Giro d’Italia – Stage 21 Preview

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.

Course:

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.

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Contenders:

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 sprintIf 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.

Outcome:

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

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Giro d’Italia – Stage 20 Preview

The penultimate day in the mountain passed with little input from the maglia rosa of Alberto Contador, leaving Stage 20 to be his only remaining chance of a stage victory at a Giro d’Italia which looks to be his. Instead we saw a bit of eyeballing from Mikel Landa and Alberto Contador, proving beneficial to the escape efforts of both Ryder Hesjedal and Fabio Aru on the final day’s ascent to Cervinia. The Canadian attacked first and soon opened up a respectable gap from an elite group which contained Alberto Contador, Mikel Landa, Faibio Aru and Steven Kruijswijk late on in the race. It was the subsequent move from Fabio Aru which spelt disaster for Ryder Hesjedal, a man who has been a firm favourite during the final mountain stages, doing his upmost to animate the race in pursuit of a stage win and general classification gain. Aru took advantage of the standoff between Mikel Landa and Alberto Contador to chase the Italian and soon went clear, working hard to catch Hesjedal at the front of the race. Having bridged across to his fellow escapee, many expected the Sardinian to work alongside Hesjedal to cement their lead, but instead he immediately attacked to go it alone. This proved decisive as Fabio Aru went on to win Stage 19 by almost 30 seconds to Ryder Hesjedal, taking some glory, and distracting attention momentarily away from a Giro d’Italia which he was never expected to concede so much time upon in the battle for the maglia rosa.

Course:

Much of the peloton will be happy to see the back of this third week’s stay in the Alps, but a select few will see it as their last chance saloon; glory on Stage 2o could make the entire Giro worthwhile for plenty. The day acts as a huge crescendo to the entire grand tour, hoping to lure the big name climbers out into action and close the battle for the Giro d’Italia with a bang.

Only just shy of another two-hundred kilometre day in the saddle, the 199km trip from Saint-Vincent to Sestriere will be focused almost entirely on the final 5okm of racing. Anticipation and anxiety are set to build as they approach the opening ramps of the notorious Colle delle Finestre ascent, the Category 1 climb beginning its 18.5km challenge after 151km has already been completed. A fifty-fifty split between tarmac and gravel track, Colle delle Finestre contributes towards a fitting finish of 2015’s Giro d’Italia, a race which has been far from predictable for the most part. The average gradient of 9% is certainly no exaggeration here, from bottom to top it only swings by several tenths of a percent, the only true change being the switch from tarmac to loose dirt road after 9km of climbing. Though there is a maximum of 14%, only occurring briefly during the first 2km, the majority of the peloton shall concern themselves with ticking off each of the 45 hairpin bends which pave the way from base to summit.

Though brief, a tricky little descent will keep the riders anxious, finishing at the base of the day’s second and final climb to the summit finish of Sestriere. This Category 3 challenge is a completely different task altogether, 9.2km in total, which stretch at an average of 5.4%. The opening 8km are contested at even lighter gradients, only really kicking up for brief periods at the midsection where it tops out at a short lived 9%. The concluding kilometre or so is only 3% – 4% and could certainly set the stage for a sprint finish from an elite group which has formed after the two climbs in 50km.

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Contenders:

Realistically speaking, it looks like only a select handful of riders really possess the ability and condition at the end of this grand tour to mount a significant charge to the summit finish at Sestriere. The key to the day’s outcome will orbit around how the race is animated during the ascent of the Colle delle Finestre, the semi-gravel climb the most likely launchpad for Alberto Contador to attack the day from. As the climb itself is preceded by only gently rolling terrain, Tinkoff-Saxo should be represented in reasonable numbers and as a result feel able to set the tempo for their leader on the climb. Had the stage finished atop the summit here, then Contador would have been the clear favourite, but then having another 20km or so of riding to finish on an easier climb undermines his hopes somewhat. For Contador to finally add a stage win to this year’s Giro campaign, he must surely attack on the road to Finestre and apply pressure to his rivals. Though he seems to have been preparing the press as of late for the chance of him winning the overall title without having taken a single stage, it would be a surprise to see the Spaniard not attempt a swashbuckling move on the Colle delle Finestre in an attempt to go clear and win solo at Sestriere.

Mikel Landa has been a thorn in the side for many with eyes set on the mountains stages and he will relish the role once again as he hopes to spoil the show at the expense of Alberto Contador. Landa has been the best climber for many pundits at 2015’s Giro d’Italia and it comes as no shock to see him sitting on the podium with two stage wins as it stands. Unlike Contador, he has made no mistake of stating his ambitions on winning another stage before the ride into Milano, making this his last opportunity to do just that. In terms of current ability, there is little to suggest that anyone could really drop Mikel Landa during the two climbs en route to Sestriere, though he could be a victim of something else altogether. Team tactics are sure to be prevalent amongst the ranks of Astana on Stage 20, specifically between that of Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa. The former’s showing on the previous day not only won him the stage, but reversed their placings once again on the general classification, putting Landa back down to third. Given the Italian came here as leader at his home race, Astana will be inclined to keep Aru in second place and request Landa simply sits on the wheel and does not chase if his teammate decides to try and make it two in two days. However, if Tinkoff-Saxo do set a potent pace upon the Colle delle Finestre, then any great implosion by Fabio Aru could loosen the shackles and free Landa to try and win the stage instead.

The climb to Sestriere has featured several times in Giro history, most recently in 2011 when Vasil Kiryienka took the win by almost five minutes with an extremely impressive showing while riding for Movistar. Fourth on that day was a young Carlos Betancur, a rider still searching for an elusive stage win during a race which he has helped to animate on several occasions. He was unfortunate on the previous day to suffer a mechanical, but if fortune stays on his side during Stage 20, Betancur suits the finale particularly well and could be the fastest finisher from a successful breakaway.

Another man who placed well on the same finish back in 2011 was Steven Kruijswijk, the Dutchman having spent most his time trying to tie up the blue mountains classification jersey before today. Sadly for him, this has not been the case, Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti now being the incumbent owner of the jersey ahead of the final Alpine day. Kruijswijk really should be walking away with a stage win at the end of this tour at the very least, but luck simply has not been in his favour when it has mattered most. With a more gentle finish on Stage 20 which could ensure a larger group approaches Sestriere, the more consistent gradient does play into his hands for a bid for victory. The headache for him comes from being torn between trying to win back the blue jersey atop Colle delle Finestre or giving it everything on the final chance of a stage win.

