The previous day proved to play out true to form, delivering another correct forecast from Spokenforks thanks to the ‘Gorilla’ himself André Greipel. His Lotto-Soudal team executed a fantastic leadout and were rewarded with a dominant performance from the German, who now has a hat-trick of Giro d’Italia stage victories. His sprint was somewhat marred however by a crash involving Nippo-Vini Fantini rider Daniele Colli, the Italian sprinter was struck by a spectator’s protruding telephoto lens which inflicted a compound fracture of the left humerus before he had even struck the ground. Caught up in the subsequent pile up was race leader Alberto Contador, who remounted and crossed the line, but was later seen on the podium unable to don his second maglia rosa. The latest official medical report from the Giro indicates he has suffered a dislocation of the shoulder, but to what degree exactly remains unknown. Tinkoff-Saxo are confident of the Spaniard taking to the start line once again, but with his reliance upon his upper body to ride out of the saddle, doubts surrounding his participation remain.
A considerable step up in distance is evident on Stage 7’s journey through the hills once again, tasking the peloton with covering 264km of what resembles more of a Spring classic than a first week grand tour stage. Once the peloton departs from Grosseto the longest route of 2015’s Giro will remain relatively close the the coastline once again as it bypasses Roma and heads into the Lazio hills towards its finish in the town of Fiuggi. Surprisingly, despite the general nature of the terrain in this part of Italy, the 264km only includes one recognised climb.
Opening with over 80km of flat riding will come as a welcomed start to this long day, Tuscania is the first prominent town which the riders will pass through en route to Fiuggi. From here the road gently rolls up and down as they reach the day’s sole climb almost 100km later; the Category 4 ascent of Monterotondo. The climb itself will cause minimal stirring from within the peloton as they complete the 2.5km long climb at its average gradient of 5.1% (max 9%). Once down the other side, the road remains relatively flat as they reach Guidonia, Villanova and Cave, after which the concluding kilometres become more sawtoothed in their nature. The final 15km are likely to prove decisive as the tempo rises in an attempt to scuttle the chances of rival sprinters and pucheurs who have earmarked this draining day as a possible win. With a steady uphill gradient of 4.4% for the most part in the final 10km to the line, the peloton will see the road ease momentarily before rising back up to 4% as the riders contest the deciding kilometre.
With an uphill finish in Fiuggi set to decide the winner here, those who are strong sprinting against a gradient are bound to fancy their chances here. Much of the focus will be on Orica-GreenEDGE and the expectation that they will look to control the race by working prolifically on the front of the peloton, in order to cue this stage up for Michael Matthews once again. During the last couple of years, Matthews has demonstrated how deadly he has become on these uphill finishes, a talent which has secured him wins at the Vuelta a España and Giro d’Italia. Assuming that his team do a solid job of controlling the day and of protecting him throughout, Matthews will be seen as the favourite to win in Fiuggi.
BMC are likely to join the chase in support of their best card for the day Philippe Gilbert, a classics specialist who is unlikely to shrink when it comes to this distance and finish. He has appeared to be in surprisingly good form after a couple of nasty crashes in the Ardennes. Pundits have stated that Gilbert is displaying some of the best climbing seen from the former world champion and he will aim to up the rate of attrition in the final 10km to blunt some of his rivals’ top end speed. He is certainly likely to be in the mix, but the gradients might just not be harsh enough to turn the outcome to his favour.
Movistar will feel confident of being represented in the day’s finale, thanks to the talents of Spanish sprinter Juan José Lobato. His prowess upon this type of finish has been well documented this year after he beat John Degenkolb convincingly in an uphill sprint at the Vuelta a Andalucia. Lobato has clearly made this sort of finish his speciality and will be the biggest rival to Michael Matthews as a consequence. Unlike BMC and Orica-GreenEDGE, Lobato does not have riders experienced in a sprint leadout at his disposal, but given the uphill nature of the final 10km, the mountain-centric roster at Movistar could prove helpful on Stage 7. He is no slouch in regards to speed and if he sees daylight to strike for the line, Lobato could definitely win in Fiuggi.
Fabio Felline came within a whisker of claiming his first Giro d’Italia win on Stage 3 earlier in the week and will see this conclusion as another opportunity to break his duck. Of the contenders mentioned here, he is one of the best climbers and has a penchant for uphill finishes like many targeting the win in Fiuggi. We have already seen that he has the speed to push the likes of Matthews right to the line, but will have to keep his wits about him in the finish, as support is likely to be thin on the ground late on. Felline is a very fast finisher, yet could be slightly underestimated by other teams, regardless of this he remains a major threat to the hopes’ of his rivals.
CCC Sprandi Polkowice could be the best placed of the smaller teams here, relying on Grega Bole to deliver a decent performance on terrain which plays to his strengths. He has often been well placed behind the likes of Lobato and Matthews on this type of finish and could certainly find his way onto the podium with a canny ride.
Italy will also have Sacha Modolo of Lampre-Merida to back on Stage 7, a rider who possesses a more understated history when winning against a gradient. Performances this year at San Luis and Tour of Turkey have demonstrated that, not only does he have the speed to win the stages, but also the strength to survive some testing climbs en route to the finish. The support should be sufficient for him to be well positioned in the finale and if he manages to remain relatively fresh on this longest stage of the Giro, his potent acceleration could cause an upset.
It appears that Michael Matthews and Juan José Lobato are set to duke it out amongst them for the win on Stage 7 and it is incredibly hard to separate them. Both have made these kind of finishes their specialities and both possess serious top-end speed in order to win this; Matthews will perhaps edge this for many due to his current form though. Lobato will not be underestimated by Matthews here and he will be aware of how great a threat the Spaniard is to his ambitions of taking another Giro stage this year. Third place could perhaps be the biggest fight of all on this stage, with Philippe Gilbert and Fabio Felline being the favourites to round out the podium behind Matthews and Lobato. As mentioned previously, the finish itself is perhaps not testing enough for Gilbert, but the distance certainly plays into his hands very well. Felline has been demonstrating some fantastic climbing so far at this Giro and he should be guaranteed of being involved here; his speed making him a slightly more attractive offer than Gilbert to step upon the podium in Fiuggi.
1st Juan José Lobato 2nd Michael Matthews 3rd Fabio Felline