Juan José Lobato almost delivered a hard fought stage victory having been backed by Spokenforks yesterday, but Lampre-Merida’s Diego Ulissi caused an upset when beating the sprint favourites to take his fourth Giro d’Italia stage win. Stage 8 should see the first real showdown amongst the big name contenders for the overall win this year, a summit finish which is sure to lure the pure climbers out to contest the stage win. Perhaps most interesting of all will be to witness how well Alberto Contador will cope with the testing nature of the conclusion, given his recent shoulder dislocation. He appeared to manage sufficiently on Stage 7, but the likely requirements to respond to attacks from his rivals will give us a real indication of his current condition.
The stage itself is considerably shorter than the previous day’s trek to Fiuggi, a journey which took in excess of seven hours to complete in total. On this occasion, the peloton have a total of 186km to conquer with the addition of two categorised climbs along the way; one of which acts as the summit finish. Once they have departed Fiuggi, the peloton will roll through Alatri, Veroli, Casamari and Sora before they find themselves upon the opening slopes of the day’s first climb. Forca d’Acero is a Category 2 ascent which stretches and average gradient of 5% over a numbing 26km; the maximum here will be ramps of 9%. Once summited, a series of towns and villages will signpost a gradual descent down to Isernia, after which they will rapidly close in on the base of the day’s final climb. Classified as a Category 1 climb, Campitello Matese will set the stage for some considerable fireworks from within the peloton, a 15km summit finish which possesses an average of 6.9% and a potent maximum of 12% with two to three kilometres remaining.
The climb begins softly enough for the initial two kilometres, but after this point it tips up close to 10% before averaging a steady 6% to 7% or so until the reach the 11km marker. It is around this point where the riders will reach the short lived ramp of 12%, a small section which is potent enough to shell a few riders out the back. Once past this, only 4km shall remain for the expected favourites to fight amongst themselves for the stage victory and possibly to inflict some time gaps too.
In most editions of the Giro, this first serious mountain finish will have been the first real indication of the form and condition of the overall favourites. However, this first week of 2015’s Giro has proven to be a much tougher affair than expected; causing Fabio Aru, Alberto Contador and Richie Porte to surface already in the tour. Gaps are already becoming evident in the general classification for the big names and Stage 8 comes as a perfect opportunity for some to either gain back time or inflict a deficit into rivals instead. Alberto Contador managed to navigate the ride to Fiuggi without suffering any further damage to his already injured shoulder, but Stage 8 is bound to prove a contrasting affair for the wounded Spaniard.
Despite this fact, Alberto Contador will still be a big favourite for the day given its favourable terrain and he will be closely marked while in the maglia rosa. The gradients are perhaps not aggressive enough to play exclusively into the hands of Contador, so space shall remain for other contenders to take him to the line; especially if the his injury proves more impacting than expected. When it comes to riding and attacking on these types of summit finishes, Contador’s reliance upon riding out of the saddle is well documented, but the unknown scale of his injury could mean he is unable exhibit his usual prowess on this climb.
Astana are bound to be on the front of the peloton once again as they look to not only protect Fabio Aru but to also set him up for a possible stage win. The Italian rider is clearly in good condition after closing down Contador on Stage 5’s ride to Abetone, but did not make his efforts look quite as effortless as those of Richie Porte for example. Regardless, he will certainly fancy his chances of taking a stage win here with a long ascent to a summit finish which does lean towards his attributes. Not only this, but Aru will need to start gathering time upon the likes of Porte and Contador ahead of the Stage 14 time trial which he is bound to concede time upon.
Though Richie Porte has been the quietest of the main contenders thus far in this edition of the Giro, this is not to be perceived as a lack of ability right now. He has appeared extremely cool and in control while maintaing an understated presence in the peloton, but the biggest indicator of his claims to the title came when closing down Alberto Contador’s attack on the road to Abetone with apparent ease. Porte favours a more measured approach to these climbs, with his Sky team riding a high tempo in order to deter attacks on Campitello Matese. Paris-Nice and Catalunya proved that the Australian is not as short on killer instinct as some might suggest, but a lack of an obvious lieutenant such as Geraint Thomas could prove damaging.
One of the biggest names to have lost time already is the Colombian Rigoberto Uran, the Etixx-Quick Step rider now sitting 1′ 22″ down on current leader Alberto Contador. Whereas others were quick to follow the attacks on Stage 5’s ride to Abetone, Uran remained within the bunch and maintained a steady pace to the line. Considering an opening week to the Giro has never been so combative before, it could be suggested that Uran is not interested in adding to the attrition rate until it becomes worthwhile. He is bound to make some inroads during the 59.5km time trial on Stage 14, but if he has already lost further time by this point in the race, it could prove a fruitless advantage. It would be foolish to rule him out entirely here, especially as a man already with a win at the Giro d’Italia on a summit finish.
Though Cannondale-Garmin have already experienced the joys of Davide Formolo’s winning exploits into Abetone, the hopes of him maintaining such a high position on the general classification is unlikely. In this case, the next best placed rider on the overall for the team is Canadian Ryder Hesjedal; already sitting 6′ 11″ down on Alberto Contador. With this in mind, the best chance of glory for him now is a stage win and this stage’s conclusion atop Campitello Matese might prove appetising. An attack from him could be allowed to go and he should have the legs in order to finish the job if so.
If a breakaway proves too strong to be reeled back in under the expected pressure from the general classification favourites, likely protagonists could be: Benat Intxausti, Damiano Caruso, Stefano Pirazzi and Giovanni Visconti.
Assuming that the stage win ends up being fought out amongst the star climbers, Richie Porte and Fabio Aru are the easiest to back in the wake of Alberto Contador’s unknown ramifications of his shoulder dislocation. Already this year, Porte has exhibited a strong capability for winning on similar terrain and delivered an impressive win at Paris-Nice on a summit finish with the support of Geraint Thomas. On this occasion he is bereft of the Welshman’s talents and will be needing a strong performance from his team to keep him fresh for the battle later on. However, Fabio Aru will see this as a golden opportunity to gain some time on his rivals, as he looks to open an advantage ahead of the time trial which is sure to shape the general classification come the finish in Milano.
1st Fabio Aru 2nd Richie Porte 3rd Rigoberto Uran