Ryder Hesjedal has provided a great display of how to take advantage of the tactical battle between Astana and Alberto Contador, producing several well planned attacks which have seen him moving up the general classification and only just miss out on Stage 19 due to a barnstorming ride from Fabio Aru. On one hand you could argue it will be harder for the Canadian to make another move from an unguarded door left by the likes of Contador, Landa and Aru. Though, as so many will be eager to try and win this last summit finish, Hesjedal has a strong likelihood of finding fellow escapees more forthcoming than in previous bids as of late. Despite nearly being at the end of the Giro, Hesjedal looks to have got stronger day by day in the final week, making him a dangerous man to let go on this steady summit finish. Though he finds it tough to respond to big counter-attacks on steeper climbs, anything approaching a minute on the final ascent could prove too great to pull back from a rider clearly approaching top form.

Despite having been touted as one of the favourites for the overall battle for pink this year, Fabio Aru has proven to be incredibly inconsistent, eventually resurrecting his form on Stage 19 to take the win after an impressive solo move. If there was enough evidence to suggest he will carry this into the penultimate day, then he would be a major contender, but his patchy condition at grand tours simply makes it a difficult case to argue for him. His best bet would come in sticking to the wheel of Alberto Contador and hoping he is towed right the way to the final kilometre by the Spaniard, it is here he could demonstrate the fact he is the fastest GC rider in a sprint and steal a win from under Contador’s nose at the death.

On Stage 19 we saw the formation of a group behind the front four of five riders which contained the next best climbers at this year’s race. Leopold König was one such rider, flying the colours of Team Sky along with his teammate Mikel Nieve during the day’s final climb. Both seem to be coming into better shape at the tail-end of this Giro and are likely to be present with the maglia rosa group once again. As neither are a serious threat to the podium placings, the impetus from behind to chase would not necessarily be immediately forthcoming and could subsequently set one of them on their way to victory.

Rigoberto Uran finally managed to show his face and some form on Stage 19, bridging back to the maglia rosa group and then pushing on in pursuit of Fabio Aru and Ryder Hesjedal; eventually finishing third on the stage. Considering his general classification hopes evaporated long ago at this Giro d’Italia, it really has been a miserable three weeks in Italy for the Colombian, a win on Stage 20 being his only remaining chance to salvage something here. Nobody from the top of the general classification will take much interest if he decides to go up the road, meaning he could go on to form a solid breakaway, possibly with compatriot Carlos Betancur. The finale is not quite his sort of affair, but with a reasonable sprint finish at his disposal, he will remain a threat to anyone who approaches Sestriere alongside him.

Those who could contribute to shaping the final top ten home on Stage 20 of this year’s Giro d’Italia include Tanel Kangert, Damiano Caruso, Andrey Amador, Yuri Trofimov and Alexandre Geniez.

Outcome:

Though he has talked down the need for him to win a stage en route to winning the pink jersey overall, Alberto Contador must surely contribute a serious effort to win this last chance of a stage victory before the presentation in Milano. The finale does not really play to his strengths well at all, meaning that if he wants to have a serious attempt at winning here, he will need to make his move upon the famous dirt road of Colle delle Finestre. If he plays it well here, he could finally rid himself of the thorn in his side; Astana’s Mikel Landa. Landa has put in an extremely impressive performance during the tour and is set to walk away with two stage wins at the very least and has stated in the press that he has eyes on Stage 20 making it a hat-trick for him. With Contador yet to truly get the better of him, Landa will no doubt feel confident here, but could ultimately find himself restrained by team orders which aim to keep Fabio Aru in second spot overall. Plenty will see this tactical battle between the top names as an opportunity to slip under the radar and make a bid for both freedom and victory, possibly forming an elite group which neither Contador nor Astana feel the need to pursue. Ryder HesjedalCarlos Betancur and Steven Kruijswijk are riders who have the talent and strength of character in the final week of a grand tour to go all in and hope to emerge victorious come the finale.

1st Alberto Contador 2nd Mikel Landa 3rd Steven Kruijswijk

Outsiders: Ryder Hesjedal & Carlos Betancur

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Giro d’Italia – Stage 19 Preview

Alberto Contador saw his opportunity to exact revenge during Stage 18 and now finds himself sitting pretty at the top of the general classification with a very healthy lead of 5′ 15″. Nobody seemed able to keep pace with the Spanish rider as he launched himself up the day’s sole climb, eventually only finding company in the shape of Ryder Hesjedal, who was evidently having a good day as he aims to climb the general classification in the concluding days of this year’s Giro d’Italia. From the breakaway which animated the charge to Verbania, it was Philippe Gilbert who ended up stealing the victory away from his escapees; notching up his second win at this edition of the Giro. High mountains only remain on the race profiles for two further stages, the sole stumbling block between the riders and the final day’s parade into Milano on Sunday.

Course:

The first of these two days which stand between the peloton and a parade lap into Milano is the 236km juggernaut from Gravllona Toce to Cervinia, featuring a jagged triumvirate of mountains set to discover the strongest rider remaining in this three week long race. Possessing the hardest conclusion of the two final days spent in the mountains, the final 80km should act as a backdrop to the expected fireworks from the riders still wishing to reshuffle the general classification late in the day. These Alpine climbs are long, arduous and include ramps which could blow the doors of those earmarked to finish in the top ten overall, it is a day for survival as much as it is a chance to attack rivals.

Almost 80km of reasonably flat riding open the mammoth day in the saddle, at which point they will ride onto the easiest climb of the stage, Croce Serra. A blip on the map compared to what follows later on, the ascent is 6.9km in total and shall be ridden at a steady gradient of 3.8%, though on occasion it will rise to 9%. From here they ride onwards to Fenis, after which they shall begin tackling the first of the day’s big climbs around the 151km marker. St. Barthélemy’s ascent is 16.5km and ticks over at an official average gradient of 6.7%, though extended periods above 7% and 8% are apparent throughout. The steepest ramps they will encounter on the Category 1 St. Barthélemy are set at 13%, these coming within the first couple of kilometres from the start.

