Another rolling day awaits the peloton in this final week of the Giro d’Italia, once again calling upon the swashbuckling exploits of the breakaway specialists to seize control and prevent the sprinters from deciding the win. Coming after the previous day’s monstrous terrain, Stage 17 offers tentative recovery for the survivors so far, but plenty will find the motivation to dig yet deeper and muster a stage winning charge into Lugano.
If the quick men play their cards right, there is a chance that the 134km trip from the Italian town of Tirano to Lugano in neighbouring Switzerland, could still end in a sprint for the strongest remaining men. Many will have had their fill of mountains for the foreseeable, so the organisers have only placed one categorised climb during the day, but this does come almost immediately after the race starts. The Category 3 climb to Teglio reaches its peak after only 15km of racing, the ascent itself being 7.4km at an average gradient of 6.5% (max 10%). Descending from here down to around Caiolo shall signify the start of an extended passage of flat or gently rolling terrain which lasts for 70km until they reach Menaggio. At this point they will tackle the short and sharp Croce di Menaggio, only 2.8km in length, but a reasonable grind with an average of 6.4%. Having completed this, the leading group or peloton will sit a little over 20km from the finish in the Swiss town of Lugano. A couple of tricky bends and a mixture of road furniture are present during the final 10km of racing, along with a short hill with less than 5km remaining, but once safely navigated, the final bend with 750m remaining could set up a drag race for the fastest men still present at this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Opening with such a significant climb early in the stage should set the foundations for a reasonable breakaway to make their move and go clear of the peloton after less than 20km have been raced. Considering this as a fact for a moment, the attention must then be turned upon who exactly would be taking the reigns and leading the chase from behind. Having seen André Greipel abandon earlier in the race, Lotto-Soudal’s usually dominant presence on the front to bring back the break will be absent, leaving less well equipped teams to lead the charge for the sprint hopefuls. If a breakaway manages to go clear with a high proportion of teams represented within their ranks, the impetus to chase will dwindle drastically, ensuring a maelstrom shall be unleashed as riders scramble to make the cut on a day where anyone could win.
Realistically, only a handful of teams have the motivation and personnel to drill it on the front all day in pursuit of securing a bunch kick for their sprinters. Lampre-Merida have proven to be one of the best lead out trains during this Giro and they will certainly have an interest in setting the day up for Sacha Modolo to take the win. However, they have often benefited greatly from the work effort of Lotto-Soudal and subsequently kept the powder dry of Roberto Ferrari and Maximiliano Richeze who have been key in delivering Modolo into race winning positions at this tour. If it comes down to another sprint, Lampre-Merida will be favourites to boss it within the final kilometres, but the work they have to do to gain this opportunity might hamper their finale.
Giacomo Nizzolo was just shy of beating Modolo earlier in the sprint for a stage win and would have had a strong case of arguing that his compatriot sprinted from his line late on in the contest. However, he viewed this as coming with the territory and now enters Stage 17 with a great chance of taking his first ever Giro d’Italia win. His Trek Factory Racing team could certainly come to the fore and aim to contain the breakaway’s lead during the day, if they succeed and set it up for a sprint, the longer finishing straight is beneficial to a man who probably sits as second fastest on paper now.
The greatest negative aspect for the likes of Nizzolo and Modolo is how the conclusion to this stage does not include enough technical corners late on where positioning is imperative, diminishing the importance of top speed, as a sharper acceleration over short finishes are often enough when exiting a late corner. Given that today’s finishing straight is 750m in length and lacks anything consistently tricky preceding it, Elia Viviani will fancy this immensely as an opportunity to take his second win and tighten his grip upon the maglia rosso. On paper he is the fastest man still in contention for the sprints and could use this to great effect on a long finishing straight which is usually the hunting ground of André Greipel. The Italian rider will also now find himself better supported in the lead out since Richie Porte departed the race, while Leopold Konig sits too far down on the general classification to warrant protection afforded to riders such as Fabio Aru and Alberto Contador. If Sky do a good job of protecting Viviani late on, he is well versed in taking the best wheel of a rival, before erupting with a top end sprint which is difficult to close the gap to.
Fabio Felline has proven to be in immense form during this grand tour, demonstrating an aptitude for sprint finishes and making his way into the breakaway during hard mountains days. This causes a serious headache for his team Trek Factory Racing, who must be considering supporting him in a possible sprint rather than teammate Giacomo Nizzolo. With a big climb earlier on and two further hills in the final 25km or so, Fabio Felline suits this course particularly well should it happen to end in a sprint. He is clearly able to cope with the terrain and a possible lead out which could include Nizzolo is likely to see him finish well as they approach the line. A slightly shorter finishing straight is likely to have suited him better against the likes of Sacha Modolo and Elia Viviani, but Felline shall remain a man worth watching if allowed to take control of the team during the finale.
Moreno Hofland was not far off Elia Viviani during the first sprint of this year’s Giro and has appeared in good condition as of late; possessing a top speed which could see him at least secure a podium on Stage 17. Another rider warranting respect is Luka Mezgec of Giant-Alpecin, the Slovenian hitting great condition towards the end of last year’s Giro; eventually taking the final day’s sprint finish. Factoring in the attritional nature of the last week, Mezgec’s freshness and top speed is likely to close the gap to his rivals.
As mentioned earlier, the breakaway have a strong claim for staying away all day and a man who would see himself as the strongest from a small group sprint would be BMC’s Philippe Gilbert. He has looked extremely strong during this tour and possibly should have struck greater success beyond his extremely impressive stage win on Stage 12. His team are likely to play a huge role in his chances today, especially with a big climb coming so early in the day; BMC shall support Gilbert all day and protect him until the final 25km. It is here he could decided to attack solo at any point and try to form an elite group which will then take it all the way to the line, in this situation he is sure to be extremely difficult to beat.
In regards to the breakaway staying the course, the riders possible of making the cut and winning in Lugano are dictated more due to freshness now than suiting of the course. Because of this factor, the door is wide open to those who have not really featured thus far and will be eager to stake their claim on a day where the peloton might struggle to muster a cohesive chase to those out front. Luis Leon Sanchez, Sylvain Chavanel, Rinaldo Nocentini, Maciej Paterski and Giovanni Visconti are all likely to feature in the day’s battle to make the breakaway and would form a difficult group to chase down in the latter stages if so.
The peloton have already spurned one chance during this year’s Giro d’Italia to guarantee a sprint finish and they are likely to view Stage 17 as the best chance to balance the scales and set up a bunch kick in Lugano. Though the final kilometres do include a couple of tight corners, the 75om finishing straight should lean more towards those with a faster finishing speed than simply those who can accelerate fastest out of the final corner. Elia Viviani will find his attempts to secure the red jersey bolstered by the presence of new found support since the abandonment of team captain Richie Porte and could be underestimated by many to take the win here. Giacomo Nizzolo and Sacha Modolo have the lead out teams capable of guaranteeing their presence in the finale with a well organised and extremely fast final few kilometres; Modolo possessing the better team while Nizzolo is considered the fastest of the two. During the race, Fabio Felline might find himself handed the leadership of Trek Factory Racing ahead of Giacomo Nizzolo, he has performed impressively as of late and could win from either a bunch kick or breakaway.
1st Elia Viviani 2nd Giacomo Nizzolo 3rd Sacha Modolo
Outsider: Fabio Felline