The sprinters finally had their day once again in the spotlight and got the chance to contest the conclusion of Stage 17 having scuppered the earlier breakaway. Sacha Modolo proved himself the fastest man at the finish, taking his second stage win at this year’s Giro d’Italia. Today’s ride from Melide to Verbania is based around a testing finale which should see a diverse mix of riders rise to the top in pursuit of an elusive stage win. It suits the talents of a well drilled breakaway, but we have learnt on several occasions at this year’s Giro, that no stage is protected from the unexpected influence of a general classification battle.
Running 170km from the Swiss start in Melide, the day’s racing only takes in one solitary climb, but it is one which is set to have a huge impact upon which riders shall remain in contention as they approach the finish in Verbania. Opening with almost 125km of easy riding, this will allow the majority of riders to roll their legs over nicely without too much effort, preparing themselves for the brute of a climb which is set to decide the winner in Verbania. The Category 1 climb of Monte Ologno is where the battle for victory shall be ignited, a 10.4km ascent which demands huge efforts over its average gradient of 9%; kicking up to 13% in some places. The climb itself is a relentlessly gruelling affair which offers little in the way of respite until the riders reach the summit and head beyond Alpe Segletta. From here it is a sharp and technical descent almost right down to the finish line, the final kilometres acting as a contrast with a simplistic outlay which eventually turns onto a finishing straight of 200m.
A day such as this which sits in the final week of a grand tour is notoriously difficult to forecast the outcome of, let alone who are to be the likely protagonists and possible stage winners. With its long opening flat section, steady Category 1 ascent and fast downhill run to the line, Trek Factory Racing are likely to back the hopes of Fabio Felline having already demonstrated some formidable performances at this year’s Giro d’Italia. He appears to be one of the strongest riders in this final week of the Giro and has the option of either contributing to a breakaway or hoping everything comes back together on the climb and win the sprint after the run into town. On Stage 3 he was only edged out by the indomitable Michael Matthews on a similar descent to the line and with the Australian now having abandoned the race, Felline stands a great chance of winning in Verbania.
Somehow Carlos Betancur is still bereft of a victory at this edition of the Giro d’Italia and he could fancy his chances yet again to take a win; this time on Stage 18. The Colombian seems to be riding himself into ever increasing form during the race and there is little to suggest he could not win here on ability alone. Making the correct move is the biggest challenge for Betancur and he will struggle to ensure his efforts to snatch victory are not wasted during the day. Monte Ologno should offer no great difficulty for the AG2R La Mondiale captain and the rapid descent down to the finish line plays to his strengths, possibly setting the conclusion up for him to decide it with his potent sprint.
Movistar have been banging their heads against the wall when it comes to Giovanni Visconti, a man who has found himself in some encouraging positions thus far, but always unfortunate when it comes to staying the course and fighting for the win. He has a great ability to pick the right breakaway and a move on the Monte Ologno is likely to include Visconti if he feels up to the challenge when the moment strikes. Much like Fabio Felline, his prowess at climbing, descending and sprinting make him a strong contender for a day which should play to his strengths nicely. The question for the Movistar rider is whether or not his attack will go without reaction from a peloton still eager to shore up the general classification with only several days left.
Franco Pellizotti is another man who has invested much into this grand tour and has so far walked away with so little in return. A likely protagonist when it comes to forming a decisive breakaway, the Italian will seek to make a move before the descent, hoping to find a well organised group which takes him to the finish line. Possessing a quick finish will make Pellizotti a threat in any group’s bid for the win and he is sure to do his upmost to be part of it.
Away from these clear cut names, we are bound to witness a variety of riders who view this as their last real chance of a stage win before the mountains start diminishing their odds of taking a stage win at 2015’s Giro d’Italia. Once such man could be IAM Cycling’s Sylvain Chavanel who seems to have measured his efforts as of late and could finally burst forth with ambition as he hopes to drive a breakaway over the Monte Ologno climb and win from a select bunch.
Philippe Gilbert is still in great shape and really should have more than his solo stage win as we approach the finale of this grand tour, so he deserves a mention on a day where he could feature late on. Though the climb might be too difficult for him, the descent could provide him with enough momentum to bridge back to the lead group and contest the sprint as one of the fastest men.
Team Sky are having a bit of a nightmare as of late, yesterday saw them relinquish their grip on the red jersey as Elia Viviani failed to even finish in the top ten on Stage 17, meaning their pursuit of glory elsewhere is likely to increase. When it comes to long breakaways which feature both extended flat and draining climbs, Vasil Kiryienka could be their best option for placing a man in a race winning move. His performances over some of the big mountains so far have been extremely impressive and an ability to churn a huge gear could easily see him solo away from a group and take the win unchallenged.
The likes of Damiano Cunego, David de la Cruz, Ion Izagirre, Pieter Weening and Damiano Caruso all warrant a mention as men likely to either participate in the day’s breakaway or strike for home after the day’s sole climb is conquered.
Ultimately the day has an equal chance of being fought for from a breakaway as much as it does being decided by a sprint finish of elite riders. The former situation could be won by an array of riders, only a few of which have been outlined in the preview above. On the other hand, if a bunch plummets down the descent and ends up fighting for the finish amongst themselves, a rider such as Fabio Felline could come out on top judging by his recent performances in regards to both climbing and featuring in the breakaway. The Colombian Carlos Betancur once again remains in hot pursuit of a stage win and could target this day in particular due to a mixture of attributes which tick all the boxes for the AG2R La Mondiale rider. The reasonably constant gradient of Monte Ologno, twinned with its descent, suits him well and when it comes down to it; Betancur can produce a solid sprint finish.
1st Fabio Felline 2nd Carlos Betancur 3rd Philippe Gilbert
Outsider: Vasil Kiryienka