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30.05.2015 @ 15:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alberto Contador missed out on another opportunity to win a stage in today’s battle in Cervinia and the race leader now only has one chance left if he wants to avoid another winless performance in the Italian grand tour. However, the penultimate stage offers plenty of terrain for a pure climber like the Spaniard who will love to conquer the famous Colle delle Finestre that will be the scene of a final big battle between the favourites.

 

The course

In recent years, the organizers have always included a big mountain stage on the penultimate day of the race and they have always made sure that one of the most spectacular climbs feature on the course. In 2012 the riders tackled Mortirolo and Stelvio on the penultimate day, in 2013 Tre Cime di Lavaredo featured one day before the finish and last year Monte Zoncolan was the decisive climb. In 2011, the famous gravel roads of the Colle delle Finestre provided a huge spectacle on stage 20 and it will again be that tough climb that decides the race.

 

The 199km stage form Saint-Vincent to Sestriere is virtually identical to the one that was used three years ago. This high mountain stage features the last summit finish of this year’s Giro. The first 150km run across the whole upper Po Valley, and serve as warm up towards the Colle delle Finestre climb. The route rolls through the Canavese area via Ivrea and Rivarolo Canavese, it rolls past Venaria Reale and reaches the Susa Valley. The Colle delle Finestre climb (category 1, 18.5km, 9.2%, max. 14%) features a steady 9.2% gradient, from foot to summit (with just a short steep ramp in Meana di Susa with a max. 14% slope). The road is paved over the first 9 km, while the remaining 9 km run on dirt road up to the summit. The first part of the ascent features as many as 29 hairpin turns in less than 4 km (totalling 45 hairpins up to the summit). It is a hugely regular climb with a very constant gradient. In the first part (up to Pian dell’Alpe), the descent is technical, narrow and not protected.

 

As the stage course goes back to ss. 23, the climb ramps up again, with pretty easy slopes up to the finish in Sestriere (category 3, 9.2km, 5.4%, max. 9%). The first 4km have a constant 4.5% gradient before the riders get to a short steeper 6-7% section that ends one kilometre from the finish. From there, the gradient is only around 3%. The last kilometres run along the ss. 23, with wide and well-paved roadway with just a small roundabout 500 m from the finish. The 400-m long home straight is on 6.5-m wide asphalt road.

 

Sestriere has hosted a stage finish 6 times in the past, most recently in 2011 when a very strong Vasil Kiryienka completed a successful escape while Jose Rujano and Joaquim Rodriguez managed to gain some time over their rivals on the final climb to Sestriere. In 2006, Jose Rujano took a memorable solo win in his breakthrough race as he held off Gilberto Simoni by 26 seconds while Paolo Savoldelli limited his losses to defend the overall lead. In 2000, Jan Hruska won a mountain time trial from Briancon on the penultimate day while Stefano Garzelli finished third to seal his overall win in the race.

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

The riders have had perfect conditions for the third week of the Giro d’Italia and it seems that the great weather will continue all the way until they get to Milan. Tomorrow is again forecasted to be a sunny day and even though there will be a few clouds, no one can complain about a day during which the maximum temperature at the finish will be 13 degrees. However, there is a very slight risk of a shower towards the end of the stage

 

Unlike today, there will barely be any wind as only an unnoticeable breeze will be blowing from a westerly direction. This means that the riders will first have a crosswind before they turn into a headwind for the final part of the flat section. At the bottom of the Finestre, they will turn into a crosswind and then it will be a cross-headwind after the summit all the way to the finish in Sestriere.

 

The favourites

Fabio Aru turned everything around with a great ride in today’s stage. The Italian had looked like a ride who was on the verge of cracking and seemed destined to lose his spot on the podium. However, as he already proved last year, the Astana leader is not a very consistent rider and even though he is very good at avoiding complete breakdowns, his level can be very varying. That was evident in today’s stage where he was clearly close to his best level.