Having completed this, the riders will then proceed down into the valley towards Chambave, the second monstrous climb beginning shortly afterwards, having already completed 190km. Another Category 1, St Pantaléon is a more challenging affair with a steeper average of 7.2% and 12% ramps which come nearer the top than the previous climb. In total, it will take 16.5km of riding to haul themselves over the summit, subsequently dropping downwards once again, this time for a short descent only. With little respite between the start of the following climb, it seems certain that the attrition rate will have already taken a toll, a shelling of the peloton have already occurred before the decisive finale.

A total of 19.2km will separate the bunch from reaching their finish line at Cervinia, all of which will be ridden upon the eponymous Category 1 climb to the Alpine resort. Though not necessarily as tough as the two which have already preceded it, the fact the climb to Cervinia comes after over 210km will ensure this feels hellish beyond belief. Despite having a comparatively modest gradient of 5%, it fluctuates constantly throughout its entire distance, making it extremely difficult for any riders simply wishing to sit and spin the same gear from bottom to top. Relistically the peloton will spend more time upon gradients between 6.6% – 7.8%, all of which come alongside another maximum of 12% once again, this time situated around the midpoint of the mountain. There are plenty of opportunities to launch an attack on this final climb, the varying slopes acting as the perfect launchpad for a variety of talented riders to light the fuse and aim for the win. Some on the other hand might simply try to limit their losses and save any big efforts until the final 2km which almost flatten out entirely to the line; a quick finishing climber likely to benefit here if given the chance.

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Contenders:

Such a long and testing time will limit the amount of riders likely to feature in the brutal conclusion to this penultimate day in the Alps. The attention for many will fall upon that of maglia rosa Alberto Contador, a man now placed over five minutes beyond that of his nearest rivals, but still bereft of a stage win during this edition of the Giro d’Italia. Contador is well versed in how to approach these testing stages at the tail-end of a grand tour race and will consider himself to be one of the best in terms of condition on a course including three category one climbs and a total distance of 236km. The finish of Stage 19 is much more suiting to his attributes than that of the following day, fluctuating gradients often seen as a positive for a man who enjoys repeated digs in an attempt to drop everyone around him. Ultimately, neither chance of a stage win is a perfect fit for the Spaniard, but today looks a better use of his efforts on a tougher finish where many are likely to be frayed before they even approach the decisive climb.

Much has been made of the level at which Mikel Landa has been climbing at during this Giro and will subsequently be the favourite once again for many on the road to Cervinia. Having already taken two stage wins in the mountains, the last two days in the Alps offer Landa the chance to complete a hat-trick at the very least. He has invested huge amounts of energy into these successes and it is unknown as to what condition he now finds himself in exactly, especially on a day which is as much about distance as it is climbing. When he has got the better of Contador so far, it has been easy to see why the majority of pundits claim him to be the best climber here right now, though it does not feel as if Contador has given everything in stopping his compatriot from winning. Regardless of who comes out on top, it seems destined that the two Spanish protagonists shall lock horns once again in the mountains and are likely to decide the stage outcome amongst themselves.

Yury Trofimov has had a great time in the mountains as of late and he should be present in the shake up for the win on Stage 19 as well. He looks to have coped well with the pacing set by the likes of Mikel Landa and Alberto Contador on these big climbs, but has often come unstuck just at the point it matters most. For Trofimov it might be worth trying to steal a march on the favourites by attacking sooner than expected, providing himself with a cushion and forcing either Landa or Contador to concede to the other and chase him.

A man who really does deserve to walk away from this year’s Giro d’Italia with a stage win is Steven Kruijswijk, a rider who has animated this race consistently throughout the three week entirety. He was incredibly strong on the Queen Stage where he finished second and must surely have felt aggrieved after Mikel Landa contributed almost nothing to the breakaway before counter-attacking and stealing the win from the Dutchman. Like Landa, he has invested a lot of effort into being active at this Giro and could well begin to start feeling the effects now we enter the brutal crescendo to this race. However, if he manages to reclaim the form which looked so imperious on Stage 16, Kruijswijk might at last find glory for himself and his team.

Possibly the biggest revelation in regards to the general classification has been Movistar’s Andrey Amador, the Costa Rican rider having mustered a fantastic charge on the overall which looks set to secure him an impressive placing by the end. Being only a little over a minute behind current third place rider Fabio Aru, Amador could view this as the best stage to attack upon in order to overturn the deficit to third and simply have to follow the wheels on Stage 20 to finish on the podium in Milano. Most interestingly of all is the fact that he won previously in Cervinia during the 2012 Giro, adding fuel to the possibility of him replicating this feat once again today.

Cannondale-Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal seems to have a great knack for improving as a grand tour progresses and the attrition rate rises through the roof. Yesterday he managed to reel in Alberto Contador with an extremely impressive effort and worked with him well in order to gain some time on the general classification in hope of pulling back some places in the concluding days. There is little to suggest he would not be part of an elite group formed as a consequence of the possible attacks from Albert Contador and Mikel Landa, and if he should decide to attack them in a bid win Stage 19, the impetus to chase the Canadian might not be immediately forthcoming.

Carlos Betancur seems to have learnt that attacking every day is just not possible in such a tough race and has once again returned to the peloton for the last couple of days. This could be in anticipation of the final two days which do suit the Colombian rider quite well, though Stage 20 might be slightly more inviting for the AG2R La Mondiale rider. Success for him might be more forthcoming via a breakaway move, something which seems more likely on Saturday, meaning he might decide to give everything on the final time of asking.

Mikel NieveSylwester SzmydStefano PirazziEdoardo Zardini, Damiano Caruso and Leopold Konig could all contribute to the day’s action in a variety of ways from being part of the early breakaway, to rounding out the eventual top ten riders home come the conclusion of the 236km trip to Cervinia.

