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Will Tom Dumoulin be able to bounce back from disappointment by winning the Chianti TT?

Photo: ANSA - PERI / DI MEO / ZENNARO

GIRO D'ITALIA

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14.05.2016 @ 19:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

There is an upper limit to everything for Tom Dumoulin whose worst fears were turned into reality as he dropped out of GC contention on the gravel roads which were just as selective as we had predicted. However, he can now turn his attention back to his original goal of going for the wins in the time trials and while the GC contenders will battle it out on one of the most important stages of the entire race, the Dutchman will aim to strike back in the best possible way by winning the hilly TT in the beautiful Chianti region.

 

The course

The first part of the race has had some tough stages but the first really big test for the GC contenders will come on stage 9. As it has become a tradition in recent years, the 2016 edition of the race will include a technical, rolling time trial in a scenic part of the country. In an attempt to attract a more international field and make the race more suited to versatile riders, the race has had such a stage every year since 2013 but history shows that these time trials are definitely not for the pure specialists. Instead, climbers and technically strong riders have often done well on the courses that include a bit of everything and we can expect something similar in 2016.

 

This year’s stage comes a bit earlier than it did last year and at 40.5km, it is also a bit shorter. It brings the riders from Radda to Greve in Chianti through the beautiful and spectacular vineyards. The individual time trial is very wavy and winding. It is undulating and slightly uphill all the way to Castellina in Chianti (split time 1 at the 11.6km mark) as the riders travel in a westerly direction and then gets undulating and mainly downhill as they head north to Madonna di Pietracupa (split time 2 at the 22.3km mark). Here, the roadway narrows for about 4 km.

 

Next on the route are two climbs: first a relatively short ascent and then a second one which is longer and steeper and leads to Panzano in Chianti (split time 3 at the 33.7km mark). Here the final, non-technical descent begins, leading into the finish. The final kilometres run downhill all the way up to 2km from the finish line, along wide and mainly straight roads, just bending slightly at points. 300 m from the finish there is a final bend, nearly a U-shaped curve, leading into the old town centre and to the finish. The home straight is 180m long, on 6-m wide, flat asphalt road.

 

Last year Alberto Contador mainly won the race by crushing his rivals in the rolling time trial that was won by Vasil Kiryienka, and ONE year earlier Rigoberto Uran looked like he could win the race when he gained significant time on Nairo Quintana in a similar time trial. This year’s stage is shorter than the one used in 2015 but is very similar to the 2014 stage that was also held in a famous wine region.

 

Greve in Chianti has never hosted a Giro d’Italia stage before.

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

For the second day in a row, the riders were lucky to avoid rain in the finale but they are unlikely to have similar fortune on Sunday. After a sunny start to the day, rain is forecasted from noon. However, while there’s a 75% risk in the first part of the stag, there is a slightly bigger chance that it will be dry for the late starters. The temperature will be 21 degrees

 

There will only be a light wind from a northerly direction and it should not change much during the stage. This means that it will be a mix of a cross- and a headwind throughout the day. Most notably, there will be  a headwind both on the final climb and the descent to the finish.

 

The favourites

The Tuscan gravel roads never disappoint and as the dirt road stage even featured a proper climb in the finale, stage 8 was always going to be a day for the GC riders. As we said yesterday, it was a day for Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde to try to bounce back in terrain that suited them well and that’s what they did. Astana took it up from the bottom of the climb and Valverde delivered a great performance that left the impression that he was the strongest rider in the race.

 

In the end, the stage failed to create any significant time gaps between the pre-race favourites – there was just a 3-second split in the uphill sprint – but at least it gave a very important answer. Tom Dumoulin suffered a lot in a stage that should actually have suited him well and he is no longer a real winner candidate. Of course he is likely to gain back time in tomorrow’s time trial and if he is on a great day, he could very well ride himself back into pink. However, he was always set to be on the defensive in the mountains and even though he may improve throughout the race, he won’t be able to build enough of a buffer to go for the overall win. There is a big chance that he will drop out of GC contention on stage 10 and set his sights on stage wins in the final part of the race.

 

That turns the attention back to the pre-race favourites and today Valverde and Nibali proved that their poor showing in stage 6 was no indication of their true form. As opposed to this, it was another bad day for Landa but again he managed to limit his losses. At the moment, the Basque doesn’t seem to be a real podium candidate but with his limited preparation, he is likely to improve throughout the race. It will be a big test for him tomorrow as he is likely to lose a lot of time in Chianti but if he can limit his losses, he may still be flying in the third week.

 

As said, Ilnur Zakarin and Esteban Chaves were our two pre-race outsiders for the overall win and they again left a good impression in today’s stage. Rigoberto Uran proved what he had already shown in Romandie: that he is probably climbing better than ever. Rafal Majka is more or less as expected while Steven Kruijswijk shows that his leg surgery has really put him back on track and he is finally able to show the potential that suddenly disappeared due to his artery problem. The Dutchman seems to be at ease on the climbs and really stands out as an outsider for the podium.

