After an early rest day, the riders will be well prepared for stage 4, and the first test proper for the GC men. With the first 55km going along flat, coastal roads, there is another chance for crosswinds to play their part in causing splits, but we think that it won’t be until later in the stage that we see the fireworks start to go off. With a long climb up the Portella Femmina Morta coming after that flat start, there is a chance for a grupetto to form already, with 33km averaging at 6 or 7% gradient potentially causing trouble for the fast men in the peloton. With Vincenzo Nibali riding into his hometown on stage 5, we think he’ll be going for the pink jersey today. His Bahrain-Merida team showed their descending skills on stage 2 (not that it was a particularly tough descent) and so they could go for a split at the top of this climb to force a fast pace on the downhill before hitting the final 18km of the famous Mount Etna. We’ll be playing commentators bingo for phrases like ‘explosive attack!’, ‘the race has erupted!’ and ‘the heat is really on now as we near the summit!’
With multiple hairpins and varying gradients (spiking at 12% halfway up), it’ll be hard for a breakaway or small group to hit a good rhythm and stay away but we can still expect a group of the GC big hitters to form. For the GC contenders, it will be a case of who has arrived in form and who is playing the long game, with an eye of the final week. Bonus seconds over the line will be worth fighting over, and an early advantage for those who are favouring the time trials over the high mountains will also be attractive. However, its anyone’s guess who could win it really, given we are awash with climbing talent in this year’s Giro, but we think Nibali will be wanting it the most. With Yates, Dumoulin, Thomas, Pinot and Mollema rounding out the top five.
Starting with a lumpy 45km, you can expect a breakaway consisting of our KOM contenders to last until at least those first (and only) KOM points have been gathered up. After that it’ll be the sprinter’s teams mopping any remaining breakaway men up before worrying about the potentially tricky finish. Here’s the map for the final 10km:
Super clear, right? According to the Giro website, it’s a 6.3km circuit which is covered once before a final 1500m straight line to the finish. With a number of 90-degree corners to navigate and without a sprint yesterday or tomorrow, this could be a real fight for the good lines in and out of the corners. The big names will be going for the stage win, and given that final 1.5km is straight and true, we think Caleb Ewan will get this one, as he is seemingly the fastest man on the road at the moment and suited to the Citi crit environment
The next two stages are fairly unremarkable with stage 6 being lumpy and bumpy for the start, bottoming out complete for a middle 60km and then returning to the bumps. Probably one to catch the highlights of rather than sit through the whole stage, as the excitement is likely to arrive in the final 20km or so where the strong men of the peloton come to the front and start duking it out before the final uphill finish – a 5-10% gradient which could knock out a few sprinters and open the field. If this were the Tour we’d be saying Sagan and GVA would be going for this, so that gives you an idea of who’ll be racing hardest. As we said in our overall preview, Michael Woods, Diego Rosa or Nathan Haas (who was so good in the Amstel Gold Race) are likely to be going for it today.
Another stage to catch the highlights of, a mostly flat 224km sprinters stage, which given it’s length could result in another slow moving peloton. The uphill drag in the final kilometre could make things interesting but it’s most likely going to be a normal bunch sprint so the likely contenders will be present. It would be great to see the Italian champion, Nizzolo, finally take a Giro stage win!
This would be a great stage to race yourself, taking in the views, enjoying the flat first 85km before ascending the KOM climb of Monte Sant’Angelo. After that the riders (and television viewers) are rewarded with the scenic route all the way to the finishing town of Peschici. The final 5km contains a fast descent, a flat break, and then back up for a final ascent, spiking at 12%, before the finish line. This could be one for the same kind of guys who contested Stage 6 but maybe the likes of Nibali and Thomas will poke their heads out from behind their teammates in an effort to get some bonus seconds on the line. Bob Jungels has also looked strong and Adam Yates is also someone who could grab a podium spot so this has the potential to be an exciting finish.
Stage 9 is a perfect combination of short distance, steep and long final climb, and a rest day following immediately afterward. Throw those ingredients into a pot and out comes a fast, aggressive stage fought over by GC and breakaway chancers alike. The stage is relatively calm before kilometre 123 of 149 comes. At that point, we start the climb up to Blockhaus. A small descent comes at about 131km before we hit the last stretch, whose gradient peaks with 14%, averaging at 9%. Steadily climbing on narrow roads and with hairpins to navigate it provides plenty of opportunity for riders to jump out and attack. There could even be a breakaway that’s lasted all day, posing no threat to the GC who lasts until the end, but we think this could be when the Dutch trio make their move to remind everyone they are worthy of their pre-race hype. Dumoulin, Kruijswijk and Mollema could all try and hit a fast pace to shed their rivals before the rest day. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a great end to the first week of the Giro.