The battle for the general classification is now over, Albert Contador ending his three week campaign safely in the pink 0f the maglia rosa, though not by as healthy a margin as expected a few days ago. Attention now focuses upon the last showdown amongst the sprinters who remain at this Giro d’Italia, one last blood and thunder charge for the line, this time with Milano as the battleground to secure the maglia rosso at the death. Another edition of this grand tour with a high attrition rate, Stage 21 might not necessarily be won by the fastest man on paper, but rather whoever has survived the preceding twenty stages in the best condition. A victory lap for those having secured podium places and jerseys, many will treat this as a casual stroll to the grand finale, but plenty here still have eyes on ensuring the grand finale is no cakewalk for both stage and red jersey favourites.
Milano hosts this year’s finale of the Giro d’Italia, another strung out ride to the finish line which will see each of the respective jerseys’ winners officially crowned at last; even this day regarded as a lap of honour by pundits is a long 178km from start to finish. Beginning in the one time capital city of Torino, the road to Milano is extremely simple from the off, working its way to the first of the 5.4km finishing laps which will be covered seven times in order to form the day’s finale.
These laps are actually rather tricky for a final day and will cause stress to spread throughout the peloton, the technical nature of these circuits demanding constant focus. Corners, bends and other road furniture you would expect to find in a city such as Milano, all add to the list of possible moments where disaster could strike for the sprint hopefuls. Perhaps the biggest concern for the teams will be placing their lead man in a safe position with two kilometres remaining, it is here a clean line will be highly prized as they navigate two tight bends and a roundabout at high speed. A finishing straight of 1km will set this up to be a drag race of pure speed, where a solid lead out train could make all the difference after three weeks of this testing grand tour.
Sacha Modolo has reaped the rewards of an extremely efficient and reliable lead out from his Lampre-Merida teammates and has already taken two wins as a consequence of this. The two key men for him in the final kilometres have been Robert Ferrari and Maximilano Richeze, a pair who could command the right to sprint at many other teams; instead guiding in their teammate Modolo for glory here. In the absence of the big sprint teams synonymous with Le Tour de France, Lampre-Merida have built a reputation at this race for being an indomitable force whenever the finishing line falls within their line of sight. Another technical finale shall play to Modolo’s strengths once again, but the real danger for him is the chance of somebody taking up the sprint from much further out. Not being one of the fastest sprinters here, Modolo needs his team to stifle anyone coming past him until he strikes his ideal finishing distance. If they fail to do precisely this on the one kilometre straight, the Lampre-Merida rider might finish this Giro d’Italia being swamped by more potent finishers.
Raymond Poulidor may have earned himself the moniker of being the ‘eternal second’, but Giacomo Nizzolo is putting in a strong claim to steal this title, at least in regards to the Giro d’Italia. The Italian sprint ace has a total of seven second place finishes at this race dating back to 2013 and has come close to remedying this more than once at this year’s edition. Last year he was plagued by Nacer Bouhanni, and even when the Frenchman failed to step up to the plate, Luka Mezgec was there to deny Nizzolo his glory on Stage 21. Now fighting for a win at the final time of asking, Nizzolo should be seen as the fastest man left after André Greipel and Michael Matthews went home, while Elia Viviani has struggled to challenge for a win despite being consistent in the sprints. On a couple of occasions the inability of rivals to hold their line in the sprint has left him with more work than necessary to do, subsequently having to settle for the minor places. Perhaps most interestingly of all however is the fact Nizzolo and four of his Trek Factory teammates came home consecutively on Stage 20, almost the final riders to do so at 46′ 01″ down on stage winner Fabio Aru. This looks to have been an attempt to invest the smallest amount of effort into the previous day, without missing the time cut, in hope of then being the strongest leadout train come the Milanese sprint. If all goes well for the winless Italian, not only could he change his stage fortunes, but also leave the Giro with a red jersey to boot.
Most would title this final day’s conclusion as a ‘power sprint’, a variety usually dominated by a rider such as André Greipel, but with the German now at home Elia Viviani stands a good chance of filling the void. The long drag race to the line is the sort of finish which allows the Italian rider to open up a moderate gap, before then sustaining it all the way to the dying meters, making it almost impossible for any other rider to come past him. With Team Sky’s general classification hopes left in tatters, they will muster a strong force in an attempt to reclaim some glory here, hoping to replicate the outcome of Stage 2. Position is imperative for him, Viviani is not renowned for displaying the best tactical nous when identifying the key wheel to follow amongst the maelstrom.
Last year’s final stage was unexpectedly won by Luka Mezgec, a rider with a growing reputation for getting stronger as races begin to reach their attritional peak. Despite the arduous mountains during this final week of the tour, Mezgec is a strong rider who can win this final affair with brute force and determination. If he can place himself well ahead of the final turn at the kilometre marker, the Slovenian sprinter has a strong chance of causing another upset almost a year to the day.
A broad spectrum of riders remain in contention beyond those mentioned above, often left to fight for the remaining places onwards from fifth or so. IAM Cycling would originally have marked this as a big target for Mateo Peluchhi, but sadly he had to abandon the race due to injury, leaving Heninrich Haussler to pick up the mantle. The Australian is certainly worth considering at a point in the race where the playing field has been levelled somewhat due to the previous weeks of hard racing. Like many he is not the fastest, but with an astutely judged leadout and attack, he has every chance of pushing for a win. Moreno Hofland and Alexander Porsev are another two riders who have previously featured highly in the preceding sprint finishes this year. The former almost won on Stage 2, but has since suffered badly having crashed and also lost his key lieutenant in the sprints Robert Wagner. Porsev on the other hand has turned in some very solid performances and it seems likes that he will once again be in the mix come the day’s conclusion.
Lampre-Merida have dominated this year through extremely efficient teamwork and the excellent sprint of Sacha Modolo. With an indomitable force at his disposal, he is yet again the man to beat for anyone else targeting Stage 21 for the win. Despite this, Sunday might finally prove to be the day himself and the team come unstuck at the hands of Trek Factory Racing and Giacomo Nizzolo. Twice Nizzolo has missed out on the win when appearing to be the fastest man due to the erratic style of his rivals; the last day could finally remedy this and the last three years at the Giro for him. The long sprint does not suit his rival Modolo well, while Viviani fails to wield the same level of support which Nizzolo will have in Trek Factory Racing. As mentioned above, with the entire lead out team appearing to do as little as possible alongside Nizzolo to make it through Stage 20, they are evidently doing everything in their power to increase the chances of the Italian taking his debut win at his home race; possibly winning the red jersey in the process.
1st Giacomo Nizzolo 2nd Elia Viviani 3rd Sacha Modolo