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Photo: A.S.O.






23.05.2015 @ 15:27 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Until now, the second week of the Giro d’Italia has been all about survival and as the two flat stages have proved, that is not always an easy task. Now it is finally time for the GC riders to kick into action as it all ends with two days that will be crucial for the final result of the race. It starts with the stage that may be the single most decisive of the entire race when the riders tackle 59.4km of lone fight against the clock in what is the longest time trial of the Italian grand tour since 2009.


The course

When the course for the Giro d’Italia was announced, one stage got more attention than the others. The very long 59.4km time trial on the fourteenth day may turn out to be more important than any of the mountain stages as massive time gaps can be opened in such a long time trial. In the past, the Giro d’Italia has often had limited time trialling as the Italians have had a hard time in this discipline but in recent years, the organizers have included longer flat TTs in an attempt to attract more international stars. In 2013, the inclusion of a 54.8km time trial was one of the main reasons for Bradley Wiggins’ participation and last year the 42.2km time trial in the Barolo district made the course more versatile than usual.


However, the long time trials in the Giro d’Italia are never flat and the organizers always seem to find some scenic routes that include a combination of tough climbing, technical sections and flat power stretches. This year’s course is no exception and even though the specialists will find the first part to their liking, the climbers will be pleased to know that the second part is much more suited to their skills.


The stage brings the riders over 59.4km from Treviso to Valdobbiadene. The long and challenging time trial stage is raced against the background of the Prosecco vineyards. It can be clearly divided into two halves. The first 30 km from Treviso to Conegliano run along level, wide and straight roads, with a few roundabouts in between. The following 29.4 km are indeed challenging, with a climb (category 4, 4.9km, 3.8%, max. 9%) just past Conegliano, and an ever-undulating route, winding its way across the hills on narrow yet excellently surfaced roads. The climb is not very steep and only includes a short 500m section with a gradient of more than 8% on the lower slopes before it levels out. The final 2.5km only have a gradient of 1-3%. In the finale, there’s a long gradual uphill before the riders get to a 6km climb. Again it only includes a steep section of around 7% at the midpoint and otherwise it is a gradient of 1-3%.


The last 3km run downhill up to 400m from the finish. A challenging left-hand bend 750m before the finish is followed by a right-hand bend with 500m to go (still in the downhill sector). 400m before the finish, the last bend leads into the home straight: 400m with a 5.5% gradient, on 6m wide asphalt road.


Valdobiaddene has only hosted a stage finish once. In 2009, race leader Mark Cavendish crashed in the finale and it was Alessandro Petacchi who made it two in a row in his home race by beating Tyler Farrar and Francesco Gavazzi in an uphill sprint to take the jersey off Cavendish’s shoulders.




The weather

The riders had torrential rain in stage 13. Unfortunately, it seems that bad weather will also have an impact on the time trial. Unlike today, it won’t be a case of constant rain as the heavy rain is forecasted to stop around midday. However, there will be a chance of showers during the afternoon which can make the conditions pretty different for the riders. It seems that the risk is lowest towards the end of the stage which may favour the GC riders if they are the only ones to have dry roads. There will be plenty of sunshine too and the temperature will reach a maximum of 20 degrees.


As it has been the case for a few days, it will be rather windy. A moderate wind will be blowing from a northeasterly direction and is set to pick up as the day goes on. The riders will have a cross-headwind in the flat first part and then turn into a tailwind when they get to the hills.


The favourites

The first 13 stages of the Giro d’Italia have created surprisingly big time gaps. Today's carnage saw a completely flat stage turn the GC on its heads and as we go into the decisive part of the race, pre-race favourite Richie Porte has already been eliminated from the battle for the overall win due to bad luck. The first part of the race has definitely produced more spectacle that anyone could have imagined.


However, despite the mange battles that have unfolded until now, the hardest challenges are still to come. When the riders lined up in San Lorenzo Al Mare for the opening team time trial, it was a general perception that the first 13 days was mostly a warm-up for the decisive part which will kick off with stage 14.


