The Giro goes into the Alps but today’s stage isn’t a summit finish, more a ride to the end of the valley.
Hyperga: a fine stage, a probable highlight of the year, if not a stage for the age. The Superga-Maddalena circuit always promised plenty, the question was whether the GC contenders could be persuaded to race it hard? Bora-hansgrohe supplied the answer. After a flurry of attacks sparked by Mathieu van der Poel, the day’s breakaway had formed and taken a two minute lead but once the race reached the first of the three laps, Bora-hansgrohe hit the front of the peloton and shredded the field. The likes of Alejandro Valverde and Guillaume Martin missed the split, the Spaniard needing a bike change as well. In no time the front group was down to 12 riders, four of them from Bora-hansgrohe thanks to Ben Zwiehoff dropping back from the break and Wilco Kelderman digging deep on the front. Bahrain had two in Landa and Bilbao, Intermarché in Pozzovivo and Hirt. Carapaz was there but without a team mate. Lopez was there with his maglia rosa, Nibali there and rolling back the years. Almeida was there but just, he was like a yo-yo at times but that seems to be his style.
Carapaz took off solo with 28km to go on the Superga climb and got 20 seconds easily but he struggled to get to 30 seconds as Buchmann and Bilbao chased. Onto the final climb of the Maddalena back road and Nibali attacked and only Hindley could follow, the move shattered the group behind, or was it just the slope and the heat? The pair closed down Carapaz on the infernal slopes and over the false flat across the top Yates got across. Yates attacked on the last rise to go clear, a powerful move but the others had an eye on each other and could concede the stage win. Carapaz takes the maglia rosa, Hindley takes time and Nibali takes plenty of applause. Just behind came Domenico Pozzovivo, the 39 year old who was without a contract at the start of the season and if he pedals like a crab, it’s because of all the injuries he’s had and the spinal pain he’s still got but still ahead of Almeida.
Yates is now in the strange position of being able to follow the leaders and then drop them for the stage win but knowing there’s no GC contest. This in turn gives him room for more stage wins as nobody has to close him down when he goes, he’s still 18 minutes down.
Tenth placed Lopez was at four minutes, 20th place Buitrago over ten minutes down, 40th place was over twenty minutes down: the stage did a lot of damage. We can count the time lost, today we’ll see what it’s done to bodies and legs.
The Route: the Aosta valley stage. There’s only one route into the valley for the Giro so it’s just the start town that changes. It’s up the valley following the Dora Baltea river and the early bumps for Saint Vincent and Chambave on the route are nothing much.
There are two ways up the first climb, the road or a ski lift. The road here is wide and well made but it’s steep in places with some kilometres averaging over 10% so it’s selective. It eases towards the top and is followed by a matching descent, steep but on a regular road. The race then passes the city of Aosta with only a brief flat section.
If the previous climb was the ski lift climb because it was north-facing, this is the vineyard climb as it is south-facing and more built up. But it’s a similar ascent in distance and slope, plus the way it eases a touch over the top. There’s another fast descent back down to the valley floor and little flat road before the next climb.
The race turns into a side valley for the final climb of the day. It starts steep as it twists through the small town of Aymavilles and its wineries before a small descent, some more climbing and then a long gradual road up the valley. It’s a big wide road with many tunnels and covered sections – and on a quiet day full of chamois and ibex grazing by the road in the Gran Paradiso national park. The road feels like a compromise, it’s well-engineered in parts but always has to follow the path carved by the river so it can be irregular in places. It’s part false-flat, part climb proper.
The Finish: it goes to Cogne and rides over the pavé in town… and then onwards to Lillaz, all a false flat up and out of town as the road follows the white water river up the valley, it’s generally uphill but for each steeper step up there can be a flat section or short downhill.
The Contenders: when the route came out this stage looked like the place where Richard Carapaz (Ineos) could go solo away for the win. He often can’t outclimb his rivals directly, instead he can hit them with an attack and use false flats and valley roads to ride away, after all he won the 2019 Giro thanks to an attack just around the corner here, taking time on the valley road climb up to Courmayeur and won the Tour de Suisse last summer in a similar fashion. Still, he’s known for this now so he’ll be marked but his Ineos team will prefer today’s wider roads.
Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) can go again, if he attacks nobody has to close him down plus he can tag along with the lead group and there’s no duty to work hard either, it’s not like he can put time into others.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) isn’t a priority to mark either and it’ll be interesting to see how he copes with these long Alpine climbs. His problem is everything he can do here, Yates can probably do better, neither are a priority to close down for the GC contenders.
João Almeida (UAE) just has to avoid trouble early on, once halfway on the climb to Cogne he normally shouldn’t be dropped. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) can still sprint well if he’s not cooked from yesterday.
A breakaway has a good chance today to build up an early lead. The likes of Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Wout Poels (Bahrain), Hugh Carthy (EF Education) and Lennard Kämna (Bora-hansgrohe) fit the profile for today. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) lost time yesterday so he might be able to regain it today but he probably spent too much energy in the chase yesterday so maybe later mountain stages suit.
|Valverde, Mollema, Poels, Kämna, Carthy, Nibali, Peters
Weather: the heatwave goes on, sunny and 33°C in the valley.
TV: the stage starts at 12.15, the first climb at 2.30pm and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST.
Bonjour Aoste: today’s stage goes into the Valle d’Aosta, one of those valley that’s not named after its river. Aosta is Italy’s least densely populated region for inhabitants per square kilometre. But it’s not because of depopulation, it’s down to the Alps, the region is dominated by the jagged mountains making much of the area simply uninhabitable, it’s here you’ll find Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa and Monte Cervino, also known as the Matterhorn, although neighbouring France and Switzerland often grab the tourist credit. It’s notionally bilingual and while there are many places with French names, for example the stage goes through Saint Vincent today – not San Vincenzo – Italian is the spoken language on the street. Culturally it’s Italian with an Alpine topping, literally with dishes like polenta and sausage with fontina cheese baked on top. Today’s stage goes through a tiny village called Garin and if the name rings a bell, further up the race goes close to Arvier where Maurice Garin was born, he’d go on to win the first Tour de France in 1903. As well as cycling history there’s the future with the Giro della Valle d’Aosta U23 stage race, which sits alongside the Tour de l’Avenir, U23 Giro and Ronde de l’Isard as a discovery contest for stage race and climbing talent, the podium in recent years has featured many names who went on to big things.