 

The next big battle will come in the time trial which is one of the most important stages of the entire race. Before the start, this was the stage that Valverde and Nibali were eyeing to gain time on Landa and even though that may be less of a focus now as the Basque doesn’t look as strong as expected, it is still one of the stages that is going to create the biggest gaps.

 

The stage is very similar to the long time trials that we have had every year since 2013. The course is rolling and technical and history shows that these time trials are better suited to the versatile GC riders than pure specialists. In the past, the TTs have been dominated by the overall contenders, with just a few specialists mixing it up with the best. It’s likely to be very similar tomorrow. There’s a descent amount of climbing even though the roads never get very steep, and there are some technical sections too. However, there are also a few power sections, especially between the first to time checks and on the final descent. Especially, the final section which will be ridden into a headwind should give the powerful riders a chance to gain some time.

 

Rain has been forecasted and this will have an impact on this kind of course as it will make technical skills more important. Luckily, it seems that the wind won’t change and this means that we won’t have a repeat of last year’s scenario when the GC riders were significantly disadvantaged. Back then, the overall contenders were almost all far behind the early starters and it was only Contador who managed to mix it up with the best. If everyone had had the same conditions, the Spaniard would definitely have won. However, there is a better chance that the conditions will be dry for the late starters so they may have a small advantage.

 

Today’s stage was a huge disappointment for Tom Dumoulin who claims not to have felt good for two days. However, he has the best possible chance to strike back immediately as the Chianti time trial was originally one of his two big goals of the race. In fact, the rolling course suits him much better than the flat TT in Apeldoorn and stage 9 was always his best chance to win a stage in this race.

 

However, Dumoulin wasn’t optimistic when he spoke to his team after today’s stage. He is still going for victory in stage 9 but claims that he won’t win the stage if he has the power that he had today. He was already dropped early in the stage and also claims to have felt bad yesterday. This may be a sign that fatigue is starting to set in and he is definitely not the overwhelming favourite that he was two days ago.

 

However, Dumoulin will still be the man to beat. After all, he is by far the best time triallist in this race and even though he hasn’t been time trialling at his usual level in 2016, he has still been up there in every time trial that he has done. He managed to win in Apeldoorn and even though it was a close call, it was a solid performance on a course that didn’t suit him. The rolling terrain, the technical sections and the few power stretches make this a perfect TT for him and he could probably not have designed a better course.

 

However, everything will depend on his recovery. If he is really on a downwards trend, he won’t win the stage. After all he was beaten by Thibaut Pinot on a similar course in Romandie so the GC riders will be able to challenge him if he is not at his best. On the other hand, he was amazingly strong just two days ago so we believe that he will be good enough to take the win but there won’t be any kind of guarantees and it will be no surprise if it’s another near-miss for the Dutchman.

 

Bob Jungels is ready to benefit from Dumoulin’s weakness. The Luxembourger is in the form of his life as he has been climbing better than ever. Today he lost time but this was no surprise as he was never going to be a GC contender in this race. He has never been a rider for steep gradients and big mountains and so the final climb today was always going to be a very big challenge.

 

Hence, his time loss cannot be seen as any kind of weakness. At the same time, he goes into a stage that suits him down to the ground. Just like Dumoulin, he is made for these technical, rolling time trials that have some flat sections too. He was third on the similar course in Romandie and with the form he has now, he should do even better here. He could very well win this stage.

 

Alejandro Valverde had a bad day in stage 6 but today he proved that he is just as strong as he claimed to be at the start of the race. In the last few months, he has been extremely focused on the Giro which he regards as his big chance to win a second grand tour and no one knows how to prepare for a race like the Spanish veteran. He is not a TT specialist but he has always been one of the best in the world on rolling courses. He crushed the opposition in a similar time trial at the Dauphiné several years ago and he has always done well in these tests. At the same time, he seems to do better in flat time trials too, most notably in last year’s Vuelta where he probably did the flat time trial of his life. With his current form, he has a very solid chance to win tomorrow’s TT.

 

Ilnur Zakarin started his career as a TT specialist but while he improved his climbing, he lost a bit of power for the TTs. Nonetheless, he is still a very good time triallist when the course is not too flat which he proved at last year’s Tour de Romandie where he would have beaten Tony Martin in the final TT if he hadn’t suffered a mechanical. However, there is a reason to be slightly worried. This year he seems to be even skinnier and it may have cost him a bit more in the TT. He did a poor time trial in Romandie on a course that should have suited him well. On the other hand, he is maybe the strongest rider at the moment and he should find the route to his liking. He needs to prove that his poor TT in Romandie was just the result of a bad day but he can definitely win this stage.

