alejandro Valverde
|Démare, Kittel, Greipel, Amador, Sbaragli, Pozzato, Trentin
Weather: warm and sunny with a top temperature of 25°C and still conditions.
TV: the finish is forecast for 5.15pm Euro time, tune in for the final half hour to watch the jostling for position ahead of and on the final climbs.
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.