Once the dust had settled on Stage 14’s crucial time trial at the Giro d’Italia, Alberto Contador yet again found himself in pink, regaining his leader’s jersey in the space of a frantic twenty-four hours of racing. The stage win itself was taken by an impressive Vasil Kiryienka, highlighted yesterday by Spokenforks as the most likely outsider to cause an upset amongst the favourites. His victory brought some cheer to a deflated Team Sky camp, one reeling from the loss of 4′ 20″ of Richie Porte to his teammate; a result now leaving him almost nine minutes down on race leader Alberto Contador. Supposed co-leader Leopold König is now set to seize control of the team, climbing to tenth on the general classification and only a couple of minutes off a podium finish as they approach mountain ranges which could send fissures through the leaderboard.
The day’s final ascent of Stage 15 once saw an indomitable performance from Marco Pantani during the 1999 Giro d’Italia and there is little to suggest another masterclass could not be witnessed upon the demanding slopes. Mountains which scrape the sky shall open the door to the pure climbers, svelte limbed men who rise even upwards as if under the force of a hidden spinnaker. Their start point of Marostica takes a 165km path across a wearing range of terrain, before finishing atop the Madonna di Campiglio for the first time since Marco Pantani’s win and subsequent disqualification from the ’99 Giro. Opening with a Category 1 climb, La Fricca’s 11.3km worth of climbing should be tackled at a sensible pace over a steady gradient of 5.1%, only striking its maximum of 10% briefly. A following descent will take them down to the unrecognised climb of Vigolo Basegla, across to the 100km marker around Sarche, where 30km later they shall begin climbing the second ascent of the day.
‘Brutal’ is possibly the closest you could come to summing this climb up in one word, though some riders would suggest ‘evil’ is a better fit for the monster. The Passo Daone will make your eyes water simply reading its profile, the average gradient alone is 9.2% for this Category 1 ascent and packs several ramps which hit an agonising 14%; 8.4km which shall seem like eternity for many. A sharp descent takes them back down rapidly, where after a brief period of easier terrain the peloton begin to build towards the day’s big crescendo.
The final 15.5km are entirely uphill at an average gradient of 5.9%, throughout the ascent it will swing in excess of 6% – 7%, but the real damage can be dealt towards the summit. A maximum of 12% is reached with just under 2km remaining of the climb, after which it eases momentarily before setting the final kilometre between 6.8% – 7.6%. Whoever is first to exit the final hairpin bend with 500m to go will surely secure their name in history alongside that of Marco Pantani, as a true champion of this unrelenting day in the saddle which finishes atop Madonna di Campiglio.
The general classification riders are likely to have dug deep in the previous day’s time trial, in an attempt to either extend leads, close gaps or steady an ailing Giro d’Italia campaign. Considering this, there are a selection of thoroughbred mountain goats who might fancy their chances of taking a very impressive stage win atop Madonna di Campiglio, having saved their efforts purposely for this. On analysis, the stage itself is quite bizarre, placing the killer Passo Daone ahead of the easier finishing climb could see it become a damp squib, but such ruthless gradients are certain to see someone make a move before the final ascent. The outcome seems to pivot most upon the mood and condition of race leader Alberto Contador and whether or not he sees this as a stage worth investing the effort into winning. His lead already seems insurmountable given the remaining rivals and terrain, so he could spend the next week just following wheels, but the Spaniard will not hesitate to take further glory and time on the road to Milano. If he chooses to pursue the win here, Contador will be one of the best on Passo Daone’s steep slopes, but might find the easier approach to the line too soft to launch a blistering attack upon. Regardless, he appears to be the best climber in the race right now and if he really wants to win, few can stand in his way.
Astana have a variety of options to play on Stage 15, something they are unlikely to be particularly happy about, given Fabio Aru already being 2′ 28″ down on the maglia rosa. As an overall victory seems only possible through misfortune for Contador, Astana might now switch their focus to maintaining their presence on the general classification and collect a stage win or two along the way. Aru could take it upon himself to start dishing out the hurt to Contador, but there is no evidence right now to suggest the Italian could drop the current race leader on such a middling conclusion. If a select group does form however, Aru has already demonstrated during this year’s Giro that he is the fastest man in the final kilometre, so could snatch a win from his GC rivals in this fashion.