In fact, the opening leg of this decisive part of the race is probably the most important stage of the entire race. The Giro d’Italia may traditionally be won in the mountains but this year the most important stage is likely to be the time trial. For several years, time trialling has played a limited role in the Italian grand tour – probably because their inclusion did not favour the Italians – but in recent year that trend has changed. The 2013 and 2014 both had rather long time trials but they will both be surpassed in distance by tomorrow’s mammoth 59.4km test. In fact, the Giro has not had such a long time trial since Denis Menchov laid the foundations for his overall win in 2009 by crushing the opposition in a time trial of more than 60km.


In the past few years, the long time trials have been coupled with a mountain time trial and several very tough summit finishes that would give the climbers a chance to strike back. This year there is no mountain TT and even though the final week offers plenty of mountainous challenges, the finishing climbs are all pretty easy. That means that the time gaps between the best riders won’t necessarily be very big in those stages. On the other hand, a 59.4km time trial can do a lot of damage which explains why it has been described as the most important stage of the entire race. It will decide the tactic for the entire race and in fact the first part of the race has been a waiting game for most of the favourites who all want to see where they are after this brutally long test before finding out how to approach the final part of the race.


Grand tour time trials are usually dominated by an interesting mix of GC riders and time trial specialists. If the stage comes early in the race, the specialists have the upper hand while the GC riders who usually have a better ability to recover, are often strongest late in the race.


This very long stage is likely to be dominated by the overall contenders. First of all it comes after 13 days of very hard racing. Secondly, none of the biggest specialists are in this race and in fact the riders with the best TT results are almost all part of the overall battle. Finally, the stage is definitely no flat affair and this favours the climbers. The first part may be all about power but the second part is pretty hilly and this should be enough for the GC riders to make up for what they could eventually lose in the first part.


At the time of writing, it seems that it will be a rainy day and this will make the descents in the second part treacherous. This may have a big impact on the outcome of the stage as it will make technical skills and risks more important. At the moment, it seems that the GC riders may be favoured as there is a bigger chance that they will have dry roads. On the other hand, they may face a stronger wind but with a mix of head- and tailwind, it is not evident whether this is an advantage or not. Hopefully, all riders will have equal conditions to make sure that we get an honest and fair fight for both the stage win and the overall classification.


The first part of the race has been a long waiting game for Richie Porte who has been waiting for the time trial to strike. He had hoped to use the 59.4km test to put significant time into his rivals and head into the mountains with the maglia rosa on his shoulders. Due to his unfortunate puncture, time penalty and today's crash, the overall win is no longer within reach and it will be very hard for him to just make it onto the final podium in the race.


He now needs to assess what he wants to do in the remainder of the race. Does he want to continue the fight for the podium or will he turn his attention to stage wins? In any case, there is no reason not to go full gas in tomorrow's time trial. Tomorrow evening he will know a lot more about his chances in the remaining part of the race and as he was not seriously hurt in today's tumble, he should be ready to strike.


In the early part of his career, Porte was a very good time triallist who even finished fourth at the World Championships in 2010. In his great 2013 season, he showed his skills when he took fourth in the long, flat Tour de France TT but like so much else, his time trialling went sour in 2014. However, it seems that he has managed to turn things around in 2015.


In January, he beat an in-form Rohan Dennis at his National Championships which was held on a hilly course that is not too dissimilar to the one he will find in Italy. At the time he was very pleased to do a good time trial as he claimed not to have done one for a couple of years. Later he did a poor ride in Algarve – rumours are that he went off course but Sky have never spoken about such an incident – but in Paris-Nice he was back at his highest level. He did a decent prologue despite not being a specialist and he crushed the opposition in the Col d’Eze time trial.


Porte is a lot lighter than he has been in the past and this may have cost him a bit of power on the flats. He may no longer be able to do the kind of time trial he did in Mont Saint-Michel in 2013 but his lower weight should be an advantage of this kind of course that has a lot of climbing. Furthermore, he is great at gauging his effort as he proved in January at Nationals where he took back a lot of time on Dennis in the second, hard part of the race.


Porte seems to be riding at a very high level. He claims to not have been in the red zone yet and he seems to have been controlling the race until now. Tomorrow will be the first time he needs to go full gas and it will give us the first true insight in his condition. He seems to maybe have faded slightly in recent days but the explosive climbing on stages 11 and 12 didn't really suit him.


