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Photo: Trek Factory Racing






31.05.2015 @ 14:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alberto Contador survived a dangerous situation to defend his overall lead in today’s hugely dramatic stage and he now just needs to get safely through the final largely ceremonial stage to Milan. For the sprinters, it is a big day as the sprint in Milan is hugely prestigious and as the fight for the red jersey goes down to the wire, all is set for an exciting finish to the Italian grand tour.


The course

Unlike the Tour and the Vuelta which always finish in Paris and Madrid respectively (even though the Vuelta deviated from that pattern in 2014), the final destination of the Giro varies a bit. It is very often Milan that has hosted the final stage of the Italian grand tour but in 2009 the race finished in Rome and in 2010 Ivan Basso was declared winner in Verona. After finishes in Milan in both 2011 and 2012, the 2013 edition will finished in Brescia and for the first time since 2007 when Maximiliano Richeze sprinted to a win in Milan, the final stage was not a time trial as Mark Cavendish ended his impressive Giro campaign by taking another stage win. Last year the race finished in Trieste and again the organizers had decided to give the sprinters a chance to shine, with Luka Mezgec sprinting to the win.


This year the race will return to Milan and again the organizers have decided to skip the time trial in favour of a stage for the sprinters. They have received some criticism for making these often largely processional stages pretty long but they have still not decided to change their script. This year the desire to link the two major cities of Turin and Milan and include a few laps of a finishing circuit means that the riders will have to cover no less than 178km on the final day before the sprinters can stretch their legs.


Starting from Turin, the route rolls through the Po Valley along entirely flat roads and reaches Milan. The stage course covers wide and mainly straight roads, with just a few city-centre crossings, with roundabouts, speed bumps and traffic islands being the main typical obstacles. The route arrives in Milan through Pero and the Expo site, and it enters the final 5.4-km circuit, to be covered 7 times, and finishes  in Corso Sempione.


The final circuit (5,350m) stretches along wide, well-paved avenues around the Vigorelli velodrome and the Fiera Milano City fairground. It features 8 bends and 4 half-bends and it crosses a tram-line twice (vertically). That makes it a pretty technical affair and the penultimate kilometre is very challenging as it includes two sharp turns and a roundabout. The final right-hand turn comes just after the flamme rouge. The home straight is 1 km long, on 8.5-m wide asphalt road.


Milan has hosted a stage finish on 84 previous occasions, most recently in 2012 when Marco Pinotti won a time trial. In 2011, David Millar won the final time trial while Mark Cavendish won a bunch sprint in 2009 when the race unusually visited the city at the midpoint of the race. In 2008, Pinotti was again the fastest in a time trial while Alessandro Petacchi is the latest rider to have won a bunch sprint in Milan on the final day in 2007 (although he has later been disqualified due to a positive test for Salbutamol, meaning that Maximiliano Richeze is the official winner of the stage).




The weather

A few days ago it looked like the riders would have to end the Giro d’Italia in the rain but luckily the weather forecasts have improved. Now the riders will ride into Milan on a beautiful Sunday with lots of sunshine and only a few clouds. In fact, the heat is going to be a factor as the temperature will reach a maximum of 26 degrees.


There will be a light wind from a southeasterly direction which means that the riders will have a cross-headwind during their long ride from Turin to Milan before they get a headwind when they get to the urban area near the finishing city. On the circuit, they will have every possible wind direction but mainly have a tailwind in the first part and a headwind in the second part. There will be a headwind on the finishing straight.


The favourites

The GC riders have taken centre stage for most of the final week but tomorrow they will take a back seat. With no time trial on the final day, it will give Alberto Contador the chance to celebrate his second official victory in the Giro d’Italia and enjoy a nice, mostly ceremonial ride to Milan. The battle for the overall standings has been put on hold and only bad luck – like the one that threatened Jean-Christophe Peraud’s podium spot in last year’s Tour de France – can change the top end of the standings.


Unless it is a time trial, final stages of grand tours usually have an almost predetermined pattern. The battle for the general classification is over and there is a consensus that no one tries to change the standings as they stand at the end of the penultimate stage.That doesn't mean that there won't be any racing as the final stage is always a very prestigious one and as it is the case this year, the points jersey may still be up for grabs as well.


While the Champs Elysees stage in the Tour de France always follows a very traditional formula, the varying nature of the final stage of the Giro d'Italia means that here is a bit more room for innovation. In the Tour, it is an accepted rule that the first part of the stage is used to celebrate three weeks of exciting racing, congratulate the winners, take some photos and take a glass of champagne before the team of the race leader takes control of the situation and leads the peloton onto the finishing circuit where the real racing commences.


