Preview: Giro d’Italia 2016 Stages 16-21

Can Steven Kruijswijk hold onto the Maglia Rosa in the final week of the Giro? Photo via www.dr.dk
Can Steven Kruijswijk hold onto the Maglia Rosa in the final week of the Giro? Photo via www.dr.dk

The riders will have had time during the rest day to contemplate the repercussions of the first two days in the Dolomites. The outcome is that there are now only four riders who have a decent shot at winning the Giro. They are Steven Kruijswijk, Esteban Chaves, Vincenzo Nibali, and Alejandro Valverde – who are all within three and a half minutes of each other. Those riders over four minutes back on Kruijswijk will need the current top four to all have at least one bad day over the remaining six stages, which is, of course, entirely possible, but it’s a big ask.

The General Classification Top 10 after Stage 15. Photo via twitter.com/giroditalia

What is certain is that we will see the Maglia Rosa attacked on multiple occasions during this final week, which will make for some very exciting racing. Out of the current G.C. top four, Valverde and Nibali have the stronger teams; these will now be used with the sole aim of isolating Chaves and Kruijswijk. Those two have been the strongest climbers so far in the race, and at the moment look to be able to cope with the attacks and perhaps launch successful counters.

We will be cheering on Chaves at every opportunity, as he is a favourite of this blog, however we think Kruijswijk has enough of a gap to take the Maglia Rosa all the way to Turin. Both he and Chaves will have gained valuable experience from last year’s Giro and Vuelta, and will know what their rivals will throw at them.

Daily previews from us in this final week, part due to timing and also because we want to keep pace with the frantic racing we expect to see!

Stage 16

We continue in the Dolomites, with the riders picking up where they left off at the end of Stage 15. There are three categorised climbs, on stage 16, however, it’s not the same level of elevation as Stage 14. It’s the shortest road stage of this year’s race, so a perfect opportunity for Movistar and Astana to drive a harsh pace. The first 40km are all downhill, so the morning break away will likely be allowed to get away before the GC race takes over on the first climb, the category 2 Passo della Mendola (14.8km, 6.5%, max. 10%). It is a steady climb with the max gradient coming just after halfway. It will be hard to make any attacks stick on this, so expect to see the peloton remain intact and the break starting to be reeled in as they tackle the descent, which then continues on to a 40km stretch of undulating downhill road.

The final 20km feature two climbs that come in quick succession. First is the category 2 Fai della Paganella (10.2km, 7.4%, max. 15%), a sterner test than the Passo della Mendola, but still not harsh enough to force significant gaps between the GC contenders. However, the final ramp up to the summit peaks at 15%, so could be a springboard for a late attack.

After this there are under 10km to go, 4km of which are a fast, sharp descent which would suit a lone rider or small group attack before the final climb of the day up to the finish. It is a small category 3 climb that only averages 3.2% over its 6km. The test comes after 2.5km of the climb, when it rises to 9% and remains steep untill 2km from the finish. The final kilometres are a false flat uphill, with a maximum of 9%.

The stage isn’t as severe as those past or yet to come, so expect a big group contesting the finish. For breakaway contenders perhaps look for Merhawi Kudus to celebrate Eritrean Independence Day, as pointed out by @jamiehaughey on twitter today and, as the climbing isn’t so severe, Matteo Montaguti and Stefano Pirazzi could look to improve on their unsuccessful breakaway attempts earlier in the race. Also, with today’s sad news that IAM Cycling will be no more after 2016, their riders will need to start putting themselves in the shop window! With only five riders remaining, we could see Vegard Stake Laengen flying the flag for the soon to be defunct Swiss team, who went well in the hilly TT at the end of the first week.

From the GC the finish looks tailor-made for Valverde and Ulissi, with its sharp ramps in the final kolometres. Nibali will also be looking for every second he can get to try and claw this Giro back. Expect Chaves and Kruijswijk to be very close behind them though, if they’re not at their sides.

Stage 17

Well, what could follow a fast and furious stage which saw the winner complete 132km in under 3 hours? A downhill, nailed on bunch sprint of course! Over the next two days the race starts to move from the Dolomites and towards the Alps for the final decisive general classification stages. This will be a day off for everyone concerned with the general classification and we’ll be left with the few remaining sprinters and plucky late attackers to fight it out.

