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Will Giacomo Nizzolo finally take the elusive first grand tour stage win?

Photo: ANSA - PERI / DI MEO / ZENNARO

GIRO D'ITALIA

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NEWS
24.05.2016 @ 18:57 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

An exciting drama turned things around on stage 16 but Steven Kruijswijk again proved that he is in a class of his own in the Giro d’Italia. His rivals now hope for a dramatic change of things in the final stages in the Alps but before they get there, they will have to get safely through Wednesday’s stage 17 which will give the sprinters a rare chance to shine in the brutal third week.  

 

The course

When Angelo Zomegnan was still in charge of the Giro d’Italia, the courses got harder and harder and in the last few years, they were barely any opportunities for the sprinters in the final week. That has changed in recent years when the organizers have been keen to make the courses more human and give the sprinters a bigger incentive to stay in the race. One of those incentives has been the change in the rules of the points competition and another one is the fact that there will be two flat stages in the final week of the race. The first of those will come on stage 17.

 

The stage is 196km long and will bring the riders from Molveno in the Dolomites to Cassano d’Adda in the Po Valley. The main purpose is to start the journey towards the Alps where the race will be decided in stages 19 and 20. It can be divided into two parts as the first half of the stage is wavy, while the second half is perfectly flat.

 

First the riders will travel in a southwesterly direction along moderate undulations all the way up to km 120.1 (Brescia) where the first intermediate sprint will come and where the road eventually levels out. There are a few tunnels in the first part and along the way they will tackle the category 4 Passo Sant’Eusebio (7.3km, 3.5%, 8%) at the 99.6km mark.  

 

In the flat sector, the riders will head to the west and the roads are relatively wide and straight, with just a few curvier stretches. Roundabouts, speed bumps and traffic dividers are the main obstacles typically found in urban areas, and there will be a final intermediate sprint with 33.4km to go. 

 

The final 5km are perfectly flat, with two mild bends and just one sharp turn 600m from the finish, on 7-m wide asphalt road. Roundabouts, speed bumps and traffic islands are the main obstacles, as found throughout the entire course.

 

Cassano d’Adda has never hosted a stage finish before and has been included to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gianni Motta’s overall victory as he was born in the city.

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

At the moment, it seems that the riders will have rain for the final stage to Turin but apart from that, the weather should be great for the final part of the race. Tomorrow they will have bright sunshine and a maximum temperature of 25 degrees.

 

There will be a light wind from a westerly direction which means that the riders will first have a cross-headwind and then a headwind. In the finale, it will be a headwind until the riders take the final turn with 600m to go from where it will be a crosswind from the left.

 

The favourites

Many were hoping that Steven Kruijswijk would show signs of weakness on the first day after the rest day but if anyone was still harbouring any hopes of beating the Dutchman, they were dealt a massive blow on Tuesday. Astana, Movistar and Katusha did their best to put the race leader under attack already on the first climb but Kruijswijk never seemed to be in trouble. Whenever one of the top 7 riders attacked, he responded immediately and he had to use more energy than most of his rivals in the hectic opening phase. Nonetheless, he was never in trouble on the final climb and with his huge turn on the steep section near the top, he made sure that no one was left doubting that he is by far the strongest rider in the race.

 

It now looks very unlikely that anyone will be able to deny Kruijswijk the overall win. The final two mountain stages suit him a lot better as they are less explosive and the climbs are longer. Furthermore, he has proved that he only gets stronger and stronger throughout a grand tour so while riders like Alejandro Valverde and Esteban Chaves are likely to fade a bit, the Dutchman is unlikely to show any kind of weakness. After three second places, the stage win is still missing but there is a big chance that he will be able to take such a win in the Alps.

 

Furthermore, the complexion of the race will change. Today Movistar and Astana went all out. Nibali was still hoping for the overall win but he now knows that he won’t win the race. His main goal will be to win a stage and maybe finish on the podium so he will have less of a focus on Kruijswijk. Valverde has done nothing to hide that his main goal is the podium so he will take no risks in an attempt to take back a massive 3.23 and after today’s suffering, Esteban Chaves will have more defensive approach.

 

The big aggressor in the Alps could very well be Ilnur Zakarin. Everybody was a bit uncertain about how he would recover in the third week but he seems to be doing great. Today he was clearly the second best rider and if he can continue that progress he may even finish on the podium. He will definitely be able to put Valverde under pressure when we get back to the high altitude in the final two mountain stages where the Spaniard is likely to suffer.