 

With the performance, Aru also moved back into second in the overall standings and surprisingly the most exciting battle in the GC is now an internal Astana affair. There is no doubt that the team would prefer to have Aru in second in his home race but race tactics and the legs could turn things around again tomorrow which is the day that includes one of the hardest climbs of the entire race.

 

Yesterday Mikel Landa made it clear that their goal for the remaining part of the race was to win another stage and defend their two spots on the podium. As it was evident today, they are no longer racing against Contador. Tomorrow they even have a chance to take an impressive fifth stage win in just 20 days of racing but it remains to be seen whether they will try to control the race like they did today.

 

Regardless of Astana’s tactics, the early break won’t have much of a chance. Contador still hasn’t won a stage and even though he claims that stage victories don’t have priority, there is no doubt that he wants to avoid a repeat of his 2008 victory where he rode to Milan with the pink jersey but without a single stage victory. The Spaniard is hugely ambitious and even though he knows that he has to keep the Tour de France on his mind, he is such a proud athlete that he will do his utmost to win tomorrow’s stage.

 

His desire will only be made bigger by the fact that the stage includes the Colle delle Finestre. With is gravel roads, this is one of the mythical climbs in Italy and after he failed in the Mortirolo stage, this is the one that is on top of his list of priorities.

 

However, it won’t be an easy task to control this stage. For most teams this is the final chance to win a stage and so everybody wants to be part of the early break. Today the riders covered more than 50km in a very fast first hour and tomorrow it will be no different. For the teams that don’t have a stop sprinter or GC rider, there is no reason to hold anything back and they won’t allow themselves to miss out on the break that gets clear. Today Androni missed the move and they worked very hard to try to bring it back before they finally ran out of power.

 

This means that Tinkoff-Saxo have to be on their toes. However, they have a very capable team for the flats and even if a good group gets clear, they will be strong enough to keep them within a reasonable distance. They may even get some help from Astana who may not have given up on another stage win, Cannondale-Garmin who know that Ryder Hesjedal is one of the strongest riders and LottoNL-Jumbo who know that the early break has to be caught before the top of the Finestre if Kruijswijk wants to win the blue jersey.

 

With that amount of firepower, it should be up to the favourites to battle it out for the stage win. However, it won’t be an easy task for Contador to win the stage. It is designed in the same way as most of the mountain stages in this race with a very hard penultimate climb and a very easy final climb. It will be very hard for Contador to make a difference on the climb to Sestriere and so he probably needs to make a big solo ride from the Finestre if he wants to finally open his account.

 

This means that we should be in for a huge battle already on the Finestre. It would be no surprise to see Tinkoff-Saxo try to make the race hard right from the bottom but they don’t really have the team to do so. Instead, it will probably again be left to Astana to take the initiative and it remains to be seen how much damage they want to do.

 

Contador knows that it will be hard to win the stage on the final climb so we expect him to attack on the Finestre. The main question is whether he can drop Landa. If he can’t get rid of the Basque, he can’t drag him all the way to the finish and then we should see a bigger group gather for the final climb. This will turn it into a tactical battle where Astana will have the upper hand with more cards to play after Aru’s resurgence.

 

Until now, Landa has been the strongest climber in the race and today’s stage did nothing to change that suggestion. The headwind and the mellow gradients made it impossible to make a difference for the Basque who tried a few times. There is no doubt that the pair are fairly equally matched but we don’t think that one will be able to drop the other on the Finestre. With Aru likely to be close behind, Landa will refuse to work and so a bigger group will probably fight for the stage win on the final climb.

 

Most of the climb is pretty easy but there is a tougher section near the top where a difference can be made. Astana are likely to have Kangert, Aru and Landa in the group and so they should be strong enough to control the situation. In the finale, they can keep attacking Contador who can’t respond to everything himself. Today he had to let Aru go and tomorrow it will probably be the same. As Landa is the strongest and Aru is now closest on GC, we will put our money of the Basque to win the stage. As he is also faster than Contador in a sprint, he will have the upper hand even if the pair arrive together at the finish.