The main issue is of course his motivation. Porte has been described as a fragile character but that is not necessarily true. In 2013, he bounced back from adversary in the Tour de France to ride very strongly in the second part of the race. However, tomorrow's stage will be a real test of character. Can he rediscover the motivation to go full gas after his big goal of winning the Giro is no longer a reallistic target? The time trial will be more a question of mindset than of legs for Porte. However, Porte is a strong character and we expect him to bounce back strongly. An in-form Porte has to be the favourite to win this kind of time trial.


His biggest rival is obviously Rigoberto Uran. The Colombian went from being a climber to becoming a TT specialist when he suddenly did a very good TT at last year’s Tour de Romandie. He went on to crush the opposition in the long Giro time trial which was very similar to tomorrow’s stage. Later he finished second behind Tony Martin in the Vuelta TT on a course that had the same kind of mix between flat roads and climbing like stage 14.


However, Uran is clearly not at last year’s level. He has been suffering from bronchitis and to make things worse he is still suffering a bit from his crash in stage 11. He is clearly getting better but it would be a surprise if he is able to put in the kind of ride he did in 2013. Furthermore, he seems to have lost the edge in TTs. In general, he has been riding better in 2015 than he did in 2014 but his TTs in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie were not at their usual high level. Uran should still be one of the leading contenders in this time trial but he will need to confirm that he is still the time triallist he was in 2014.


Alberto Contador has had mixed experiences in time trials since he came back from suspension. In 2009 he beat an invincible Fabian Cancellara on a flat course in the Tour de France but when he was back in action after his ban, he was no longer the rider he once was. While he was still able to do well on hilly courses, he had a lot of troubles on flatter routes.


However, Contador got closer to his past level in 2014. He did very good time trials in Algarve, Dauphiné and the Vuelta and this year he has done reasonable well in the select few time trials he has done. He is clearly riding himself into a very good condition and his performance in stage 12 must have been very reassuring. For him to finish second in that kind of explosive finish is a very good result and indicates that he will be very hard to beat in the mountains.


His good condition may also allow him to shine in the time trial. He will maybe suffer a bit in the first half but in the end he should be among the fastest. Furthermore, he will be extremely motivated by today's bad luck. Much has been said about the change to his TT position but it is unlikely to be a major issue. Contador is famously known for playing games with the media and we wouldn’t be surprised if he actually wins stage 14.


Ion Izagirre got the race off to a bad start as he lost a bit of time in the heat in the first week. However, he is now riding a lot better and he seems to be on the rise. While the high mountains in the third week are still untested territory for the strong Basque, no one can question his time trialling skills. He rarely finishes outside the top 10 on hilly courses and this one should suit him well. He still has his eyes set on a top 10 finish and tomorrow will be the day to gain back time after he crashed in today's stage.


Tanel Kangert has had a slow start to the year and really hasn’t been much in the mix. He was also not at his best at the start of this race but now he has clearly ridden himself into form. His performance in stage 12 was really impressive and this should put him in a position to do a good time trial. In 2013, he was third in the long time trial which was very similar to this one and in that year’s Tour de Suisse he was second in the time trial. He has not been time trialling at the same level since but he looks very strong at the moment. The main issue is whether he will be allowed to go full gas as he is no longer in GC contention and Astana need him to be fresh Sunday’s mountain stage.


Sky always go into a grand tour with two GC captains as they want to have a plan B if something goes wrong with the leader. This year Leopold König has been given the role of lieutenant and even though he has been riding anonymously until now, he is clearly riding well. Like Porte he had lack today but he is still within striking distance of the top 10. He has a formidable track record in grand tours as he has been in the top 10 in his first two outings in three-week races. He was originally only shining in mountainous terrain but he has developed into a great time triallist. Last year he finished fifth in the long Tour de France time trial and was the second best GC rider as only Vincenzo Nibali was better than him. He is hugely consistent in the grand tours and usually gets better towards the end of the race. With Sky being a bit on the back foot, it will be important to keep their two riders in contention so we should see a good ride from König.