Outcome:

As has been the case for so long now in these mountain stages, Alberto Contador and Mikel Landa almost seem to wield the power to determine how the day’s finale shall play out. Though Contador has repeatedly stated in the press that a stage win is not an imperative for him given the need to maintain form while also targeting Le Tour de France, it is hard to imagine that he would be happy to stand atop the podium in Milano without having tasted victory during the Giro. Stage 19 looks to be his best remaining opportunity to remedy this, but he will have to get past an absolutely flying Mikel Landa who could be on track to secure a hat-trick of wins in Italy this year. The Astana man has now eclipsed his original team leader Fabio Aru and, beyond a tricky breakaway, should be the only thing to prevent Albert Contador from winning in Cervinia. With a tactical battle surely set to play out between the two Spanish leads at this grand tour, the door could be left open to the likes of Steven Kruijswijk or Ryder Hesjedal to attack hard and leave Landa and Contador waiting for the other to pursue.

1st Alberto Contador 2nd Mikel Landa 3rd Steven Kruijswijk

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Giro d’Italia – Stage 18 Preview

The sprinters finally had their day once again in the spotlight and got the chance to contest the conclusion of Stage 17 having scuppered the earlier breakaway. Sacha Modolo proved himself the fastest man at the finish, taking his second stage win at this year’s Giro d’Italia. Today’s ride from Melide to Verbania is based around a testing finale which should see a diverse mix of riders rise to the top in pursuit of an elusive stage win. It suits the talents of a well drilled breakaway, but we have learnt on several occasions at this year’s Giro, that no stage is protected from the unexpected influence of a general classification battle.

Course:

Running 170km from the Swiss start in Melide, the day’s racing only takes in one solitary climb, but it is one which is set to have a huge impact upon which riders shall remain in contention as they approach the finish in Verbania. Opening with almost 125km of easy riding, this will allow the majority of riders to roll their legs over nicely without too much effort, preparing themselves for the brute of a climb which is set to decide the winner in Verbania. The Category 1 climb of Monte Ologno is where the battle for victory shall be ignited, a 10.4km ascent which demands huge efforts over its average gradient of 9%; kicking up to 13% in some places. The climb itself is a relentlessly gruelling affair which offers little in the way of respite until the riders reach the summit and head beyond Alpe Segletta. From here it is a sharp and technical descent almost right down to the finish line, the final kilometres acting as a contrast with a simplistic outlay which eventually turns onto a finishing straight of 200m.

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Contenders:

A day such as this which sits in the final week of a grand tour is notoriously difficult to forecast the outcome of, let alone who are to be the likely protagonists and possible stage winners. With its long opening flat section, steady Category 1 ascent and fast downhill run to the line, Trek Factory Racing are likely to back the hopes of Fabio Felline having already demonstrated some formidable performances at this year’s Giro d’Italia. He appears to be one of the strongest riders in this final week of the Giro and has the option of either contributing to a breakaway or hoping everything comes back together on the climb and win the sprint after the run into town. On Stage 3 he was only edged out by the indomitable Michael Matthews on a similar descent to the line and with the Australian now having abandoned the race, Felline stands a great chance of winning in Verbania.

Somehow Carlos Betancur is still bereft of a victory at this edition of the Giro d’Italia and he could fancy his chances yet again to take a win; this time on Stage 18. The Colombian seems to be riding himself into ever increasing form during the race and there is little to suggest he could not win here on ability alone. Making the correct move is the biggest challenge for Betancur and he will struggle to ensure his efforts to snatch victory are not wasted during the day. Monte Ologno should offer no great difficulty for the AG2R La Mondiale captain and the rapid descent down to the finish line plays to his strengths, possibly setting the conclusion up for him to decide it with his potent sprint.

Movistar have been banging their heads against the wall when it comes to Giovanni Visconti, a man who has found himself in some encouraging positions thus far, but always unfortunate when it comes to staying the course and fighting for the win. He has a great ability to pick the right breakaway and a move on the Monte Ologno is likely to include Visconti if he feels up to the challenge when the moment strikes. Much like Fabio Felline, his prowess at climbing, descending and sprinting make him a strong contender for a day which should play to his strengths nicely. The question for the Movistar rider is whether or not his attack will go without reaction from a peloton still eager to shore up the general classification with only several days left.

Franco Pellizotti is another man who has invested much into this grand tour and has so far walked away with so little in return. A likely protagonist when it comes to forming a decisive breakaway, the Italian will seek to make a move before the descent, hoping to find a well organised group which takes him to the finish line. Possessing a quick finish will make Pellizotti a threat in any group’s bid for the win and he is sure to do his upmost to be part of it.

Away from these clear cut names, we are bound to witness a variety of riders who view this as their last real chance of a stage win before the mountains start diminishing their odds of taking a stage win at 2015’s Giro d’Italia. Once such man could be IAM Cycling’s Sylvain Chavanel who seems to have measured his efforts as of late and could finally burst forth with ambition as he hopes to drive a breakaway over the Monte Ologno climb and win from a select bunch.

Philippe Gilbert is still in great shape and really should have more than his solo stage win as we approach the finale of this grand tour, so he deserves a mention on a day where he could feature late on. Though the climb might be too difficult for him, the descent could provide him with enough momentum to bridge back to the lead group and contest the sprint as one of the fastest men.

Team Sky are having a bit of a nightmare as of late, yesterday saw them relinquish their grip on the red jersey as Elia Viviani failed to even finish in the top ten on Stage 17, meaning their pursuit of glory elsewhere is likely to increase. When it comes to long breakaways which feature both extended flat and draining climbs, Vasil Kiryienka could be their best option for placing a man in a race winning move. His performances over some of the big mountains so far have been extremely impressive and an ability to churn a huge gear could easily see him solo away from a group and take the win unchallenged.

The likes of Damiano CunegoDavid de la CruzIon IzagirrePieter Weening and Damiano Caruso all warrant a mention as men likely to either participate in the day’s breakaway or strike for home after the day’s sole climb is conquered.

Outcome:

Ultimately the day has an equal chance of being fought for from a breakaway as much as it does being decided by a sprint finish of elite riders. The former situation could be won by an array of riders, only a few of which have been outlined in the preview above. On the other hand, if a bunch plummets down the descent and ends up fighting for the finish amongst themselves, a rider such as Fabio Felline could come out on top judging by his recent performances in regards to both climbing and featuring in the breakaway. The Colombian Carlos Betancur once again remains in hot pursuit of a stage win and could target this day in particular due to a mixture of attributes which tick all the boxes for the AG2R La Mondiale rider. The reasonably constant gradient of Monte Ologno, twinned with its descent, suits him well and when it comes down to it; Betancur can produce a solid sprint finish.