 

Today Aru’s resurgence was remarkable and if he is at the same level tomorrow he could make it two in a row. However, he has often been a bit inconsistent and paid the price one day after a huge effort. However, if Landa and Contador are unable to get rid of each other, Aru should still be in contention and it would actually be no surprise if those three riders have to sprint for the win. Aru is the fastest of the trio and will be the obvious favourite in that scenario.

 

As said, it will be complicated for Contador to win the stage. However, we won’t rule out the possibility that the Spaniard turns out to be in a class of his own on the Finestre and makes a memorable solo ride all the way to the finish to win the stage. Furthermore, it won’t be totally impossible for him to make a difference in the steep section on the final climb. No one recovers better than Contador towards the end of a grand tour and this will give him an upper hand.

 

Ryder Hesjedal is always very strong at the end of a grand tour and this year he is clearly at his best level since 2012. Today he was agonizingly close to a maiden stage win and tomorrow he will again be among the best. He is just below Landa’s and Contador’s level. If those two riders are unable to get rid of each other on the final climb, Hesjedal could be the first to join them. Today that gave him some room to attack and tomorrow he will definitely go into the stage with a similar game plan.

 

Steven Kruijswijk is still riding at a very high level and he must be left wondering what might have been if he hadn’t been riding poorly in the first week. He has been close to a stage win a couple of times and tomorrow is final chance. He has one major disadvantage as he is also riding for the mountains jersey and this may force him to ride a bit too hard already on the Finestre to pick up many points there. However, if he is still fresh at the finish, he could be the one to make an attack like the one Hesjedal made today.

 

Leopold König has won a Vuelta stage in this way and he knows how to make surprise attacks in the finale of a mountain stage. With Mikel Nieve getting closer to his best level, he may even have a teammate at his side in the finale. Those two riders could take turns attacking and if he gets a gap, König knows how to time trial his way to the finish.

 

As said, we don’t really believe that a breakaway will make it. However, they do, Franco Pellizotti must be the prime pick. The Italian is always getting better towards the end of a grand tour and this year is no exception. Last year he was so close to winning the final stage on the Monte Zoncolan and he will do his utmost to make up for that defeat tomorrow. There is a big chance that he finds himself in the early break and the peloton has to be strong to catch him.

 

Today was not a good day for Carlos Betancur who was dropped from the early break due to a mechanical. However, the Colombian has been a master in joining the right breakaways and it would be no surprise if he again finds himself in the right move. With his 10th place in the queen stage, he has proved that he is getting close to his top level so he will be hard to catch in this kind of finale.

 

The 2015 Giro has been one to forget for Rigoberto Uran but today he proved that he is getting closer to his best level. He has several chances to win this stage. He can go on the attack from the beginning but may also have a chance in the finale. As he is no GC contender, no one will be too concerned with him if he attacks in the finale. Furthermore, he has a fast sprint which could pay off if the tactical battle turns it into a sprint from a small group.

 

Astana have a third card to play. Tanel Kangert is probably better than ever before and he is always at the pointy end of the mountain stages. If Contador is marking both Aru and Landa closely, Astana may play the Kangert card. Like Uran he is no GC contender and if he goes into time trial mode, he will be hard to catch.

 

Finally, Mikel Nieve could come away with the goods. As said, he has shown signs of improvement after a slow start and he could be the one to launch a surprise attack in the finale. Furthermore, there is no doubt that he will try to join the early break and as he has proved several times in the past, he is a master in finishing off big rides in the mountains.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Mikel Landa

Other winner candidates: Fabio Aru, Alberto Contador

Outsiders: Ryder Hesjedal, Steven Kruijswijk, Leopold König

Jokers: Franco Pellizotti, Carlos Betancur, Rigoberto Uran, Tanel Kangert, Mikel Nieve

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