Most likely, we will see a similar pattern in tomorrow's stage but we may see some racing before the riders reach Trieste. In 2013 the riders were unhappy about the length of the stage which seemed excessive for a largely processional race and wanted to show their dissatisfaction in the early part of the race. A few riders tried to attack pretty early and that caused some disagreement in the peloton. Last year Maarten Tjallingii and Sven Tuft briefly ventured off the front before they reached the finishing circuit but the real racing started when the riders got to Trieste where the stage finished.


This year the riders may again be displeased with the distance and we could see some riders venting their frustration against the organizers. There is a chance that the racing will start even before the riders reach Milan but the most likely scenario is the traditional one that sees the first part of the race take place under a ceasefire. Due to the distance, the organizers will be keen to make sure that the racing doesn’t get too dull and it will be up to Tinkoff-Saxo to make sure that they get to Milan within a reasonable timeframe.


When the riders reach the finishing circuit, we will get a real spectacle and some very fast racing. This year's circuit is very technical and unlike last year it is completely flat. This means that the racing should be very hectic as the many turns make it difficult to move up and it will be important for both sprinters and GC riders to be in a good position throughout the entire race.


The sprint teams made a big mistake in stage 10 when they failed to bring back the early escape. After a general trend of solid cooperation between those teams, they all put a bit too much responsibility on Lotto Soudal and that cost them a chance to sprint for the win. Since then they have cooperated smoothly in the two possible sprint stages and it was their clear determination and focus that made it possible for the sprinters to go for the win in stage 17 which was very hard to control.


Trek and Giant-Alpecin are both empty-handed and have been in survival mode for most of the final week. They have just been waiting for this final stage where they have an opportunity to go for the win. They will be completely fired up when they go to the start and so there will be no room for attackers. As the escape is likely to take off on the circuit very late in the race, they won’t grant them much room. The technical nature of the circuit also favors attackers and so it would be a surprise if they get more than 30 seconds of advantage.


Lampre-Merida has done less work than their rival sprint teams but with two wins for Sacha Modolo they have benefited a lot from their rivals’ chasing efforts. It will be interesting to see whether Trek and Giant-Alpecin will try to put their Italian rivals a bit more under pressure and leave more work for them. However, their team is strong enough to control the race even without using their two great lead-out riders Roberto Ferrari and Maximilano Richeze so it will be no problem for them to take a bit more responsibility.


Until now Sky have not done any chasing in the sprint stages but of course they want to give Elia Viviani another shot at a stage win. If the situation becomes dangerous, they will put some of their strong riders on the front. With that amount of firepower, it is hard to imagine that this won’t be decided in a bunch sprint.


The circuit is very technical and this means that positioning is very important for most of the time. However, the finishing straight is very long and the very wide. This means that there will be room and time to move up even if one is a little bit too far behind in the final turn. This will turn it into a real power sprint which is more about speed than lead-outs. Furthermore, there will be a headwind on the finishing straight and this will make timing very important.


Giacomo Nizzolo has an impressive list of second places in the Giro d’Italia. During the 2014 and 2015 editions of the race, he has been runner-up no less than 6 times and he seems to be cursed in his home race. Last year he was agonizingly close to beating Nacer Bouhanni on a number of occasions and this year he has been up against the superior lead-out train of Lampre-Merida.


However, it has been evident that Nizzolo is the fastest rider in this field. In stage 17 he was in the perfect position but was forced to swerve because of Elia Viviani. That made it impossible for him to win but he clearly had more speed than Modolo. That was also the case in stage 13 where Modolo drifted slightly to the right to prevent his rival from passing him.


Nizzolo has been climbing really well and is clearly still fresh at this late point of the race. Of course his train is not as strong as the one from Lampre-Merida but he clearly has the second best lead-out. Eugenio Alafaci, Marco Coledan and Boy van Poppel are the final three riders in his train and they should be able to position the technically agile Nizzolo close to Modolo’s wheel. There is no doubt that Lampre-Merida will dominate the finale but Nizzolo should be able to start his sprint in a good position. As this sprint is more about speed than lead-outs, Nizzolo is our favourite.


Going into this year’s race, it was evident that Lampre-Merida had the best lead-out. With two former stage winners in the Giro to support him, Sacha Modolo has been delivered perfectly in every single sprint. Whenever the sprinters have had a battle, Roberto Ferrari has brought Maximilano Richeze and Modolo into the perfect position and from there it has been an easy task for Richeze to give Modolo an excellent lead-out. That trio is clearly a winning one and seems to be able to go up against the best trains in the world.


Modolo is not the fastest sprinter in the race but he has benefited from his great lead-out and his good bike-handling skills in the technical finale. Tomorrow Lampre-Merida will probably nail the lead-out again but this time it may not be enough to win the stage. In Milan it is more about speed and it will be easier for Modolo’s faster rivals to come around him. On the other hand, Modolo is clearly among the freshest sprinters in the race and his lead-out men have come really well through the mountains too – Ferrari has even been on the attack. It will be harder for him to win this stage but a third win for Modolo is definitely a realistic possibility.


