An interesting stage where the day’s hardest climb masquerades as an intermediate sprint and it’s chased by tricky roads to the finish. Which sprinters can hang on in this hectic finale?
Merlier, earlier: a break with the three wildcard invitees from which Vincenzo Albanese won the sprint for the sole mountains point. He then punctured and a bungled wheel change saw him adrift and quickly swept up by the peloton, something which was going to happen, but happened faster. Disc brakes with thru-axles are fine for the trail or weekend ride but an engineering prize awaits the manufacturer who can invent a faster way to swap wheels in a race.
We got the expected bunch sprint and no team was able to dominate the frantic finish. Tim Merlier launched with 250m go to and held off the others, crossing the line to make a “W” with his hands in tribute to Wouter Weylandt. Alpecin-Fenix are team van der Poel and with Jasper Philipsen and Merlier on their books it can feel like overlapping but it’s more substitution, while MVDP is busy racing his MTB, Merlier pops up to win a Giro stage ahead of the World Tour pros.
The Route: a start in Biella, a town at the foot of the Alps from where a baker called Giuseppe Acquadro hails. He is now a rider agent and with many key riders on his books is practically the human resources manager at Ineos, Astana plus Androni and Arkéa-Samsic, having fulfilled the role at Movistar too before things blew up. It’s south away from the mountains and back to Asti for the hills with three categorised climbs amid the vineyards. They’re all regular climbs with few surprises.
It’s the unmarked climb to Guarene that is the trap today. Just because it is not a categorised climb doesn’t mean it’s not a tough, in fact it’s probably the spiciest ascent of the day and all with 15km to go. It climbs quickly through the vineyards, there are tight hairpins and if it levels out on the ridge, there’s a final steep kick to the top to come in the town (which is also a KoM point for the local GP Vini Del Roero, a junior race that plenty in the peloton have done). After a false flat the descent begins and the route is on small, undulating roads that make it hard for dropped riders to get back, particularly the small wall to chapel by Occhetti. With 5.7km to go the race picks up the main road into town.
The Finish: it’s flat but a frantic Mario-kart chicane section between 1km and 500m to go as the road twists and turns through Canale before a 700m finishing straight.
The Contenders: a tough stage to pick. The finish is hard for the sprinters but if they’re going to be dropped it requires other teams to force the pace and then have riders who will attack? Can Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) get over with the best? Has Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) got his Milan-Sanremo legs? They’re far from certain picks but in a stage that’s open to many but pick riders who might get over the climbs better like Fabio Felline (Astana), Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), Simone Consonni (Cofidis) or Tony Gallopin (Ag2r Cirtroën) only they just don’t win that often anywhere.
Both Remco Evenepoel and João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quickstep) can clean up from a small group but they’re probably safer picks for tomorrow. Diego Ulissi (UAE) did a good time trial and is a punchy rider adept at winning Giro stages, the same for Valerio Conti and the pair could try to make moves while Fernando Gaviria tries to hold on. Gianni Moscon (Ineos) is the archetypal rider for this with his recent win in Innsbruck in mind and this morning’s Gazzetta tips Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Nippo) and there’s a long list to chose from which should make for an exciting finish.
|Peter Sagan, Gianni Moscon|
|Nizzolo, Ewan, Gaviria, Bevin, Consonni, Almeida, Evenepoel, Merlier, Dekker|
Weather: cloudy, then rain and a top temperature of 16°C
TV: the start is at 12.30pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST. Tune in for the hills from 4.00pm.