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Photo: Sirotti






14.05.2015 @ 14:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The first week of the Giro d’Italia has not had much to offer for the sprinters but after three days of tough climbing, they should finally get a chance tomorrow. Stage 6 may have a lumpy second part but with a flat finale it is the final opportunity for the pure sprinters in an unusually hard opening week of the Italian grand tour.


The course

The first week has been a tough one for the pure sprinters who have not had a chance since the opening road stage on day two. After three days of survival, it is finally time for them to get back into action on stage 6 which offers them their only other opportunity in what is a very lumpy and tricky first week of the race.


The stage is the longest in the first six days  of the race as it takes the riders over 183km from Montecatini to another coastal finish in the city of Castiglione della Pescaia. It is almost entirely flat, except for a short, central sector where the KOM climb is set. The first 80 km roll along mainly level roads across the Pisa territory as the riders travel in a southerly direction. Just past Saline di Volterra, the route reaches the Colline Metallifere (“Metal-bearing Hills”) and goes ahead, passing through Pomarance (category 4, 6.3km, 4.4%, max. 11%), Larderello (fixed feed zone) and Castelnuovo Val di Cecina. In this part, the course is undulating with several short climbs before the riders take on a long descent towards the coast. A final, level stretch leads to the finish, on largely straight roads.


The last 8km on a perfectly flat road only feature two bends, 2.7 and 2.3 km from the finish, followed by a long, slightly bending stretch up to 1,000 m from the finish, where the home straight begins (on 7.5-m wide asphalt road). 1,500 m from the finish there is a speed bump that can be cleared following a straight trajectory. The final part is completely flat.


Castiglione della Pescaia has never hosted a Giro stage before.




The weather

When it comes to the weather, the riders have had a fantastic start to the race and they should get another day in the sunshine before they may meet their first rain on Friday. Thursday will be a bit cloudy but the sun will also look through and with a temperature of around 25 degrees, it will be a nice day for a bike race.


It will be a slightly windier day than it has been recently as there will be a moderate wind from a southerly direction. This means that the riders will have a headwind almost all day. In the final 10km, they will turn into a crosswind before they get a cross-headwind 6.5km to go. The final turn at the flamme rouge leads them into a crosswind from the left for the finishing straight along the coast.


The favourites

Unlike the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia usually offers some solid climbing in the first week and time gaps have always opened up after a few days of racing. However, this year’s edition has been very unusual as the differences are already much bigger than one would have expected. Lots of riders lost a lot of time yesterday and it would be no surprise if riders who have already lost more than 5 minutes, will find themselves in the top 10 at the end of the race.


However, three riders have firmly established themselves at the top of the hierarchy and unless disaster strikes, it is hard to imagine that Alberto Contador, Richie Porte and Fabio Aru won’t be the riders on the final podium. The differences between the trio are still very small but they will have to wait a few more days before they again get the chance to test each other on a big climb.


While the climbers have enjoyed the first week, it has been a tough one for the sprinters who only had a chance on the second day. However, the next two stages are likely to be for the fast men. While Friday will be a day for the strongest ones and the puncheurs, tomorrow is a day for the pure sprinters.


The course may have a bit of climbing at the midpoint but it will do nothing to prevent a bunch sprint. Giant-Alpecin and Trek are fully focused on the sprints and with Jurgen Van Den Broeck’s time loss today, André Greipel is now even more important for Lotto-Soudal. There is no chance that they will let this opportunity slip away.


In fact, tomorrow could be a very easy and quite boring day for most of the peloton. Everybody knows that this is a day for the fast riders and with a headwind, the attackers will have even less incentive to try their hand. Hence, we expect riders from Nippo-Vini Fantini, Southeast, CCC and Androni to attack straight from the gun and they will be allowed to get an immediate advantage.


Tinkoff-Saxo will do the early work but they will soon be replaced by Trek, Giant-Alpecin and Lotto Soudal who will come to the fore at some point. Lampre-Merida may also lend a hand and they will be strong enough to control the situation and bring the break back inside the final 20km. The gap may be pretty big on a stage like this where the headwind will make it tough for the escapees.


Hence, all is set for a bunch sprint and this one is for the real power sprinters. The Giro is well-known for its tricky finales but the first two bunch sprints have both had long finishing straights on wide roads. This makes positioning and lead-outs less important and it will be more about pure speed.


Going into the race, many expected André Greipel to dominate the sprints. We have never had much confidence that the German will take many victories as he only has Adam Hansen and Greg Henderson to support him in the finale. With the tricky Giro finales, that’s not an ideal scenario for Greipel who is not very good at fighting for position.


However, tomorrow’s sprint suits him really well as the road is very wide and so there is less risk that he will be boxed in. Furthermore, the finale is not too technical and this means that he is more likely to keep Henderson’s wheel. The Kiwi has the speed to move up in the finale and deliver Greipel perfectly.


Greipel is purely aware of the fact that he risks getting boxed in. That’s why he did a very long sprint in the first stage. Elia Viviani admitted that the German had been the strongest rider but on the uphill finishing straight, it was impossible to hold onto the lead. Tomorrow’s flat finish will make it easier for him to maintain an advantage if he again starts the sprint early. When it comes to pure speed, Greipel is the fastest in this race so if he isn’t boxed in, he will be the man to beat.


His biggest rival is Elia Viviani. The Italian took a great victory in the first sprint where he timed everything perfectly. It has never been a secret that he is extremely fast – just recall how he beat Mark Cavendish twice in last year’s Tour of Turkey – but he has always had a hard time in the fight for position. That will be a big disadvantage in this race too as he will only have Bernhard Eisel and Salvatore Puccio to support him.


However, those two riders proved their loyalty in stage 2 where they did an amazing job to position their sprinter when Richie Porte was safely inside the final 3km. On this kind of finishing straight, there is a smaller risk of getting boxed in so if Eisel and Puccio can repeat their performance, Viviani has the speed to win.


In our stage 2 preview, we claimed that Lampre-Merida had the best lead-out in this race and they proved us right. Roberto Ferrari and Maximiliano Richeze had positioned Sacha Modolo perfectly but unfortunately he had to stop his sprint when he nearly collided with Giacomo Nizzolo. However, the Italian team is likely to play with the muscles again tomorrow and we wouldn’t be surprised if Richeze delivers Modolo in the perfect position. This flat, non-technical sprint doesn’t suit him too well but with a perfect lead-out, he can definitely win.


Giacomo Nizzolo has had a frustrating start to the race. He has been hampered by allergies and has not been at his best. Furthermore, he made a bad tactical choice by sprinting for the points in the intermediate sprints in stage 2 and that left him fatigued in the finale. He has already made it clear that he is likely to save everything for the finale in tomorrow’s stage and with Marco Coledan, Eugebio Alafaci, Fabio Silvestre and Boy van Poppel he has a formidable train to position him. Furthermore, he is very agile in the big fight and on paper only Greipel and Viviani are faster than him. Tomorrow may be the day when he bucks the trend of always finishing second in this race.


Last year Luka Mezgec won the final stage and the Slovenian proved in Romandie and the team time trial that he is probably in the form of his life. The first sprint didn’t go as planned as Bert De Backer was involved in the big crash and he lost his lead-out man Nikias Arndt in the finale. That left him on his own but he still managed to sprint to a fine fourth place. Tomorrow things are likely to go better for Giant-Alpecin and even though they don’t have their best train here, they should be able to position Mezgec well.


Moreno Hofland did really well to take second in the first bunch sprint and after his win in Yorkshire, he is on a high. However, tomorrow’s flatter sprint doesn’t suit him as well and he has been set back immensely by the loss of teammate Robert Wagner who is his final lead-out man. That will make it harder for him to get into a good position but in Yorkshire he proved that he has the speed to win this kind of flat sprint.


Juan Jose Lobato was held up in the crash on stage 2 and so he has never had the chance to show his fast legs. Tomorrow he will be ready to grab his opportunity. He will have a much better chance on stage 7 which is tailor-made for him but he also has the speed to be up there in the flat sprints. He is very bad at positioning himself though and he needs a bit of luck to find the opening that will allow him to come to the fore.


Matteo Pelucchi is one of the fastest sprinters in the world but he will have a hard time later in the race when the fatigue starts to set in. Hence, he needs to make the most of the first week and so it is hugely frustrating that he is suffering from an ankle injury after his crash on stage 2. That means that he may not even do the sprint tomorrow. However, if he does, he can rely on a formidable lead-out from Aleksejs Saramotins, Heinrich Haussler and final lead-out man Roger Kluge and he definitely has the speed to win.


Like Pelucchi, Nikola Ruffoni has to make the most of the first two weeks as he is unlikely to finish the race. The uphill sprint on stage 2 was too hard for him but tomorrow should be much better for him. He is not very good at positioning himself but in this race he actually has a solid lead-out. Last year he nearly beat Kittel and Cavendish in the Tour of Britain and he definitely has the speed to win this kind of sprint.


In the Southeast team, Manuel Belletti and Alessandro Petacchi will be sharing sprinting duties. Petacchi got the chance on stage 2 so tomorrow should be a day for Belletti. The Italian showed good form in Turkey where he grabbed a few top 10 results and with Petacchi to lead him out, he should be up there tomorrow.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: André Greipel

Other winner candidates: Elia Viviani, Sacha Modolo

Outsiders: Giacomo Nizzolo, Luka Mezgec, Moreno Hofland, Juan Jose Lobato

Jokers: Matteo Pelucchi, Nikolas Ruffoni, Manuel Belletti, Alexander Porsev



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