Instead of providing us with drama drip by drip throughout this grand tour, yesterday’s stage felt as if the Giro d’Italia had decided to serve up everything in one go; crashes, abandonments, a maglia rosa lost and a champion resurrected. Ilnur Zakarin left the race with a broken collarbone, while Steve Kruijswijk lost possession of the pink jersey after crashing into a snow bank and now appears set to abandon having sustained a fractured rib. Today is the final day in the mountains and thus the last chance for a rider to win this race with one last gasp attack when it counts most. The short 134km stage from Guillestre is sure to be explosive, taking in three Category 1 ascents, then finishing upon a Category 3 climb all the way up to the finish line at Sant’Anna di Vinadio. The general classification now sees its top four riders all within two minutes of one another and only the processional ride into Torino is left beyond today; the fuse is lit here and it wont be long until the Alps echo with a bang.
Vincenzo Nibali has once again revived a grand tour campaign from the brink of demise with one fantastic day in the saddle. The Italian champion dropped all of his rivals on Stage 19 and is now within touching distance of placing the pink jersey upon his shoulders with the last arduous mountain trial before Torino. Much of Nibali’s potential success today will be dependent upon another strong performance from his Astana teammates, who on this crucial stage, are anticipated to make life hell early on. The plan will be to isolate Esteban Chaves by dispatching his limited Orica-GreenEDGE support before the battle for the maglia rosa has even really started. Nibali’s performances in the third week of a grand tour have often been unrivalled and it certainly looked that way again, Chaves unable to follow him in the final moments of yesterday’s stage. The finale itself suits his Colombian rival neatly and Chaves will focus upon riding defensively throughout the day in order to conserve energy, so Nibali will need to have recovered well from yesterday’s efforts in order to gain enough time to take the pink jersey; do not forget the ten second time bonus for the stage winner too.
Esteban Chaves came the closest we have seen to truly blowing up at this year’s Giro d’Italia, but maintained a steady enough pace to come home third and take the leader’s jersey with one final test remaining. As mentioned previously, Chaves is likely to become isolated very early on here as Astana whittle down his support as soon as possible. Due to being race leader though, Chaves needs only to follow the attacks of the day; easier said than done. Should he approach the line alongside the likes of Nibali, he may just edge out the Italian on a finale which suits him well.
Alejandro Valverde has been unable to stick the pace of the true overall contenders for the Giro title, but will be confident of sealing another podium place at a grand tour by the end of Stage 20. The Movistar leader even has a chance of another stage win if he makes it to the line within the lead group; the uphill run being the ideal terrain for Valverde’s turn of pace.
Mikel Nieve finished second yesterday after pacing his final ascent very well indeed, his performance also sets him up well as the lead protagonist in today’s sub-plot; the mountains classification. It seems certain that Nieve will join the breakaway and aim to sweep up the large amount of points on offer throughout the stage to take the maglia azzura on the last day in the Alps. Current leader Damiano Cunego will need to follow Nieve or use teammates to try and protect his lead in the competition, but his chances look slim after a poor showing yesterday suggested he may have finally cracked.
Two breakaway candidates who have still yet to secure an elusive win are Joe Dombrowski and Darwin Atapuma. Both have shown they have the form to do so, yet have been unlucky to not make the grade, especially Atapuma on Stage 14. With today’s stage their final opportunity to steal a win from the general classification riders, it is likely both men will be in the day’s move.
1st Vincenzo Nibali 2nd Esteban Chaves 3rd Mikel Nieve
Maglia Rosa – Vincenzo Nibali
Maglia Azzura – Mikel Nieve