Ben fatto: “if at first you don’t succeed, go in the breakaway again the next day”. After getting outpunched the previous day in San Daniele, Ben O’Connor got in the breakaway again and this time had the jump on his rivals, with one attack he was free and able to keep powerful riders like Thomas De Gendt and Ilnur Zakarin at bay to take the stage win, holding off a Bahrain rider in Hermann Pernsteiner no less. The break also included Ruben Guerreiro but not Giovanni Visconti so the Portuguese rider now leads the mountains competition. Behind little happened, as predicted the final climb just wasn’t hard enough to do much, Sunweb had a go with Jai Hindley jumping and then… Wilco Kelderman going after him, a reminder that Kelderman is leaving for Bora-Hansgrohe soon. But that was it, over 200km and the interest comes in the form of palace intrigue instead of sport. But today ought to resolve everything…
The Route: over 200km and 5,000m of vertical gain. An uphill start over the Passo Campo Carlo Magno, as in yesterday’s “summit” finish only this time they climb past the ski resort and go for the pass above so it’s uphill but not to steep but a good point for the breakaway to form. Next is the Hofmandjoch, aka the Passo Castrin and a new climb tackled for the first time by the Giro and hard going with almost 9km at 9% with a long tunnel across the top of the pass.
Then the Stelvio, an old climb but used sparingly, today is only the 13th crossing. Today it’s tackled via the eastern “Trafoi” side with its 48 hairpins. It’s a giant, Europe’s second highest mountain pass and 25km at 7.5% but with the final 15km at a solid 8-9%. There are few secrets to the Stelvio, it is just relentless.
The descent is also very long and a deciding factor could be the weather, it’ll be 2-4°C at the top which would be chilly on the start line of a cyclo-cross race or the roll out of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad only there’s a 20km descent at speed at even by the end of the descent it’ll be 8°C tops. It’s neither freezing nor damp, but it’s still bone-chilling, riders will need good gloves to work the brakes and to keep the legs turning and to refuel at the same time.
The Finish: a 10.7km climb to the Laghi di Cancano (“Cancano lakes”, two hydroelectric projects on the Swiss border but also a big area for hiking, gravel biking and more). The first 8.7km are steep and climb the “Fraele staircase”, a 4km section with 21 tight hairpin bends. The final two kilometres are flat across to the finish where the road kicks up a touch at the end.
- Saturday’s stage has been revised and now features the long valley road up to Sestriere and then two times up the old Cesana road, a 12km climb but where the final 5.5km at 7.5% count the most and with a steady, safe descent in between each time
The Contenders: another good day for the breakaway, Sunweb and Ineos might want to try and crack João Almeida once and for all today but they’re not going to do this by riding hard all day long, they’ll use the Stelvio. Another for Ben O’Connor (NTT)? It’s not so far-fetched, if he could win yesterday he’ll find terrain to suit again today and his winning move yesterday wasn’t an all day raid. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) could feature again but there are better climbers, he might have to get in the breakaway and then really go for a long range solo move. Ilnur Zakarin (CCC) too, he’s much better suited to a long climb like the Stelvio. Movistar have some good picks with Sergio Samitier and Antonio Pedrero on 15th and 16th overall, high but not high enough to ensure a chase if they can infiltrate the break while home hopes Dario Cataldo and Davide Villella can feature too, a stage win would vindicate their new strategy of hiring outside of Spain.
Among the GC contenders Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) seems to be climbing the best and has a good finish from a small group. Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) can get a stage win too but as he’s one of many with the podium in sight if he jumps others like Hindley or TGH might have to react and so on. Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) is the one to watch, he won the last time the Giro went over the Stelvio but has he got the jump to ride clear and take 20 seconds by the top so that he can exploit the descent? He’ll need to really take time on the descent though to take the stage win.
|Ilnur Zakarin, Thomas De Gendt, TGH, Majka|
|O’Connor, Padun, Warbasse, Villella, Kangert, Cataldo, Dombrowski|
Weather: clear skies and cold, 10°C max in the valleys and between 2-4°C at the top of the Stelvio.
TV: the Stelvio starts around 2.15pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 4.30pm. Then comes the Vuelta and the Laguna Negra summit finish at 1,735m above sea level.