The riders will be relieved that the first 120km, although undulating, take a downward direction. The first test comes just before 100km when they will crest the category 4 Passo Sant’Eusebio (7.3km, 3.5%, 8%). After this it’s all flat for the remainder of the stage, which will make it very difficult for a break to stay away — those sprinters who slogged over the Dolomites did so for a reason!

It is an easy run in to the finish with three roundabouts to negotiate in the final 5 kilometres before a sharp right-hand turn 600m from the finish along wide roads, so fighting for position shouldn’t be difficult.

With Kittel, Greipel, Viviani, and Ewan already back on their European training roads, the last two remaining recognised sprinters are Sacha Modolo and Giacomo Nizzolo, so this should be a shootout between the two Italians. Other men who will fancy this are Matteo Trentin, Alexander Porsev, Rick Zabel, Sonny Colbrelli and Moreno Hofland. Henrich Hausler will be another IAM Cycling rider looking to advertise his talents, so expect a reinvigorated effort from him. For a late attack, riders from Sky and Lotto-Soudal could be tempted, as their teams have nothing really left to play for. We’d pick Nicolas Roche and Adam Hansen. Also, self-proclaimed rockstar of the peloton Pippo Pozzato has done next to nothing so far this Giro. Surely a doomed attempted at a late breakaway win is the least he could do?

Stage 18

We continue on our journey towards the Alps, and the sprinters, having messed up today, will now have to wait until the final stage in Turin for a chance at glory. Another long stage, at 240km, will bring the riders to Pinerolo, 40km south-west of Turin and where the penultimate mountain stage of this year’s race will start.

Today’s stage is pancake flat for the first 170km, which almost mimics the Milan-Torino race route. The final 50km will have the G.C. men on alert, as there is ample opportunity for a surprise attack on the Cat 2 climb that’s been dropped in with 20km to go, followed by a veritable ‘wall’ that the riders will hit in the final 3km.

As the riders reach Rivoli at the 164km mark, the road begins to undulate, with the riders cresting the small Colletta de Cuminana climb after 182km. They then ride through Pinerolo and the finish line before taking on a 28.1km finishing circuit. The star of this circuit is the category 2 Pramartino climb (4.7km, 10.5%, max 17%). The steep gradients will mean we say goodbye to any sprinters, and instead expect the likes of Chaves, Valverde, Nibali, Majka and Zakarin to go on the attack to try to find some weakness in Kruijswijk

Once they reach the top there is less than 20km to go, and they then descend back down towards Pinerolo. Within the last 3km, they will hit the wall that is the Via Principi d’Acaja (540m, 14%, max 20%,). As if the leg-popping gradients weren’t enough, it’s also set on a paved and narrow road. After this there is a mad dash down a steep descent to the finish in Pinerolo, with three sharp turns to negotiate as the road flattens out to the line.

There are two ways this stage could go. If the G.C. men are focused on the next two days in the Alps, then a breakaway with the likes of Diego Ulissi (now eyeing up Nizzolo’s red jersey), Gianluca Brambilla, Damiano Cunego, Georg Preidler and Tim Wellens could make a late appearance towards the top of Pramartino. Other riders like Philip Deignan and Simon Clarke might also fancy this. However, as Stage 16 showed, the G.C. riders are fighting for every second, so the riders mentioned previously might find themselves caught up in a G.C. battle. All the top seven riders (with the exception of Nibali) look to be riding strongly and have more left to give. All are capable of taking the win here. The 20% gradients in the final 3km will be the perfect spring board for either a glorious win or some precious seconds gained, or perhaps both! Thus, Alejandro Valverde looks good to take his second win within three days here.

 

Stage 19

Despite some decisive days in the Dolomites, the next two days in the Alps will be ones that decide if Steven Kruijswijk will become the first Dutchman to win the Giro d’Italia. If he has a bad day today or tomorrow he could easily lose his 3 minute 23 second advantage over Estaban Chaves and Alejandro Valverde. This stage also includes the Cima Coppi of this year’s race, named in honour of the great Fausto Coppi and the title given to the highest peak in the Giro and with it double the maximum mountain points.

