The maglia rosa unexpectedly changed hands ahead of the decisive Stage 14 time trial, after a crash 200m shy of the neutralised 3km marker, left Alberto Contador and Richie Porte scrambling for teammates’ bikes as Fabio Aru safely navigated his way to the line; finishing the day in pink with a nineteen second advantage over the Spaniard. This 59.4km individual race against the clock signals the first real exchange of hostilities between the general classification hopefuls and it is likely that we will see the maglia rosa change hands once again by the end; not necessarily to different hands though.
Though the brutal mountains of this year’s Giro d’Italia are yet to be stepped upon, this time trial has attracted more attention than any other stage present in the 2015 parcour. With so few pure climbers equally skilled against the clock as they are going uphill, the almost 60km ride from Treviso to Valdobbiadene is likely to see a significant reshuffling of the top ten general classification ahead of the first real big mountain stages.
The day will require a broad spectrum of talents in order to prevent huge losses of time, let alone securing an impressive victory during this foreboding day in the saddle. Pushing big gears, technical skill and the legs to climb are a triumvirate which the eventual winner will need to execute confidently to set a tough time to beat. Opening with a relatively flat passage from Treviso, 30km will take them up to the base of the rather draining Category 4 climb which will see plenty of riders bottom out not long after the midway point. The climb itself is 4.9km in length, averaging a steady 3.8%, but the steepest gradients shall be dealt early on as it hits 9% for a short period of time. Towards the finish it eases drastically to a minimal incline of only one or two percent, though against the clock, some will find this exaggerated.
After this they descend into a tricky period of rolling terrain which snakes through narrow roads at a sustained speed, riders must stay alert to ensure they do not overcook any corners as a consequence of becoming complacent during the long ride here. After the third time-check of the day at Col San Martino, the road begins rising steadily to Guia, then a lumpy ride through Santo Stefano, San Pietro Barbozza and onto the finish in Valdobbiadene all in the final 6km. The finish itself is predominantly downhill, before then a couple of bends will need negotiating as they turn onto the 400m finishing straight which will be tackled at a constant gradient of 5.5%.
This time trial either comes as a glorious chance to gain time on rivals or a dreaded day in the saddle with the sole intention of having to avoid haemorrhaging great amounts of time. Team Sky’s Richie Porte sits comfortably within the first of these two camps, but did not expect this day to come as a chance to recoup his losses, more likely that it was once earmarked as the day he intended on taking the maglia rosa. Now he sits in a position where a stage win would seem a worthwhile return on a his current ranking, however there is still a chance he could find himself on the podium come Milano and will surely give it everything in this time trial to retrieve (unfairly) lost time. Speculation remains that his current power output is not at the same level as of that which delivered him great time trial performances before last year’s nightmare season. With the balance struck between a flat opening 30km and the following run to the line being a blend of climbing and generally rolling terrain, he should not come unstuck even if his power is not quite what it used to be on the long flat sections. The greatest concern for the Team Sky captain is his knee after the crash on Stage 13, an insight gathered when informing his mechanic that he would be skipping the infamous Sky post-ride spin be cause his “knee is f**ked.”
An almost 60km time trial which includes uphill sections seems to suit Rigoberto Uran extremely well on paper, though his form on similar terrain as of late has not quite mirrored his previous dominant performances. So far at this Giro, Uran has not been operating at the level expected of him, but that is not to say we have seen him implode and shelled out the back by his rivals. The chance of a podium is still firmly within his grasp while he sits 2′ 02″ down and has a strong chance of pulling back significant gains if he plays this stage well. An argument could be made that he has been keeping his powder dry during the days which saw Alberto Contador, Fabio Aru and Richie Porte unexpectedly attack one another, the whole time keeping is attention focused upon this time trial. Last year he won the Stage 12 42.2km race against the clock by a significant margin of 1′ 17″, a similar performance on the road to Valdobbiadene over the added mileage could deal serious damage to his rivals and bring him right back into overall contention.