1st Fabio Felline 2nd Carlos Betancur 3rd Philippe Gilbert

Outsider: Vasil Kiryienka 

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-17-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Giro d’Italia – Stage 17 Preview

Another rolling day awaits the peloton in this final week of the Giro d’Italia, once again calling upon the swashbuckling exploits of the breakaway specialists to seize control and prevent the sprinters from deciding the win. Coming after the previous day’s monstrous terrain, Stage 17 offers tentative recovery for the survivors so far, but plenty will find the motivation to dig yet deeper and muster a stage winning charge into Lugano.

Course:

If the quick men play their cards right, there is a chance that the 134km trip from the Italian town of Tirano to Lugano in neighbouring Switzerland, could still end in a sprint for the strongest remaining men. Many will have had their fill of mountains for the foreseeable, so the organisers have only placed one categorised climb during the day, but this does come almost immediately after the race starts. The Category 3 climb to Teglio reaches its peak after only 15km of racing, the ascent itself being 7.4km at an average gradient of 6.5% (max 10%). Descending from here down to around Caiolo shall signify the start of an extended passage of flat or gently rolling terrain which lasts for 70km until they reach Menaggio. At this point they will tackle the short and sharp Croce di Menaggio, only 2.8km in length, but a reasonable grind with an average of 6.4%. Having completed this, the leading group or peloton will sit a little over 20km from the finish in the Swiss town of Lugano. A couple of tricky bends and a mixture of road furniture are present during the final 10km of racing, along with a short hill with less than 5km remaining, but once safely navigated, the final bend with 750m remaining could set up a drag race for the fastest men still present at this year’s Giro d’Italia.

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-17-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Contenders:

Opening with such a significant climb early in the stage should set the foundations for a reasonable breakaway to make their move and go clear of the peloton after less than 20km have been raced. Considering this as a fact for a moment, the attention must then be turned upon who exactly would be taking the reigns and leading the chase from behind. Having seen André Greipel abandon earlier in the race, Lotto-Soudal’s usually dominant presence on the front to bring back the break will be absent, leaving less well equipped teams to lead the charge for the sprint hopefuls. If a breakaway manages to go clear with a high proportion of teams represented within their ranks, the impetus to chase will dwindle drastically, ensuring a maelstrom shall be unleashed as riders scramble to make the cut on a day where anyone could win.

Realistically, only a handful of teams have the motivation and personnel to drill it on the front all day in pursuit of securing a bunch kick for their sprinters. Lampre-Merida have proven to be one of the best lead out trains during this Giro and they will certainly have an interest in setting the day up for Sacha Modolo to take the win. However, they have often benefited greatly from the work effort of Lotto-Soudal and subsequently kept the powder dry of Roberto Ferrari and Maximiliano Richeze who have been key in delivering Modolo into race winning positions at this tour. If it comes down to another sprint, Lampre-Merida will be favourites to boss it within the final kilometres, but the work they have to do to gain this opportunity might hamper their finale.

Giacomo Nizzolo was just shy of beating Modolo earlier in the sprint for a stage win and would have had a strong case of arguing that his compatriot sprinted from his line late on in the contest. However, he viewed this as coming with the territory and now enters Stage 17 with a great chance of taking his first ever Giro d’Italia win. His Trek Factory Racing team could certainly come to the fore and aim to contain the breakaway’s lead during the day, if they succeed and set it up for a sprint, the longer finishing straight is beneficial to a man who probably sits as second fastest on paper now.

The greatest negative aspect for the likes of Nizzolo and Modolo is how the conclusion to this stage does not include enough technical corners late on where positioning is imperative, diminishing the importance of top speed, as a sharper acceleration over short finishes are often enough when exiting a late corner. Given that today’s finishing straight is 750m in length and lacks anything consistently tricky preceding it, Elia Viviani will fancy this immensely as an opportunity to take his second win and tighten his grip upon the maglia rosso. On paper he is the fastest man still in contention for the sprints and could use this to great effect on a long finishing straight which is usually the hunting ground of André Greipel. The Italian rider will also now find himself better supported in the lead out since Richie Porte departed the race, while Leopold Konig sits too far down on the general classification to warrant protection afforded to riders such as Fabio Aru and Alberto Contador. If Sky do a good job of protecting Viviani late on, he is well versed in taking the best wheel of a rival, before erupting with a top end sprint which is difficult to close the gap to.

Fabio Felline has proven to be in immense form during this grand tour, demonstrating an aptitude for sprint finishes and making his way into the breakaway during hard mountains days. This causes a serious headache for his team Trek Factory Racing, who must be considering supporting him in a possible sprint rather than teammate Giacomo Nizzolo. With a big climb earlier on and two further hills in the final 25km or so, Fabio Felline suits this course particularly well should it happen to end in a sprint. He is clearly able to cope with the terrain and a possible lead out which could include Nizzolo is likely to see him finish well as they approach the line. A slightly shorter finishing straight is likely to have suited him better against the likes of Sacha Modolo and Elia Viviani, but Felline shall remain a man worth watching if allowed to take control of the team during the finale.

Moreno Hofland was not far off Elia Viviani during the first sprint of this year’s Giro and has appeared in good condition as of late; possessing a top speed which could see him at least secure a podium on Stage 17. Another rider warranting respect is Luka Mezgec of Giant-Alpecin, the Slovenian hitting great condition towards the end of last year’s Giro; eventually taking the final day’s sprint finish. Factoring in the attritional nature of the last week, Mezgec’s freshness and top speed is likely to close the gap to his rivals.

As mentioned earlier, the breakaway have a strong claim for staying away all day and a man who would see himself as the strongest from a small group sprint would be BMC’s Philippe Gilbert. He has looked extremely strong during this tour and possibly should have struck greater success beyond his extremely impressive stage win on Stage 12. His team are likely to play a huge role in his chances today, especially with a big climb coming so early in the day; BMC shall support Gilbert all day and protect him until the final 25km. It is here he could decided to attack solo at any point and try to form an elite group which will then take it all the way to the line, in this situation he is sure to be extremely difficult to beat.