The stage is another short one but, with the amount of climbing on offer, it will take as long as a 200km+ day in the saddle. After an undulating first 30kms the riders will begin 80km of ascent. Along the way two intermediate ‘sprints’ will take place, and when they reach Casteldelfino, after 90kms, they begin the Cima Coppi climb.

 

The Colle dell’Agnello peaks at 2744 m. It’s a monster 21.3km climb at with an average gradient of 6.8% and a maximum of 15%. However during the first 11km the gradient stays between 3-5% so it’s in the second half that we will see riders being spat out the back, as the remaining 10kms to the summit average 9.3% and peaks at 15% on two occasions. The summit also signals the arrival into French territory, where the Giro’s wolf mascot will be nowhere to be seen.

CaptureWith 40 points on offer, expect Cunego, Denifl, Atapuma, Lopez and Nieve to contest the race to the summit. Visconti will most likely be assisting Valverde, however he could be allowed to go up the road to be called into service later on in the stage.

After 40km of descending they reach Guillestre, which heralds the start of the final climb and the stage. After riding through a few alpine tunnels, the final 13kms rise up to the Risoul ski resort. Majka has fond memories of this part of town, with his stage win here in the 2014 Tour de France. The climb itself is category 1 and has an average 6.9% gradient. Its get more difficult as it develops with the max gradient of 10% coming 2km from the summit.

The group that will contest the finish will likely be small, after surviving the Col d’Agnello, and its fairly certain to be all GC contenders. Nibali knows how to ride the final climb under race conditions, as he managed to put 25 seconds into some of his rivals during the 2014 Tour de France. His Giro GC ambitions look to be gone, so a stage win is what he will be desperate for. Zakarin has looked to be riding into great form in this final week and he will be wanting to move up to the podium. The other GC rider without a stage win is Kruijswijk and he looks to be the strongest of the bunch, followed closely by Chaves. It could be a showdown between the current top two on GC for the win, as Valverde hasn’t looked great in the high mountains, with the Columbian having the edge when it comes to dealing with altitude. Jungles has a lead of over 16 minutes in the young rider classification, so only a truly horrendous day would see that slip from his shoulders, and he’ll be happy with testing his legs out against the other GC men in the high mountains.

The big question will be can Kruijswijk’s rivals make him crack and if he does tomorrow, there’s nowhere to hide — much like Dumoulin in last year’s Vuelta.

 

Stage 20

After the high intensity racing during stage 19, not to mention the fact that he pink jersey changed hands, there’s sure to be some nervous riders eyeing up the profile of stage 20. This, our last trip to the mountains in the current Giro, is almost certainly now the stage for the final showdown in the general classification contest. It’s a shorty at only 134km, but, with three enormous category 1 climbs to take on, there’s ample opportunity for attacks and a possible top five reshuffle before the sprint stage in Torino. The profile alone does the parcours some justice; it zigzags from start to finish, with barely a hint of level road.

The riders will tackle the first of the category 1 climbs right from the gun, which, at this point in the tour, just seems cruel. It’s 18.2km of hard climbing  (6% average, 13% max, with only on short reprieve in the middle), and as such it’s a good springboard for the morning break. Expect anyone looking for the KOM points or hoping for a break to last to be the riders warming up on rollers before today’s stage — no chance of an easy start to proceedings.
S05_Valcava_3D
Having taken on the Col de Vars, the chase will be on down the long descent into the valley before the foothills of the next climb on the menu, the staggeringly tall Col de la Bonette (22.2km, 6.7% average, max. 10%). If the name sounds familiar, it may well be because the Bonette has earned something of a reputation, not least because it is the highest paved road in Europe, at 2,715m. This rise takes the riders up to around the 70km to go mark. With this in mind, we’d normally rule out G.C. attacks on a mid-stage climb like this, but, given the way this last week has been raced, it would now seem unsurprising if Nibali attacks Chaves on this long rise. However, given the distance to the finish, anyone with such hopes would need to be flanked by a strong team all the way to the top if they hope to get away until the finish.