While Modolo and Nizzolo have proved that they are always strong at the end of a grand tour, Elia Viviani finds himself in the opposite position. The Italian often struggles a bit at the end of a three-week race and this year it seems to be no different. In stage 17, he was in a good position for the sprint but completely ran out of legs and so missed his chance to win the red jersey.


However, this sprint suits Viviani better than any other. He has never been very good at positioning himself but he is probably the fastest rider in the field. This long, wide finishing straight should suit him down to the ground and if he can get into a reasonable position, things may come together for the fast Italian. Furthermore, he can now rely on a full team to support him which was definitely not the case in the early part where it was all about Richie Porte.


While Viviani usually suffers a bit at the end of a grand tour, Luka Mezgec finds himself in the completely opposite situation. The Slovenian is an excellent climber and apparently he recovers better than most of his rival sprinters. He has only done two grand tours and has been strong in the third week on both occasions. Last year he won the final stage and he will do his utmost to repeat that performance. He has suffered in the early part of the race where the Giant-Alpecin lead-out train hasn’t worked well but he did his best sprint in stage 17. This is a clear signal that he is on the rise and if he can get into a good position for the sprint, he may save Giant-Alpecin’s Giro on the final day.


IAM went into this race with big hopes for Matteo Pelucchi in the bunch sprint and this kind of sprint that is all about speed, would have been perfect for the fast Italian. However, he left the race with an ankle ijury and so it will now be left to Heinrich Haussler to defend the Swiss team in the sprint. He had a hard time in the first part of the race but now he seems to be getting better. He was fourth in stage 17 and IAM still have their strong lead-out ready to support him. He is not the fastest rider in this race but with Roger Kluge and Aleksejs Sarasmotins to put him into position, he can definitely target a top 3.


Alexander Porsev has improved a lot as a sprinter and is knocking on the door for a big victory. He is very fast but usually suffers a bit when it comes to positioning. This was costly for him in the first few sprints but he has been getting better in the later part of the race after fatigue has started to set in. He should find this fast sprint to his liking and he can count on the experienced Luca Paolini to put him into position.


Going into the race, Daniele Colli was the protected Nippo-Vini Fantini sprinter and so young neo-pro Eduard Grosu was only expected to play a support role and gain some experience. However, Colli crashed out of the race in stage 6 and so Grosu has now had a few chances to test himself at the highest level. He has done surprisingly well and has already been in the top 10 in the two sprints he has done. He has proved that he is very good at positioning himself and he doesn’t seem to be very fatigued at the end of his first grand tour. He can count on Pier Paolo De Negri’s experience in the finale and this should make him a contender.


Moreno Hofland started this race by taking a fine second in the uphill sprint on stage 2. Since then he has lost lead-out man Robert Wagner and this has been a huge disadvantage in the sprints. Furthermore, he is suffering from a crash and was unable to keep up with the best in stage 17. Finally, he is not suited to this kind of flat sprint which is all about speed. He won’t win this stage but if things come together, he could sprint to a top 5 result.


Davide Appollonio was a possible non-starter in this race as he suffered a broken wrist in the early part of the season. However, he rode himself into a decent condition before the start of the race and he has been his usual consistent self in the sprint finishes. He is not fast enough to win this kind of pure sprint but with his good positioning skills, he should be in the top 10.


Kevin Reza is no pure sprinter and so this stage is not tailor-made for him. However, the strong Frenchman is clearly riding very well this late in a grand tour and this means a lot in the sprint on the final stage. He is not fast enough to win this stage but with Anthony Roux to put him into position, he will be up there.


Finally, the battle for the points jersey deserves a mention. There’s an intermediate sprint at the midpoint before the riders have reached the circuit and as there is probably no breakaway at this point, Nizzolo, Modolo and Viviani will have to go full gas as there are 20, 12, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point on offer. There’s a second sprint with 21.6km to go and here a small break is likely to be ahead, meaning that they will probably do a minimal effort to just move ahead to pick up the points on offer. In the final sprint, there are 50, 35, 25, 18, 14, 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point for the first riders across the line. Nizzolo leads Modolo by 17 points while Viviani is 25 seconds further adrift. This means that they can all take the win. However, Nizzolo has won most of the intermediate sprints and as his consistency means that he is unlikely to miss out on the top 3, he has to be the favourite.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Giacomo Nizzolo

Other winner candidates: Sacha Modolo, Elia Viviani

Outsiders: Luka Mezgec, Alexander Porsev, Heinrich Haussler

Jokers: Eduard Grosu, Davide Appollonio, Moreno Hofland, Kevin Reza, Fabio Sabatini, Brett Lancaster



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