Teammate Mikel Landa is next best placed overall for the Kazakhstan team, a talented climber who could double up with Aru and provide Albert Contador with a troublesome headache. Chasing Landa would only drag Aru with him, a man who would out sprint Contador to the line for a victory, but with Landa five minutes down on the maglia rosa, Contador can afford to concede time to prevent Aru winning. Finally for Astana, Tanal Kangert has demonstrated impressive form so far in the race and is unlucky to have not already secured a stage victory for himself. Possessing no threat to the overall lead, Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo would not be bothered if seeing him make his way into the day’s deciding breakaway group. From this position the Estonian rider would be a hard man to beat judging by his current form at the Giro d’Italia.
Leopold König has the capability to begin saving this race in the mountains for the scuppered Team Sky, surely setting his eyes on a stage win with some serious intent. He unexpectedly finds himself wielding a certain level of power amongst his team and could utilise them effectively to match the likes of Contador and Aru before making his move. König has experienced great days on similar terrain in both the Vuelta a España and Tour de France and could find an attack go unanswered by the better placed riders due to his current location on the general classification.
Carlos Betancur has been in hot pursuit of a stage win for some time now and Stage 15 offers him yet another chance to stretch his legs with intent. Not only does the desire to take a win in the harsh mountains catch his eye, but he is equally well placed on the mountains classification to make a day in the breakaway worthwhile. Even if he does not find a victory forthcoming on Stage 15, he stands a good chance of collecting the maglia azzurra by the end of the day.
The man most likely to rival the Colombian in his campaign for the mountains jersey is Beñat Intxausti of Movistar, currently the incumbent owner of the maglia azzurra. His general classification goal began ailing surprisingly quickly, but his determination to take the blue jersey has demonstrated that he is gradually coming into solid form. Like many here, a breakaway is his best chance to take a stage win on the day, but he might simply be happy to defend the jersey and save his efforts for another day.
BMC can look upon Darwin Atapuma as a good chance for making it into the breakaway or unleashing a late surge on the final climb en route to the finishing line. The Colombian rider suits this type of terrain rather nicely and with his recent drop down the general classification, a stage win would steady the boat and make his appearance here worthwhile for BMC
Bardiani-CSF could aim to place Stefano Pirazzi in the day’s breakaway and hope his aggressive style of riding finally produces a reward for both team and rider. Like several favourites for Stage 15, Pirazzi has been improving steadily and has not been embarrassed by the strength of the big name riders so far, if he can combine this form with the right breakaway move, he could be a very tough man to beat atop Madonna di Campiglio.
Other riders capable of placing themselves within the breakaway are Sebastien Reichenbach of IAM Cycling, the talented Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha, Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec’s Franco Pellizotti and Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal.
Stage 15 is a difficult stage for the riders and one which is equally difficult to predict for the pundit; Alberto Contador certain to have a say in how the day plays out. If he does feel on form, this could be the day he hammers home his advantage and leaves himself with no further task than to follow wheels in the final week; not that many dangerous riders remain in his pursuit of the maglia rosa. Mikel Landa and Leopold König could both launch attacks here which do not require chasing by Tinkoff-Saxo, but they will have their work cut out to better a well oiled breakaway of talented riders. With so many mountains classification points up for grabs during the day, the presence of Carlos Betancur and Beñat Intxausti could almost be guaranteed in the move which will hit the climb first. The latter is clearly displaying serious intent to maintain a hold upon the maglia azzurra and would perhaps concede the stage win if it meant another day in blue. Betancur on the other hand is motivated predominately by the urge to take a win at this year’s Giro d’Italia at the very least and his increasing form certainly adds momentum to his claims. It is not unreasonable to suggest that, should the Colombian find himself in imperious form on Stage 15, he could finish the day with a victory and the blue jersey in his hands.
From a Breakaway: 1st Carlos Betancur 2nd Beñat Intxausti 3rd Darwin Atapuma
From General Classification: 1st Alberto Contador 2nd Fabio Aru 3rd Leopold König