The descent on stage 19 gave rise to some terrible accidents, and with that in mind the long descent from the Bonette might be cause for anxiety for some riders. This is bad news for Kruijswijk, who’s now over a minute behind Chaves on G.C. (and 21 seconds behind Nibali), and who has not been descending with the best of the bunch this Giro. Further gaps may well open up on this last long descent of the tour, leading into the last big climb of the day (but not the last climb overall) up the Colle Della Lombarda.

S05_Valcava_3D

The name signals the fact that the riders return, halfway up this climb, to Italian soil. And it’s certainly no gentle slope; it’s 19.8km in length, with an average gradient of 7.5% and a maximum of 12% (right at the bottom, there). Expect it to be raced hard by the G.C. favourites, all of whom will want to have teammates still with them by the time they reach this ascent; however, given the nature of yesterday’s highly animated racing, we’d not be surprised if we saw fractured groups along the road led by the race favourites.
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The finale is drawn out over 11km, from the peak of Lombarda, down a tricky descent, and up a category 3 climb to the finish. The descent will be raced at a ferocious pace, and it’s an uninvitingly narrow and twisty affair — one for the specialist descenders, for sure. The last climb is by no means the hardest climb of the tour (2.3km, averaging 8.1%), but it’s worth remembering that this stinger comes not long after a category 1 climb, and at the tail-end of a difficult few weeks of riding. What this means is that riders will have to ride attackingly, defensively, but above all tactically — it will be a measured effort that brings a stage win on the last climbing stage of the Giro. Given Vincenzo Nibali‘s dominant climbing yesterday, coupled with his celebrated descending skills, he must be considered favourite for the stage win here. If Kruijskwijk has anything left today he’ll have to attack hard, probably on the last cat 1 climb. Likewise, Valverde might go hard today — a G.C. win might have escaped him this year, but the podium isn’t out of reach, nor is a second stage win (hell, it’s hard to rule out number one on the podium, really, given the back and forth nature of the time gaps this week). Chaves did an excellent job onstage 19 to open up gaps in the field, and rode hard on the last climb to earn his pink jersey. He’ll now have to defend it for one last stage. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him following in Ruben Plaza’s wheel for much of the stage, matching moves but not making them. If he’s feeling good, he’ll ride Nibali’s wheel to the line. If he’s feeling great, he’ll hammer it on the last long climb like he has all tour, and aim for a stage win in the pink jersey. It’s going to be a great final stage.

Stage 21

With the general classification practically sewn up (it’s hard for us to pretend were not a little disappointed with the outcome), stage 21’s undemanding 163km course into Turin will be something of a victory tour of the region for Vincenzo Nibali and team Astana. Expect plenty of shots of the team lined out across the road in celebration. Meanwhile, though, there’s a sprint to be won, and any remaining fast men will have been waiting for this moment with patience as they dragged themselves across the dolomites and the alps.

The action will likely not hot up until the closing circuits around Turin, a 7.5km loop taking in the sole climb of the day, a 1km drag with a short 8% section towards the top. However leg-sapping this climb might be (on top of weeks of big mountains), these circuits are going to be taken at blistering speed, and there are few problematic corners of which to speak. Thus, forget about a breakaway’s chances; this one’s for the sprinters.

So, who’s left? After all, many of the big names caught the first flight home before the race hit the Dolomites. Favourite today must surely be Giacomo Nizzolo, who was riding well in the earlier stages but was overshadowed by the now-absent Viviani and Kittel. Nizzolo led the sprint in after Roger Kluge on stage 17, and behind him came the next pick, Nikias Arndt. Arndt has raced well these past weeks, and should be on the podium this evening. And who could forget Sacha Modolo? Modolo’s never been far from the front in the sprints, and with the much-depleted field he’s got a great chance at going better than his stage 2 third place. Also look to Matteo Trentin, Alexander Porsev, Kristian Sbaragli, or even Ramunas Navardauskas to go well here. The sprint is likely to be a messy affair, so it’s not outside of all possibility that a less consistent sprinter might find the front at the right time to take a rare win. Whoever gets it will be glad they fought through the mountains, and will end their Giro in style.

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