The first road stage of the Giro d’Italia proved to be a stressful affair for many as they worked their way down the Ligurian coast en route to the final in Genoa. Crashes were present in the latter stages of the day, which even saw the entire IAM Cycling team hit the deck in unison, while Rigoberto Uran lost a crucial lieutenant in the shape of Piete Serry due to the chaotic finale. Stage 3 will keep anxieties revving with a course which leaves the peloton either climbing skywards or dropping rapidly through the Ligurian hills further inland.
A total of 136km is expected of them on Stage 3, a surprisingly short stage which is likely to ensure an explosive conclusion given the fresher legs and flat decisive kilometres. The riders begin in Rapallo and will travel away from the coast in order to experience the first substantial ascending in this edition of the Giro, before heading back towards the sea and finishing at Sestri Levante; less than 30km from their earlier starting point. Though on paper the stage only includes two categorised climbs, the rolling nature of the day is likely to catch a few riders out who have not paid closer attention to the details in their road book.
The peloton will be climbing from the off as they reach the top of the Ruta di Camogli after less than 10km of racing, a short descent through Recco then follows, before placing them at the base of the day’s first categorised climb Colle Caprile. Marked as a Category 3 upon the race profile, it stretches over 11.8km at a steady 3.8% average gradient; though it does tip upwards to 9% in places. What follows is a long ascent towards Torriglia, one which summits Scoffera and temporarily offers some respite at Laccio, before climbing past Torriglia onwards to the unclassified summit marker of Garaventa. The riders shall drop at speed through Montebruno and then begin the ascent of the day’s final climb and likely tipping point of the stage.
Barbagelata is summited with 43.5km remaining, the climb itself is a testing Category 2 climb which possesses a maximum gradient of 12% during the 5.7km passage of ascending which ticks over at an average of 8.1%. The Passo della Scoglina will be seen as a launchpad for anyone wishing to make an all or nothing dash to the line, an aspect which could result in a miscalculation by some as puncheurs make their presence felt on the opening 4km; an inviting 8% gradient for those tempted. What follows is an incredible descent back to the coastline at breakneck speed in order to contest the finish at Sestri Levante.
The concluding 1okm are relatively simple to this stage and could see a variable breakaway or large group of 40 hitting the finale first. A single roundabout is present during the last kilometre, but the finish itself is 85om of straight tarmac which should offer enough space for a clean sprint to decided the stage winner.
Many could be surprised by the twisting nature of the roads through Liguria, reminiscent of the spring classics which many of the strongmen here will have arrived at the start line having recovered from. Orica-GreenEDGE will certainly believe they have the potential to retain ownership of the maglia rosa, even if it means changing hands amongst their ranks. Current leader Michael Matthews has a strong chance of defending his lead with the addition of a stage win, but will need to overcome the challenging final climb in order to be present at the finish. He is one of the finest climbers from the assembled pack of sprinters and will be the clear favourite should he survive the climb and be part of the lead group in the latter stages. Matthews has been seen to suffer on these longer ascents opposed to the shorter and sharper terrain and could certainly slip out the back, but the subsequent long descent could be enough to offset the deficit and ensure he is part of the deciding sprint. Should he be present, Matthews should be the fastest man there.
Should life begin going pear shaped for Matthews on the final climb, Orica-GreenEDGE have the option to switch tact to Simon Gerrans in order to retain the pink jersey and keep it firmly in the grasp of Australian hands. Though Gerrans suits this affair incredibly well, the presence of such a long descent does turn the question of leadership somewhat to the favour of Matthews instead. Though short in distance, the stage packs plenty of leg draining terrain into its 136km course and Simon Gerrans certainly has the talent to withstand this test in order to challenge for the stage win. His season has been far from ideal thus far, but the general consensus is the team have not rushed his return to racing in order to gain better condition and ride at the Giro recovered and fresher to steal a stage during the three weeks; possibly beginning in Sestri Levante.
Trek Factory Racing are another team like Orica-GreenEDGE who have the ability of switching leadership for this stage; on this occasion dropping Giacomo Nizzolo in order to support Fabio Felline. The 25 year old is better equipped than his teammate when it comes to coping with the day’s arduous terrain and would fancy his chances from a reduced bunch. He has finished well at the Giro before on similarly testing courses and could take his first grand tour stage win here.
Spanish squad Movistar have options for both the sprint and breakaway, something which if played well, could see them avoid having to do much chasing with a teammate up the road. Juan Jose Lobato is a man who is capable of picking up a win after a day of sapping climbs and is one of the better climbers amongst those deemed favourites for a sprint. He won two stages during the Vuelta a Andalucia on stages which involved similarly rolling terrain; though this final climb might prove too tough for him much like Matthews. Should he manage to survive the climb and latch back onto the main pack during the long descent, he will be one of the few who could beat Matthews in a drag race.
In regards to having their colours represented in the breakaway, Movistar could turn to Giovanni Visconti who suits this lumpy stage profile well. If a group splinters off the front on the final climb, he has the ability to go with them and push on strongly during the descent in order to cement any advantage available. Should any move of his prove successful enough in order to give the big name sprinters the slip, he has a decent enough turn of speed to dominant from a small group.
A rider equally capable of smuggling himself aboard a race winning breakaway is Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel of IAM Cycling. Incredibly for the 35 year old, this will be his debut appearance at the Italian grand tour and he will surely be eager to pounce on an opportunity such as this. More than capable of matching a strong breakaway group of climbers, Chavanel will happily commit to his accomplices an has won from both solo efforts and reduced sprints in the past.
Whoever Orica-GreenEDGE does decide to back during Stage 3 will no doubt become the favourite for the win, be it Matthews or Gerrans. If the latter had not had such a dire start to the year, it is easy imagine he would have taken full command of the team on a stage which includes a decisive descent he so often wins from. Michael Matthews on the other hand is clearly already in great form and if he can survive the final climb will be confident of being the fastest remaining rider in the sprint. However, this lack of clarity in terms of leadership and a long descent which can negate any advantage taken by either man over the final ascent could be detrimental, with the rider most likely to seize upon this being Fabio Felline. It is likely that the Trek Factory Racing rider will make it through the Passo della Scoglina and definitely has the top end speed in order to steal a win against either Australian.
1st Fabio Felline 2nd Michael Matthews 3rd Juan José Lobato