In regards to the breakaway staying the course, the riders possible of making the cut and winning in Lugano are dictated more due to freshness now than suiting of the course. Because of this factor, the door is wide open to those who have not really featured thus far and will be eager to stake their claim on a day where the peloton might struggle to muster a cohesive chase to those out front. Luis Leon Sanchez, Sylvain Chavanel, Rinaldo Nocentini, Maciej Paterski and Giovanni Visconti are all likely to feature in the day’s battle to make the breakaway and would form a difficult group to chase down in the latter stages if so.

Outcome:

The peloton have already spurned one chance during this year’s Giro d’Italia to guarantee a sprint finish and they are likely to view Stage 17 as the best chance to balance the scales and set up a bunch kick in Lugano. Though the final kilometres do include a couple of tight corners, the 75om finishing straight should lean more towards those with a faster finishing speed than simply those who can accelerate fastest out of the final corner. Elia Viviani will find his attempts to secure the red jersey bolstered by the presence of new found support since the abandonment of team captain Richie Porte and could be underestimated by many to take the win here. Giacomo Nizzolo and Sacha Modolo have the lead out teams capable of guaranteeing their presence in the finale with a well organised and extremely fast final few kilometres; Modolo possessing the better team while Nizzolo is considered the fastest of the two. During the race, Fabio Felline might find himself handed the leadership of Trek Factory Racing ahead of Giacomo Nizzolo, he has performed impressively as of late and could win from either a bunch kick or breakaway.

1st Elia Viviani 2nd Giacomo Nizzolo 3rd Sacha Modolo

Outsider: Fabio Felline

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-16-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Giro d’Italia – Stage 16 Preview

Rest day number two came after another significant shake up of the general classification; the individual time trial and Stage 15’s mountains seeing Alberto Contador and Mikel Landa strut their stuff while others suffered badly. Though the likes of Fabio Aru and Rigoberto Uran lost time in the race against the clock, Richie Porte suffered the biggest hit of all, eventually succumbing to his injuries from Stage 14 and abandoning the Giro d’Italia during the rest day. The peloton now see their gaze filled by the looming presence of the big mountains in the final week’s racing and nothing looks certain when it comes to the general classification come the finale in Milano.

Course:

Considered the Queen Stage by many, the 177km ride from Pinzolo to Aprica includes five categorised climbs, all of which are expected to impact upon the general classification as we enter the Giro d’Italia’s final week. A gruelling mixture of steep inclines and arduous ascents, Stage 16’s survivors will end the day with a grand total of 4,500m of climbing under their belts at the finish in Aprica. The peloton are forced upwards as soon as they have departed from Pinzolo, opening their accounts for the day with the Category 2 climb of Campo Carlo Magno; 13km in length at an average of 6.7%. From here they drop down through Dimaro and begin the day’s second ascent around the 28km marker; these brutal starts becoming a recurring feature of the Giro in recent editions. At 15.3km in length, the climb of Passo del Tonale is the longest ascent of the day for the riders, grinding them down with an average of 6.1% which touches 10% on occasion.

The subsequent descent takes them down towards Edolo where they shall immediately begin climbing once again, this time a Category 3 challenge which drags them up to the day’s eventual finishing town of Aprica. The climb itself is surprisingly long at 14km when compared to its appearance on the race card and could be somewhat underestimated as it does briefly include ramps of 15% beyond the average of 3.5%. Yet another rapid descent is then required as they dive down towards a relatively flat section near Tirano and begin to see the day’s biggest challenge loom large ahead of them. The Mortirolo pass will deliver a sledgehammer blow to the massed ranks of the peloton, cracking many and leaving us with the clearest indication so far of who has the legs to finish top ten in Milano. Approaching via the Mazzo di Valtellina will ensure this climb becomes a war of attrition from the first pedal stoke, its opening kilometres siting at 13% early on.

The Category 1 Passo del Mortirolo’s average gradient of 10.9% is a leg numbing 11.9km in total and possesses a potent sting in the form of 18% ramps before they have even completed 5km’s worth of climbing. From there it is an average of 12.2% until the final 4km which begin decreasing somewhat to 9.2%, the sort of gradient which is never usually welcomed, but here it must seem like a plateau for some. It is on these slopes that the outcome of the stage will be decided, along with the ambitions of those aiming to finishing top ten on the general classification or even challenge for a podium.

As fatigue sets in, the riders shall need to stay alert during a technical descent which leads them back to Edolo once again and onwards to the same climb back to Aprica ridden earlier in the day; this time the 14km ascent shall decide the winner of the Herculean Stage 16.

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-16-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-16-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Contenders:

The road to Aprica is constructed to force the strongest climbing talents to the top of the pile, Passo del Mortirolo’s steep slopes set to lure Alberto Contador into action. Despite appearing a class above his rivals here, the Spaniard has stated he intends to measure his efforts closely, aiming to line up on the Utrecht start line in good condition for this year’s Le Tour de France. Now this might mean he does not necessarily leap at every stage winning opportunity which comes his way in the final week, but it is hard to imagine he would be happy to accept the final maglia rosa in Milano having secured overall victory without a single stage win. So far nobody has been capable of dropping Alberto Contador when it matters most, giving the impression that his presence in an elite group deciding the win seems certain. Possessing such a dominant lead on the general classification already, he can look to simply cover the expected attacks from Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa, allowing them to tire themselves before he dashes clear of them  at the end of this wearing day.

Fabio Aru‘s best chance of taking the win into Aprica is to ensure a small group arrives to the final kilometres first, one which he can sprint from where he should be guaranteed of being the fastest man. It would come as little surprise to see this group being as small as three riders; Alberto Contador, Mikel Landa and Aru himself. In this situation, Landa would have no reason to follow a late sprint from his teammate, leaving Contador to make the running entirely on his own. Of course, this is only possible if the Italian can survive the midsection of this stage in good condition, the Passo del Mortirolo could become a nightmare for him as the incredibly sharp gradients see Aru struggling for position in the pack. Should this happen to the Italian, his chances of then avoiding time losses are unlikely, conceding ground atop Mortirolo will be extremely difficult to make up on a day where you are either descending or climbing throughout.