Though having lost his first ever grand tour leader’s jersey in the most unfortunate of ways, Alberto Contador has a solid chance of returning it to his possession within 24 hours of having relinquished it. Not long ago he would have been the favourite for this stage, but in recent years his intensity has withered somewhat in this discipline compared to his contemporaries. Another tumble in the previous day is likely to have agitated his recently dislocated shoulder once again, with this in mind, the requirement to maintain an aerodynamic tuck for almost 60km could prove a difficult ask with performance consequences. Other than the media’s constant reminding of his crash, his day to day racing has demonstrated little to indicate he has genuinely been suffering from the dislocation. Contador will be incredibly motivated to take back the pink jersey after losing it through no fault of his own and for that reason alone he cannot be disregarded from winning this stage.
Fabio Aru certainly did not expect to find himself defending the maglia rosa in this discipline which has so often left him in hot pursuit of his more naturally gifted rivals. During last year’s time trial which Rigoberto Uran won with apparent ease, Fabio Aru managed to concede almost three minutes (2′ 55″) to the Colombian on that day. This time trial is close to being 20km further and though the young Italian has invested plenty of time into wind tunnel testing for his posture, it seems unlikely that this will be enough to stem the flow of time. For Fabio Aru the pink jersey will surely return to the shoulders of Alberto Contador and in terms of deficit, we could be talking minutes.
One of the most unexpected names placed within the top ten of the general classification is that of Andrey Amador, the Costa Rican rider being a solid time trialist adds to the intrigue as to where he shall sit after the three weeks. Obviously he is climbing well, so the possibility of him charting high here is not unrealistic given his prowess against the clock. The lumpy conclusion to the stage will favour him more than the opening 30km and he shall remain an interesting man to watch during the day.
A real dark horse for the day is Sky man Vasil Kiryienka, the Belarusian is extremely strong when competing in a time trial and has gained notoriety for pushing incredibly big gears up tough gradients. His performances at several Individual Time Trial World Championships have cemented him as one of the most gifted riders after the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Tony Martin. There is no reason to think he cannot secure a podium place here, or perhaps even more.
Ion Izagirre is certainly no slouch in a time trial and shall look upon this as the start of his attempts to begin clawing back time in conjunction with the oncoming big mountains. The terrain suits his abilities and he should be able to pace it well enough to make the final 20km count the most, this would come as a strong statement that Movistar’s general classification hopes are not solely placed on Andrey Amador and Giovanni Visconti right now.
Last year’s time trial at the Giro on Stage 12 saw an impressive performance from Diego Ulissi, managing to secure second behind an unstoppable Rigoberto Uran. It is unclear what sort of condition his time trial form is currently in since serving his suspension, but his stage win during the first week certainly suggested he is ticking over nicely right now. He remains worth watching if only to compare his performance against that of last year’s second place in the time trial.
Others who are capable of rounding out the top ten in Valdobbiadene include the likes of the emerging Ilnur Zakarin, Astana’s reliable lieutenant Dario Cataldo, the combative Stefano Pirazzi and Damiano Cunego.
Rather than a shock win stealing the show, the biggest surprise would come if Fabio Aru managed to retain his ownership of the maglia rosa for another day. Their are plenty of men who are capable of winning this based on form, but few come here in the best of condition after a hectic opening week which has seen crashes and time gaps cause upsets already. Alberto Contador should certainly take back his pink jersey, though weather or not he does this by winning Stage 14 is a tough question. His abilities have dwindled in this sort of competition since 2009 and two heavy crashes so far at the Giro d’Italia must affect his position on the bike during its 59.4km length. Life is always uncomfortable in this sort of affair, injuries (however subtle) can only add to this fact for the Spaniard.
Richie Porte‘s presence here is rapidly turning into a nightmare during his debut role as leader of Team Sky at the Giro d’Italia and it now appears that this would be his best chance of pulling back serious time, as well as possibly winning the stage. However, he clearly was not happy with the state of his knee after hitting the deck yet again on the previous day and any level of swelling will have a detrimental effect on a rider who is already believed to have lost power in this discipline recently.
Rigoberto Uran is the only man entering this test untouched by the chaos of the race so far and is well fancied to finally unleash what he is perceived to have been holding back upon. Though this season so far does not suggest he has entered this year’s edition in the same shape as 2014, Uran has the perfect blend of speed and climbing ability which could secure this stage for him. Though the win would certainly come as a welcome tonic for himself and the team, he will be more interested in getting his bid to take back time underway here. At the very least we should see a good deal of movement up the classification by the Colombian rider.
1st Rigoberto Uran 2nd Alberto Contador 3rd Richie Porte