Another GC rider who will be keen to do well is Andrey Amador. The Costa Rican has never been a GC contender before and in fact he was not expected to be in contention for a top 10 result in this race. However, he has been climbing surprisingly well and he is no longer ruling out that he will be fighting for the GC all the way to the end and he will take stock of the situation after the time trial. Amador is a solid time triallist and even though he is not a real specialist, he is often among the best. The hilly course should suit him well and he should be one of the GC riders to gain time.


The same goes for Dario Cataldo. The Italian has finished 12th in this race twice but in the last few years he has been a domestique at the Sky team. Now he is one of Fabio Aru’s key lieutenants and he seems to be riding better than ever. He sits in fourth overall and is a better time triallist than both Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa. He likes this kind of hilly course and even though he will probably not win the race, he could potentially find himself as the best Astana rider at the end of this stage. However, he didn’t look strong in stage 12 where he was about to get dropped on the climbs. If this is a sign of a decreasing level, he will have a hard time but if it was only a bad day, he should be among the best.


Stef Clement was once a great time triallist who even has a third place at the Worlds on his palmares. For some reason, he has lost the edge in recent years but he has been keen to get back to his former level. He has been working hard to improve in the discipline and the efforts seem to pay off. He did a very god time trial in Romandie and he seems to be in excellent condition at the moment. He has been in the top 30 in mountain stages and this kind of mixed course should suit him well. However, he crashed hard in stage 12 and his injuries may set him back in this test.


One of the big question marks is Vasil Kiryienka. The Belarusian is a formidable time triallist who has finished in the top 4 at the Worlds four times in a row. After a slow start, he has found his best legs and he should find this course to his liking. If he is allowed to go full gas, he should do well but it remains to be seen whether Sky will give him the freedom to chase some personal success.


On paper, Sylvain Chavanel is one of the best time triallists in this race but the Frenchman is clearly no in his best condition. Furthermore, he mostly excels in shorter time trials and this one could be a bit too lon for him. On the other hand, he has often been in the top 10 in long Tour de France time trials and with his condition being on the rise, he could be a contender.


Another great time triallist is Kristof Vandewalle. On his best days, the Belgian is able to beat the very best as he did when he won the Tour de Pologne time trial in 2014. He prefers a flat course where he can use his enormous power but in this race he is climbing better than ever. He seems to be in very good condition and that may be an indication that he could produce a good ride. On the other hand, he has never done good grand tour time trials before.


His teammate Fabio Felline has never been a time triallist but suddenly he has started to shine in the individual tests. He was a surprise winner of the Criterium International time trial and he did a fantastic time trial in Pais Vasco too. This year he has improved his level a lot and it will be interesting to see what he can do in this long stage. We expect the distance and the first plat part to be too much for him but he may create another surprise.


It will be interesting to see whether Ilnur Zakarin decides to go full gas. The Russian is a former national champion in the discipline but he has lost 10kg which has cost him the edge in the TTs. However, he is very strong on hilly courses and if he had not had a mechanical, he would probably have beaten Tony Martin in the Tour de Romandie TT. After a bad start, he has found his best legs and he produced a great ride to win stage 11. He may prefer to save his legs for the mountain stages but if he decides to give it a go, he should be up there.


Jurgen Van Den Broeck is a former junior world champion in the discipline but after he turned professional, the TTs have been his weak point. He has done a lot of work to improve and his efforts seem to pay off. In Romandie, he did the time trial of his life to finish in the top 5 and even though he has not been at his best in this race, he seems to be on the rise. If the Romandie performance is an indication, he could be one of the winners.


Stefano Pirazzi may mostly be known for his climbing skills but he is actually a good time triallist too. He has finished second at the Italian championships and is usually keen on doing well in the Giro d’Italia time trials. This year he is clearly riding better than last year but until now he has not had much success. The first part may be a bit too flat for him but if everything goes well, he could finish in the top 10.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Richie Porte

Other winner candidates: Rigoberto Uran, Alberto Contador

Outsiders: Ion Izagirre, Leopold König, Andrey Amador, Dario Cataldo

Jokers: Stef Clement, Vasil Kiryienka, Sylvain Chavanel, Kristof Vandewalle, Fabio Felline, Ilnur Zakarin, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Stefano Pirazzi, Patrick Gretsch



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