For Astana, the best option of forcing Contador to the sword is Mikel Landa, a fearless rider when placed upon the ruthless gradients of Mortirolo which should shatter the bunch. His performances so far have been an unexpectedly strong showing for Astana and they now have the option of a second form of attack against Contador. Clearly the strongest team here, Tanel Kangert and Dario Cataldo are two such riders which can be called upon to increase the pressure upon the maglia rosa during the ascent of Passo del Mortirolo, upping the tempo in hope of isolating the Spanish race leader. Landa marginally distanced Contador on Stage 15 to take the win, but many would suggest that the previous day’s individual time trial efforts for Contador were much greater than that of Landa’s; though it still appeared that Contador could not chase, rather than did not chase. The finish itself is not overly suited to Landa and it is difficult to imagine a situation which he would win from; coming to the line with Contador and Aru would surely mean allowing his leader to attack, while a successful breakaway would leave him him out of contention entirely. Regardless, he has made a strong case thus far of being the best climber here, but it remains uncertain if Mikel Landa’s consistency can be maintained.

The breakaway has a good chance of staying away on this terrain once the pass of Mortirolo has been completed, especially given the amount of mountains classification points available during the day in the battle for the blue jersey. Considering this fact, Beñat Intxausti seems certain to be part of any such breakaway which makes it up the road, in an attempt to either defend his lead or further extend it. This year’s Giro d’Italia has witnessed some of his best ever climbing form and there is nothing to stop him from almost wrapping up the blue jersey victory on the road to Aprica if he picks the right move. He finishes well, but the need to collect points could blunt this factor somewhat during the day, but a finishing group including him will need to be aware of this in form rider stealing the stage win.

Intauxsti’s most prolific rival in the competition has been the Colombian rider Carlos Betancur, a man who seemingly knows how to get into the best breakaway day after day. His survival on the day’s steepest climbs should be assured and his sprint finish is better than expected for a man so synonymous with mountain prowess. With the easier gradients to the finish line, Betancur could attack with a potent sprint and finally secure his Giro stage win which he has been pursing since the roads started heading skywards.

A man well worth watching on this type of terrain is LottoNL-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk, seeking a stage win after several noteworthy performances so far in the breaks and behind the big names of Stage 15. Though his ambitions here were originally to secure a respectable general classification position, he is now so far back on Alberto Contador that a move by him would surely be allowed to go unanswered. The Dutchman has no issues with approaching these stages solo and is a notoriously difficult man to bring back once he gets the bit between his teeth. Given the blend of skill and his current general classification placing, Steven Kruijswijk is a threat to anyone with their eyes on winning Stage 16.

The composition of any breakaway which makes it all the way to the line in Aprica is fancied to contain the familiar mix of breakaway hopefuls which we have become familiar with during 2015’s Giro d’Italia; Stefano Pirazzi, Ryder Hesjedal, Sebastien Reichenbach and Giovanni Visconti could all feature if the mood so takes them. With a general classification which looks certain to experience another serious shake up in this last week, close attention will be on Andrey Amador, Leopold Konig, Damiano Caruso and Alexandre Geniez to cement their current positions on the general classification during this brutal stage.

Outcome:

Once again the stage outcome looks set to be decided by the fight emanating from Alberto Contador, Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa; their recurring ‘two against one’ battle in these mountains proving the deciding factor for the break. Astana look likely to burn their matches early on the ascent of Passo del Mortirolo in an attempt to isolate Alberto Contador for the rest of the day’s remaining climbs. This should set up Astana’s Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru to work Contador over in an attempt crack him and gain time, or at least cook him ahead of his Tour de France battle with Vincenzo Nibali. Fireworks are expected from these big names, but a breakaway could find themselves given the green light by Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana to fight it out amongst themselves for the win. In this situation those motivated by mountains classification points are sure to be represented in the move, so Carlos Betancur and Beñat Intxausti should be involved. However, it is Steven Kruijswijk who appears to be the most enticing mix of talent, form and motivation for Stage 16. The Dutchman goes well on these sorts of climbs and has proven to be competent in the break, as well as being one of the first home after the likes of Alberto Contador and Mikel Landa; this could be his best chance of a stage win at 2015’s Giro d’Italia.

1st Steven Kruijswijk 2nd Carlos Betancur 3rd Alberto Contador

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-15-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Giro d’Italia – Stage 15 Preview

Once the dust had settled on Stage 14’s crucial time trial at the Giro d’Italia, Alberto Contador yet again found himself in pink, regaining his leader’s jersey in the space of a frantic twenty-four hours of racing. The stage win itself was taken by an impressive Vasil Kiryienka, highlighted yesterday by Spokenforks as the most likely outsider to cause an upset amongst the favourites. His victory brought some cheer to a deflated Team Sky camp, one reeling from the loss of 4′ 20″ of Richie Porte to his teammate; a result now leaving him almost nine minutes down on race leader Alberto Contador. Supposed co-leader Leopold König is now set to seize control of the team, climbing to tenth on the general classification and only a couple of minutes off a podium finish as they approach mountain ranges which could send fissures through the leaderboard.

Course:

The day’s final ascent of Stage 15 once saw an indomitable performance from Marco Pantani during the 1999 Giro d’Italia and there is little to suggest another masterclass could not be witnessed upon the demanding slopes. Mountains which scrape the sky shall open the door to the pure climbers, svelte limbed men who rise even upwards as if under the force of a hidden spinnaker. Their start point of Marostica takes a 165km path across a wearing range of terrain, before finishing atop the Madonna di Campiglio for the first time since Marco Pantani’s win and subsequent disqualification from the ’99 Giro. Opening with a Category 1 climb, La Fricca’s 11.3km worth of climbing should be tackled at a sensible pace over a steady gradient of 5.1%, only striking its maximum of 10% briefly. A following descent will take them down to the unrecognised climb of Vigolo Basegla, across to the 100km marker around Sarche, where 30km later they shall begin climbing the second ascent of the day.

‘Brutal’ is possibly the closest you could come to summing this climb up in one word, though some riders would suggest ‘evil’ is a better fit for the monster. The Passo Daone will make your eyes water simply reading its profile, the average gradient alone is 9.2% for this Category 1 ascent and packs several ramps which hit an agonising 14%; 8.4km which shall seem like eternity for many. A sharp descent takes them back down rapidly, where after a brief period of easier terrain the peloton begin to build towards the day’s big crescendo.

The final 15.5km are entirely uphill at an average gradient of 5.9%, throughout the ascent it will swing in excess of 6% – 7%, but the real damage can be dealt towards the summit. A maximum of 12% is reached with just under 2km remaining of the climb, after which it eases momentarily before setting the final kilometre between 6.8% – 7.6%. Whoever is first to exit the final hairpin bend with 500m to go will surely secure their name in history alongside that of Marco Pantani, as a true champion of this unrelenting day in the saddle which finishes atop Madonna di Campiglio.

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-15-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-15-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-15-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

 

Contenders:

The general classification riders are likely to have dug deep in the previous day’s time trial, in an attempt to either extend leads, close gaps or steady an ailing Giro d’Italia campaign. Considering this, there are a selection of thoroughbred mountain goats who might fancy their chances of taking a very impressive stage win atop Madonna di Campiglio, having saved their efforts purposely for this. On analysis, the stage itself is quite bizarre, placing the killer Passo Daone ahead of the easier finishing climb could see it become a damp squib, but such ruthless gradients are certain to see someone make a move before the final ascent. The outcome seems to pivot most upon the mood and condition of race leader Alberto Contador and whether or not he sees this as a stage worth investing the effort into winning. His lead already seems insurmountable given the remaining rivals and terrain, so he could spend the next week just following wheels, but the Spaniard will not hesitate to take further glory and time on the road to Milano. If he chooses to pursue the win here, Contador will be one of the best on Passo Daone’s steep slopes, but might find the easier approach to the line too soft to launch a blistering attack upon. Regardless, he appears to be the best climber in the race right now and if he really wants to win, few can stand in his way.

Astana have a variety of options to play on Stage 15, something they are unlikely to be particularly happy about, given Fabio Aru already being 2′ 28″ down on the maglia rosa. As an overall victory seems only possible through misfortune for Contador, Astana might now switch their focus to maintaining their presence on the general classification and collect a stage win or two along the way. Aru could take it upon himself to start dishing out the hurt to Contador, but there is no evidence right now to suggest the Italian could drop the current race leader on such a middling conclusion. If a select group does form however, Aru has already demonstrated during this year’s Giro that he is the fastest man in the final kilometre, so could snatch a win from his GC rivals in this fashion.

Teammate Mikel Landa is next best placed overall for the Kazakhstan team, a talented climber who could double up with Aru and provide Albert Contador with a troublesome headache. Chasing Landa would only drag Aru with him, a man who would out sprint Contador to the line for a victory, but with Landa five minutes down on the maglia rosa, Contador can afford to concede time to prevent Aru winning. Finally for Astana, Tanal Kangert has demonstrated impressive form so far in the race and is unlucky to have not already secured a stage victory for himself. Possessing no threat to the overall lead, Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo would not be bothered if seeing him make his way into the day’s deciding breakaway group. From this position the Estonian rider would be a hard man to beat judging by his current form at the Giro d’Italia. 

Leopold König has the capability to begin saving this race in the mountains for the scuppered Team Sky, surely setting his eyes on a stage win with some serious intent. He unexpectedly finds himself wielding a certain level of power amongst his team and could utilise them effectively to match the likes of Contador and Aru before making his move. König has experienced great days on similar terrain in both the Vuelta a España and Tour de France and could find an attack go unanswered by the better placed riders due to his current location on the general classification.

Carlos Betancur has been in hot pursuit of a stage win for some time now and Stage 15 offers him yet another chance to stretch his legs with intent. Not only does the desire to take a win in the harsh mountains catch his eye, but he is equally well placed on the mountains classification to make a day in the breakaway worthwhile. Even if he does not find a victory forthcoming on Stage 15, he stands a good chance of collecting the maglia azzurra by the end of the day.

The man most likely to rival the Colombian in his campaign for the mountains jersey is Beñat Intxausti of Movistar, currently the incumbent owner of the maglia azzurra. His general classification goal began ailing surprisingly quickly, but his determination to take the blue jersey has demonstrated that he is gradually coming into solid form. Like many here, a breakaway is his best chance to take a stage win on the day, but he might simply be happy to defend the jersey and save his efforts for another day.

BMC can look upon Darwin Atapuma as a good chance for making it into the breakaway or unleashing a late surge on the final climb en route to the finishing line. The Colombian rider suits this type of terrain rather nicely and with his recent drop down the general classification, a stage win would steady the boat and make his appearance here worthwhile for BMC

Bardiani-CSF could aim to place Stefano Pirazzi in the day’s breakaway and hope his aggressive style of riding finally produces a reward for both team and rider. Like several favourites for Stage 15, Pirazzi has been improving steadily and has not been embarrassed by the strength of the big name riders so far, if he can combine this form with the right breakaway move, he could be a very tough man to beat atop Madonna di Campiglio.

Other riders capable of placing themselves within the breakaway are Sebastien Reichenbach of IAM Cycling, the talented Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha, Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec’s Franco Pellizotti and Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal.

Outcome:

Stage 15 is a difficult stage for the riders and one which is equally difficult to predict for the pundit; Alberto Contador certain to have a say in how the day plays out. If he does feel on form, this could be the day he hammers home his advantage and leaves himself with no further task than to follow wheels in the final week; not that many dangerous riders remain in his pursuit of the maglia rosa. Mikel Landa and Leopold König could both launch attacks here which do not require chasing by Tinkoff-Saxo, but they will have their work cut out to better a well oiled breakaway of talented riders. With so many mountains classification points up for grabs during the day, the presence of Carlos Betancur and Beñat Intxausti could almost be guaranteed in the move which will hit the climb first. The latter is clearly displaying serious intent to maintain a hold upon the maglia azzurra and would perhaps concede the stage win if it meant another day in blue. Betancur on the other hand is motivated predominately by the urge to take a win at this year’s Giro d’Italia at the very least and his increasing form certainly adds momentum to his claims. It is not unreasonable to suggest that, should the Colombian find himself in imperious form on Stage 15, he could finish the day with a victory and the blue jersey in his hands.

From a Breakaway: 1st Carlos Betancur 2nd Beñat Intxausti 3rd Darwin Atapuma

From General Classification: 1st Alberto Contador 2nd Fabio Aru 3rd Leopold König