 

The stage also confirmed that Chaves is still not recovering well at the end of a grand tour. He has faded in both of his previous GC campaign at the 2014 and 2015 Vuelta and today’s stage indicated that he is again losing strength. There is a chance that it was due to bad legs after the rest day but no one can deny that Chaves has never been at his best in the final week of a three-week race. He will be pleased to know that we will get back to the high altitude where he should be more comfortable than most of his rivals.

 

For Nibali, the race is almost over. The Italian is a fighter so he will definitely not give up but he won’t win the race. There is no real explanation for his sudden loss of form as it comes completely unexpected. Everything was prepared for him to be at his best in the third week but things have only become worse and worse. Astana now have to save the race by winning a stage so watch out for an in-form Michele Scarponi in the Alps!

 

For now, however, the GC riders will take a back seat. Stage 17 is a clear indication of the organizers’ desire to make the race more human and offers the sprinters something to go for in the final week. Only the final stage will offer the fast guys another opportunity – the final climb in stage 18 is way too steep for them – so they will go all out in an attempt to control things tomorrow.

 

However, things are not always easy for the sprint teams in the third week of a grand tour. The domestiques are showing signs of fatigue while some of the attackers are still relatively fresh. There is a much bigger chance that the in-form riders can make a difference at this point in the race so it won’t be easy to control the stage.

 

That means that we will definitely have a much more aggressive start than we have had in the previous sprint stages. Many riders will be keen to join the move and the lumpy start gives them the opportunity to put the sprint teams under pressure. Trek and Lampre-Merida really have to be attentive to avoid that a big and strong group gets clear.

 

Furthermore, things are made more difficult by the fact that most of the top sprinters have left the race. FDJ, Etixx-QuickStep and Lotto Soudal will no longer do anything to control the stage and it will be up to Trek and Lampre-Merida to do the majority of the work.

 

Much will depend on the composition of the break. If a big group gets clear with riders from Dimension, Data, Wilier and Giant-Alpecin, the two main teams won’t get much help. This means that the break could actually stay away. However, Dimension Data and Giant-Alpecin have done nothing to hide that their main goals are the sprint stages so if they have no rider in the break, they will lend Lampre and Trek a hand. The same is likely to be the case for Wilier.

 

There will be a headwind and this is definitely an advantage for the peloton. Furthermore, the fact that stage 18 is the perfect chance for a breakaway, many of the strongest riders will be keen to save some energy for Thursday. This tips the balance in favour of a bunch sprint so we expect it all to come down to a battle between the fast guys.

 

If that’s the case, Giacomo Nizzolo must be the favourite. The Italian has been sprinting better than ever and has not been that far off the two big Germans who are no longer here. He has had a bit of bad luck in some of the sprints and so hasn’t always achieved the results that he has deserved but on paper he is the fastest riders left in the race.

 

At this point in a grand tour, freshness is of utmost importance but Nizzolo has showed that he is still good. He was even in the break on stage 13 and he is clearly still very confident. The late turn suits him down to the ground as he likes a more explosive sprint.

 

The big challenge is the lead-out. With no Boy van Poppel, he won’t have the best team to support him and his team can’t go up against Lampre-Merida in the finale. However, Nizzolo is a master in positioning and we expect him to be on Modolo’s wheel in the finale, especially it will be less crowded in the sprint as many of the fast guys have left. Modolo is likely to be given the best lead-out and then it will be up to Nizzolo to prove that he can beat his compatriot. Until now, he has clearly been faster than the Lampre sprinter so we expect Nizzolo to finally take that elusive first stage win.

 

His big rival will be Sacha Modolo. The Italian has actually been sprinting better than usual. Last year he won two stages but that was more due to the excellent lead-out train of Ferrari and Richeze than due to his own speed. In 2016, he has been really fast and he has done well in this race too.

 

However, Nizzolo has been better than him in every sprint so to win the stage, he needs the best lead-out. Luckily he has the best train here and we expect Lampre-Merida to completely dominate the finale. Matej Mohoric will position Roberto Ferrari and Modolo and it will be a big surprise if Ferrari and Modolo are not the first two riders through the final turn. Then it will be up to Modolo to show that he can beat Nizzolo. If the Trek sprinter is right behind him, it won’t be easy but if he has an advantage, it’s not impossible.

 

Alexander Porsev has been one of the most consistent sprinters in the race. He has done some really good sprints despite having very little support in the finale. In fact, he has had to use a lot of energy to fight for position and often has had to come from very far back. When it comes to pure speed, he has proved to be one of the very best here.

 

Now Porsev has a much better chance to make use of his speed. There are fewer sprinters here so it will be easier for him to be in position for the sprint without having to use too much energy. If he still has the freshness and the speed, he had earlier in the race, he will be one of the best.

