A long day. 231km isn’t Milan-Sanremo but it’s not far off with the climbs in the Pavese hills.
Fittest of the Fittanze: a stage win for Dan Martin, he made the breakaway, he made the selection and he made such a pace up the final climb that for a long time, despite all the antics going on below, and we’ll get to that in a moment, the gap was hardly falling as he winched his way up the climb in a style that was more akin to a pecking chicken than an Irish jig. But it was effective and he took his first Giro stage win, joining the club of 100 riders to have won a stage in each of the grand tours. With Liège and Lombardia too among other lines on his palmarès he’s had quite a career and there’s probably more to come too.
Bike Exchange set a tough pace, deploying Mikel Nieve on the ascent of the Passo San Valentino to thin the field, a crash on the descent alas shrunk the group, with Giulio Ciccone among the victims as well as Remco Evenepoel, whose first grand tour has ended.
The Sega di Ala climb, the Passo delle Fittanze to give its proper name, is a very hard climb but it’s not famous. Take the Joux-Plane, a climb that has undone many in the Tour de France, several riders have cited it was their worst climb: it’s the same length as the Fittanze, but the Italian climb is more than a percentage point steeper. Astana set the pace at the foot of the climb but moments late Sacha Vlasov was the first to be dropped. Ciccone then paid for his chase. As Dani Martinez set the pace to chase his homonym, Hugh Carthy and Romain Bardet were in trouble meaning third, fourth, sixth and seventh overall were all going backwards. João Almeida attacked, he had the space to move but this was a powerful move rather than a speculative go. Simon Yates jumped and Egan Bernal covered, the two were away only for Yates to sustain the pace and suddenly the maglia rosa was in trouble. Among the GC contenders Damiano Caruso was steady, pacing himself when others accelerated and ultimately matching Bernal. Almeida had Martin in his sights but couldn’t get closer while Yates came in next, clearly ahead of all the other GC contenders.
Bernal had a wobble, not a disaster, Yates gained less than a minute and is still over three minutes down. At this rate Yates needs three more summit finishes and there are only two left. But seeing Bernal in distress is like a scene from a nature documentary when the lead beast of the herd starts limping, it gives rivals all sorts of ideas.
The Route: it’s a long 195km towards Stradella where the Po plains stretch out again, where the road is grey and the light is grey… or at least that’s what Paolo Conte sang, today is going to be sunny. The race roadbook, the Garibaldi, says there are “a few undulations over the last 30km”. Indeed, there are four climbs in the Pavese hills and none are wild but they’re all on narrow roads that twist up and down the vineyards, they’re a real tonal shift to the finale and will make for a lively final hour.
The Finish: a flat run directly into town.
The Contenders: the hills are enough to eject any heavyset sprinters, but they’ve all gone home. So the obvious picks are Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Emirates) with Davide Cimolai (Israel) as a contender too. The breakaway has a chance but if an early “4×4” goes (four riders never given more than four minutes) then the final hills also offer a good chance of sport and can reward attacks.
|Peter Sagan, Fernando Gaviria|
|Rémi Cavagna, Simone Consonni|
|Cimolai, Oldani, Roche, Felline|
Weather: sunny and 25°C.
TV: the stage starts at 11.35am and the run to the hills starts around 4.10pm. The finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST.