After several stages where the daily winner was the story now it’s time to return to the high mountains and shake-up the overall classification with the fearsome “Blockhaus” climb. This is a short stage, all the better to encourage action on the climb.
Stage 8 Wrap: the best stage of the race so far with a scenario that kept changing. A big breakaway went clear but only after an hour of 50km/h attack-chase-attack. Gazprom and Willier-Selle Italia missed it and had took up the punishment chase. For once it worked or at least they narrowed the gap and it allowed the race to change shape on the slopes of the Monte Sant’Angello with several riders leapfrogging across the breakaway on the climb including Giovanni Visconti, Gorka Izagirre and Valerio Conti who rode away with original breakaway member Luis Léon Sánchez to form the winning breakaway. Conti looked the strongest but in a sport where “racing is licking your opponent’s plate clean before starting on your own” to cite Kuiper the Italian didn’t get his table manners right. He’d fall on the first hairpin bend into Peschici. The crash disturbed the quartet leaving Izagirre to dance uphill for the stage win. All that took you a few seconds to read but the stage provided four hours of action and there will be some sore legs today.
The Route: just 149km which helps to make the finish more energetic and explosive. There’s 85km along the coast with its beaches and ice cream, no such luck for the riders. They turn inland at Pescara for the intermediate sprint in Chieti which sits at the top of a two kilometre climb at 10%. They drop back to the plain and head inland. As you can see from the profile above the road rises well before the official start of the climb in Roccamorice but the approach is soft, 8km from Scafa at around 5% which certainly adds to the fatigue but won’t be decisive.
The Finish: the hardest climb of the Giro? Several riders have said this and it’s not hype. Certainly we can debate what makes this hard and whether others are as tough, up to you to rank altitude, the chance of snow, the quality of the tarmac and other factors beyond the raw stats of this climb: 13.6km at 8.4% and often above 10%, all on a rough rural back road that’s exposed for much of the way and explained in more detail in yesterday’s Roads to Ride piece. This is a long climb so expect selection “via the back door” on the early slopes rather than all out war, only towards the top will things roughen up but even an attack with 3km to go can earn a minute or more. The final metres see the road dip and turn right before reaching a wide and even road that climbs at 8.7% for 200m to the line.
The Contenders: with Mount Etna’s truce will still left wondering who’s climbing well and who is hanging on. There’s no room to hide today, the road is too small, steep and irregular to hide on the wheels. Can a breakaway stay away? It’s possible but the stage winner has to be an excellent climber who hitches a ride on the back of an express train that builds up a lead on the early coastal part. Ilia Koshevoy (Willier-Selle Italia), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data) and half of the Cannondale team, notably Joe Dombrowski and Pierre Rolland.
But the GC riders can take back a lot of time on the final climb and will benefit from their teams pacing them in. Nairo Quintana is the obvious pick but on reputation alone as the best climber in the race, now he’s got to prove it. If anything the stage win is necessary but not sufficient for him, he needs to take time on some of his rivals because of the time trials to come.
Thibaut Pinot is the next pick. He’s a diesel sometimes but still a climber so the sheer length of this climb suits him, it’s possible he paces himself and appears dropped only to ride past others, he’s done this before when winning the Queen Stage in the 2015 Tour de Suisse.
Ilnur Zakarin was the only one to take time on Etna. To see this as proof he’s climbing better is a big extrapolation but it’s all we’ve got.
Mikel Landa is made for a climb like this with its irregular slopes. He had a brief go yesterday, presumably because of the law that says a Basque cyclist + slope = attack and here he’ll find the equation even better. Geraint Thomas doesn’t seem so suited to this kind of finish but he was floating during the Tour of the Alps so don’t rule him out.
Adam Yates is a great climber and he can sprint well in case he arrives with others. But a sprint? No, it’ll just be a test of who has what left and the Briton is a good climber for this kind of finish. Vincenzo Nibali is looking better, Etna went well, he even managed an attack even if it was into the slipstream of a TV motorbike so there’s reassurance but this is another test while Bauke Mollema has twice been cited on Italian TV as the weakest of the contenders because he seemed to be suffering on Etna but surely that’s his style? he seems to angle his body sideways and pedal like a crab but it’s effective, last summer only he could follow Chris Froome and Richie Porte on Mont Ventoux.
|Thibaut Pinot, Adam Yates, Mikel Landa, Ilnur Zakarin
|Mollema, Nibali, Thomas, Rolland, Teklahaimanot, Koshevoy, Ciccone
Weather: sunshine and clouds, a top temperature of 24°C in the plains and little wind.
TV: they should reach Scafa where the road starts to rise at 4.00pm CET and Roccamorice, start of the climb proper at 4.25pm. The finish is forecast for 5.15pm CET. There’s live coverage on home broadcaster RAI in Italy and Eurosport for much of Europe and beyond. Otherwise cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv are the go-to sites for schedules and pirata feeds.