 

With Caleb Ewan out of the race, Luka Mezgec is now the Orica-GreenEDGE sprinter. The Slovenian is no longer as fast as he once was but he usually recovers very well in a grand tour. It I no coincidence that he won the final stage two years ago. Furthermore, Orica-GreenEDGE have one of the most powerful teams for the flats so Mezgec should have better support than most.

 

Etixx-QuickStep dominated the lead-out in the Netherlands but now they have lost both Kittel and Sabatini. It will be up to Matteo Trentin to defend them in the sprint and as he has Lukasz Wisniowski for support, he won’t be completely on his own. He is usually very good at positioning himself so he is very consistent. He is not a pure sprinter and there are faster riders here but he recovers better than most. This will give him a better chance at this point in a grand tour.

 

Manuel Belletti has taken over sprinting duties for Wilier after Jakub Mareczko left the race. Like Trentin, he is recovering better than most and he is also pretty good at positioning himself. In Bibione, he had bad luck as Filippo Pozzato – again! – punctured in the finale and it cost him too much energy that he was on his own. Now he can expect to have Pozzato for the lead-out and this will give him a much better chance.

 

Dimension Data are here with Kristian Sbaragli who also recovers better than the pure sprinters. The Italian is not as fast as the best but he is good at positioning himself. Unfortunately, he has been suffering from bronchitis so it remains to be seen if he is back at 100%. He won’t win the stage but if things go right he can definitely be on the podium.

 

Giant-Alpecin are mainly here for the sprint stages as Dumoulin is no longer in the race. Nikias Arndt has not had much luck yet as he has been caught out behind crashes or lost his teammates in the finale. The loss of Bert De Backer is huge as he no longer has a real lead-out man so he will be on his own in the finale. It will be difficult for him to win but he should do better than he has done in the first stages as it will be less crowded.

 

IAM have lost main sprinter Matteo Pelucchi and back-up sprinter Leigh Howard. Hence, it will now be up to Heinrich Haussler to do the sprint. He will have the support of Roger Kluge so unlike most of his rivals he will have a real lead-out. However, he is no longer fast enough to win these sprints.

 

Cannondale have been all for the GC until now but with Rigoberto Uran suffering from bronchitis, they will maybe allow Ramunas Navardauskas to take his chance in the sprints. The Lithuanian has proved that he can do very well in sprints in the third week of a grand tour – just recall that he was on the podium on the Champs-Elysees two years ago. However, he hasn’t done a lot of sprints this year so it remains to be seen whether he can still be competitive.

 

Bardiani have lost Nicola Ruffoni but they still have Paolo Simion. The neo-pro is still riding strongly in his maiden grand tour and he can count on some solid support from Nicola Boem and Sonny Colbrelli. He has shown some promising signs so we are curious to see what he can do with a full team at his disposal.

 

BMC have Rick Zabel who has done a great job. He has consistently been in the top 10 and has shown solid positioning skills. Daniel Oss and Manuel Quinziato will make sure that he has better support than most of his rivals but he is not fast enough to win.

 

Gazprom sprinter Ivan Savitskiy had a hard time in the first sprints but as his rivals have become tired, he has turned out to be much fresher. He did really well to stay with the best in very tough stage to Asolo and he sprinted to the top 10 in Bibione. With fewer sprinters left in the race, he may do even better here.

 

Finally, we will point to Mickael Delage. The FDJ lead-out man will take over sprinting duties from Arnaud Demare. That means that he has a very strong train at his disposal but he is not fast enough to win.

 

As said, a breakaway has a decent chance. In that case, keep an eye on powerful rider. Ramunas Navardauskas, Stefan Küng, Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato, Nicola Boem, Axel Domont, Roger Kluge, Adam Hansen, Grega Bole and Filippo Pozzato are great candidates as they have big engines and most of them can sprint too.

 

UPDATE: Luka Mezgec has broken his scaphoid and is out of the race. Manuel Belletti was taken to hospital after the stage and is a possible non-starter.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Giacomo Nizzolo

Other winner candidates: Sacha Modolo, Alexander Porsev

Outsiders: Matteo Trentin, Manuel Belletti, Kristian Sbaraglii

Jokers: Nikias Arndt, Ramunas Navardauskas, Heinrich Haussler, Paolo Simion, Rick Zabel, Ivan Savitskiy, Eduard Grosu, Mickael Delage,

Breakaway jokers: Ramunas Navardauskas, Stefan Küng, Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato, Nicola Boem, Axel Domont, Roger Kluge, Adam Hansen, Grega Bole, Filippo Pozzato

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