 

The same goes for Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian bounced back with a solid ride in today’s stage and confirmed what he had showed since Apeldoorn: that he is fully ready to for the win here and that there is no reason to be concerned by his poor ride in stage 6. He has never been a TT specialist but during the last few years, he has improved a lot. In recent seasons, he has done some solid TTs, even on flat courses, and this stage should suit him really well. Three years ago he was fourth on a course that suited him less and nowadays he is an even better time triallist. We doubt that he will win the stage but he could very well be on the podium.

 

Fabian Cancellara is of course the big question mark. At the start of the race, this stage was a big goal for the Swiss but he fell ill just before the first time trial. Since then he has been suffering but now he is obviously doing a lot better. Yesterday he could help Giacomo Nizzolo in the finale and he has made it clear that he will give it a go in the TT. Usually he is strong in this kind of rolling, technical time trial but to keep up with the GC contenders on the climbs, he probably needs to be 100%. We doubt that it’s the case after such a difficult week so it will be hard for him to win. On the other hand, he is one of the select few who can actually do so.

 

Steven Kruijswijk has never been a TT specialist and in fact he has always lost time in the time trials. However, that changed last year when he did the TT of his life on a similar course. He was fifth in the long TT in 2015 and in 2016 he is clearly better than ever before. At the moment, the sky seems to be the limit for the strong Dutchman so we expect another fantastic ride by the LottoNL-Jumbo leader.

 

Giant-Alpecin have more than one card to play. Tobias Ludvigsson showed huge promise in the TTs a few years ago but since then his progress suddenly came to a halt. Now he is back on track and better than ever before. He did a great time trial in Apeldoorn and as he can both climb and ride strong on the flats, this is a good TT for the in-form Swede.

 

We are curious to see how Stefan Küng will do. The Swiss would maybe have won the opening stage if he hadn’t crashed in a turn and his great performance in stage 7 just confirms that he is back in form after his bout of mononucleosis. He is one of the biggest TT talents in the world but the course may be a bit too hilly for him to realistically go for the win.

 

Andrey Amador is not as strong as he was last year but he is still riding very well. Time trials have always been his specialty which he proved by taking third in stage 1. This course should suit his diesel engine even better so there should definitely be time gains for the powerful Costa Rican.

 

Manuele Boaro was once a TT specialist but while he has improved his climbing, he last lost the power for the time trials. However, he can still do very well on hilly courses which he proved with his 10th place in Romandie. Today he proved that he is climbing better than ever before and this should come in handy on tomorrow’s difficult route.

 

Moreno Moser is back at a solid level after several disappointing seasons and this naturally makes him a contender in every time trial, especially on a rolling course that suits him really well. During his bad years, the TTs have actually been the only place where he has done well and after his sixth place in stage 1, he should do well here too. He prefers shorter time trials but his 10th place at last year’s Worlds proves that he can also be good on longer courses.

 

It will be interesting to see what Rafal Majka can do here. The Pole has sent very mixed signals when it comes to time trialling. Two years ago he was a marvelous fourth in the very similar TT in the Giro and he has also done well in the Tour de Pologne. However, he did a very poor TT in last year’s Vuelta. This course should suit him much better though and you never know what you get from the inconsistent Tinkoff leader.

 

Usually, one would say that Esteban Chaves would be the big loser here. However, the Colombian has improved massively. He did a fantastic TT in last year’s Vuelta and he was very good on the flat course in stage 1 too. Now he finally gets the chance to show what he can do on a hilly course and we won’t be surprised if the in-form Colombian finishes in the top 10.

 

We will point to Tanel Kangert, Primoz Roglic and Patrick Gretsch. The Estonian was once of the best in the world for such a TT and even though he is no longer at the same level, he can still do well. Roglic has never been a TT specialist but he surprised everybody in the opening stage. Unfortunately, he crashed in stage 3 and since then he has been recovering. He is slowly getting better but he is still not at 100% and he still has to prove that his result in stage 1 was no fluke. Gretsch is no longer the time triallist he once was but for some reason he always seems to come good for the hilly TT in the Giro. He has been in the top 10 two years in a row and last year he was even fourth.

 

Finally, Gianluca Brambilla deserves a mention. The Italian had a marvelous day today and will be the final rider down the ramp in the time trial as he finished off what he failed to do at Strade Bianche where he was caught agonizingly close to the line. On paper, he is not a good time triallist but this stage is special. It is very comparable to the Barolo TT in 2014 and back then the hilly, twisty course allowed the Italian to do the TT of his life. He finished in the top 10 and he should be able to do a good ride again tomorrow. However, the course probably requires a bit too much power in the final part for him to realistically hope to defend his jersey.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Tom Dumoulin

Other winner candidates: Bob Jungels, Alejandro Valverde

Outsiders: Ilnur Zakarin, Fabian Cancellara, Vincenzo Nibali, Steven Kruijswijk

Jokers: Tobias Ludvigsson, Stefan Küng, Andrey Amador, Manuele Boaro, Moreno Moser, Rafal Majka, Esteban Chaves, Tanel Kangert, Primoz Roglic, Patrick Gretsch

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