Once again eyebrows were left raised after a decidedly more frenetic stage unfolded on day five, this time seeing the pink jersey fall upon the shoulders of pre-race favourite Alberto Contador. ‘El Pistolero’ was first to draw amongst the overall contenders and provoked Fabio Aru and Richie Porte into a reaction when he attacked late on the ascent to Abetone. Further up the road during the Spaniard’s debut skirmish of this Giro was the remnants of the day’s breakaway, 23 year old stage winner Jan Polanc being its most successful participant. Sylvain Chavanel was the only other man to benefit from the break, claiming an impressive second place by a couple of bike lengths ahead of a rapidly closing Fabio Aru, who won the sprint for third against his overall rivals Alberto Contador and Richie Porte.
The sprinters should finally be able to take to the fore on Stage 6, one of their few nailed on opportunities at an edition of the Giro d’Italia which has dismissed the supposed rule book thus far. This will be the longest day in the saddle in this first week and should act as a bridge to the following day’s 264km trek which compromises Stage 7, but in the meantime the focus is firmly on the day ahead. Starting in Montecatini Terme and heading down towards the coast once again, the route will include a sole categorised climb in the rolling middle part, before returning once again to the flat as they head onwards to finish at the historic seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia. There will be hardly a hint of a bump during the opening 60km, but once past Saline di Volterra, the pack will begin their short ascent of the day’s only recognised climb. The summit of this Category 4 climb is located at Pomarance, taking 6.3km to complete and averaging a steady 4.4% gradient; it is worth noting that the maximum here is 11% though. After this they will continue upwards through Larderello and Castelnuovo Val di Cecina, before beginning to step back down in altitude via Pian dei Mucini and Ghirlanda. The final 30km or so will be predominately flat and lead them all the way to the finish in Castiglione della Pescaia.
Lotto-Soudal will be looked upon as the marshals for this day’s race, other teams aware of how André Greipel is now Lotto’s best bet for glory at this year’s Giro d’Italia. The German sprinter looked comfortable for the most part during the previous day’s rolling terrain, even if he did finish almost 20 minutes behind stage winner Polanc in Abetone. Greipel is the fastest man here on paper and will take great confidence in a finish which is simple to navigate and shall be decided upon a wide straight. Assuming he can stay out of trouble and avoid being overwhelmed by the scramble for position, he is the clear favourite for a stage which suits him well.
The man who is currently racing with the red jersey upon his shoulders is Team Sky’s Elia Viviani, having earned himself the honour after winning on Stage 2. An extremely fast finisher with the tactical nous of a track rider, Viviani is a major threat in a race which lacks the dominant force of rival leadout trains. Though short on support himself, like many other big name sprinters here, he has a reasonable record for picking the right wheel before unleashing a rapid burst of pace. He is likely to be searching for Greipel’s in the finale and should the German miscalculate his effort, Viviani is the most likely to benefit.
Trek Factory Racing offer the only real recognised leadout train at this year’s Giro d’Italia and will do their upmost to deliver Giacomo Nizzolo to the finish in a good position. The Italian has been amazingly consistent at his home race over the years, but it still bereft of his first grand tour stage win. Given his speed, he is one of the most likely sprinters who could cause an upset against Viviani and Greipel.
Giant-Alpecin will pin their hopes on Luka Mezgec in the sprints this year and have already seen encouraging signs after he finished 4th on the second day. He has a reasonably well equipped leadout and will be confident after a consistent 2014 Giro which rewarded him with a win on the final day.
Robert Wagner was a key figure in the leadout for Moreno Hofland and his abandonment will have dented the Dutchman’s hopes of another stellar performance in the sprint for sure. Though Hofland is quick, he would have preferred a finale more similar to that of the second stage, where he was just beaten to the win by Elia Viviani’s well timed acceleration.
Lampre-Merida were no doubt disappointed to see the hopes of Sacha Modolo vanish in the midst of Stage 2’s conclusion. Having been carefully positioned by his teammates, Modolo was pushed out wide by an erratic Giacomo Nizzolo; forcing him to abandon his sprint and roll over the line. With that still fresh in his mind, Modolo will be eager for a repeat leadout, but one with an alternative outcome. Bearing in mind this finish will be more of a drag race than a technical approach, Modolo is not quite as well fancied as before, but he has the ability to squeeze onto the podium if all goes well for him this time.
Stage 6 will be a well organised stage which ensure any breakaway is kept on a tight leash to guarantee the battle royale of the sprinters comes to fruition. The dominant presence at the front of the peloton throughout the day is likely to be Lotto-Soudal, aiming to take a stage win as their general classification hopes begin to dwindle already. André Greipel will be the man to beat, assuming he is delivered to the finale successfully, the wide and flat finishing straight suits the German powerhouse extremely well and in a Giro short on opportunities for the quick men, he would be a fool to spurn it. Elia Viviani will look to defend his ownership of the red jersey with another good performance and certainly has the speed to overturn the German once again, but on Stage 2’s finish there was a slight drag which Greipel perhaps failed to judge correctly, helping to deliver Viviani the win. Luka Mezgec and Giacomo Nizzolo are the next two most likely to find themselves on the podium; both have a good record at the Giro and possess enough support to compensate them on a stage finish which does not quite play perfectly into their hands.
1st André Greipel 2nd Giacomo Nizzolo 3rd Elia Viviani