24/05 - Stage 15 - Marostica to Madonna di Campiglio - 165 km.

The route
This is the first ’high mountain stage’ in this year’s Giro d’Italia. The riders are facing three difficult climbs on the 165 km from Marostica to Madonna di Campiglio. With no less than 78 KOM points up for grabs, this is a very important day for the riders targeting the blue mountain jersey. A strong break will also have a good chance of making it all the way today. Therefore, we can expect a furious fight amongst the riders trying to make it into the morning breakaway.

After 50 km on the bike, the peloton takes on the first climb of the day. The 9.8 km towards the top op La Fricca have an average gradient of 5.6 %. It’s a perfect place to establish a breakaway. The following descent is very long, about 30 km, and leads the riders towards the next climb. The few kilometers on the Monte Bondone ascent aren’t categorized but the riders will certainly be able to feel it in their legs.

The first intermediate sprint is located in Ponte Arche. Soon after, it’s time for the steep Passo Daone climb. It’s 8.4 km long and has a staggering average gradient of 9.2 % with multiple parts of double digits gradients. From the top, there are just 31 km to go. Like the ascent, the downhill section is also very steep. It takes place on a narrow mountain road and will probably challenge the riders almost as much as the uphill part did. The weather forecast shows it might rain again today. If so, this descent will be extremely dangerous.

The finish
After the last intermediate sprint in Pinzolo, the road starts to rise once again. The following 15.5 km are uphill. The first 10 km have a steady average gradient of around 6.5 %. Then come 2.5 km of false flat before the last 3 km kick up with nearly 7 %. The steepest part of the climb is just outside of the town with gradients of 12 %. This is most likely where we will the top GC riders put in their attacks, if they haven’t done so already. The last kilometer includes three hairpin corners before the last 200 meters are straight-out, through the tunnel, towards the finishing line.

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The favorites
After Alberto Contador’s outstanding performance in the long time trial, it will be extremely difficult for any rider to rip the pink jersey off the Spaniard’s shoulders. This will definitely have a huge impact on the tactics for this stage.

Astana failed to take advantage of their many riders in top5 early in the race. Now, Mikel Landa is nearly 5 minutes behind Contador. If he attacks on the Passo Daone, Tinkoff-Saxo no longer have to respond immediately. Therefore, I think Astana will wait until the final climb before they start attacking, seeking a stage win. Team manager Giuseppe Martinelli already gave Contador the overall win days ago. For Fabio Aru, the main objective now may be just to seal the second place overall and preferably take a stage win in the process. However, as we have seen so far, anything can happen in this year’s Giro d’Italia! Obviously, Contador won’t let Aru get away. Despite his 2:28 min time gap, he’ll be over him like a hawk if the young Italian tries to attack. Landa on the other hand, isn’t an imminent threat anymore. He won’t be given a big gap but if he attacks on the final kilometers, Contador’s doesn’t need to chase him down right away. Landa missed out on the stage win on Campitello Martese. Today he has another chance of taking the biggest win of his career. If the GC riders end up fighting for the win, I wouldn’t bet against the Basque climber.

Team Sky is still fighting for the overall podium. However, it’s not with Richie Porte as their main contender anymore. Instead, Leo König must now be the leader of the team. He’s more than three minutes ahead of Porte in the general classification and just two minutes from the podium. König is an excellent climber. Today’s final ascent suits him very well. Like Landa, he’s not a real threat to the pink jersey at the moment. Therefore, I doubt Contador will reply to an attack from the Czech if he tries to get away on the final kilometers. Of course, if Alberto Contador is in the group fighting for the stage win - and he feels good - don’t be surprised if he attacks at the end. He hasn’t won a stage yet in this year’s Giro. Winning in maglia rosa on Madonna di Campiglio would be a beautiful win for him and the team. In 1999, Marco Pantani won here, wearing the leader’s jersey. If Contador does so too, let’s just hope he won’t share Pantani’s fate the following day.

The outsiders
Given that this is a very important day for the riders targeting the KOM jersey, we can expect the usual suspects Beñat Intxausti, Carlos Betancur and Steven Kruijswijk to make it into the morning breakaway. The first two riders took it relatively easy in the time trial, while Kruijswijk went very deep in order to finish 5th. A truly remarkable performance by the Dutchman. He might be a bit more tired than Intxausti and Betancur but if he wants to go for the blue jersey, he needs to join the break. It would also help his chances of improving in the GC. To me, Carlos Betancur is the prime pick if a morning break makes it all the way. The Colombian seems to be getting stronger every day in this Giro.

Betancur is not the only Colombian with a solid chance of making a big result today. In fact, three of my personal outsiders for this stage are escarabajos. Except from Betancur, I have high hopes for Darwin Atapuma and Esteban Chaves. Atapuma crashed the other day and is now out of the GC. If he’s able to recover from his crash, he’ll now be able to join the early breakaways without being a threat for the pink jersey. He’s an incredibly talented climber. Few will be able to match him on Madonna di Campiglio if he’s in the group fighting for the win. It would be amazing if Atapuma could win a stage and dedicate it to his late mother who passed away just before the start of the race.

For other good breakaway candidates look to strong climbers like Sebastien Reichenbach, Franco Pellizotti, Diego Rosa, Tsgabu Grmay, Ilnur Zakarin, Ryder Hesjedal, Mikel Nieve and the talented Bardiani-CSF duo Edoardo Zardini and Manuel Bongiorno.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.

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