C-Cycling - Giro d'Italia 2015 Preview and Favorites

26/05 - Stage 16 - Pinzolo to Aprica - 174 km

The route
This is one of the hardest stages in the race. 4500 meters of climbing and five difficult ascents, including the infamous Mortirolo climb, await the riders today.

On stage 15, it took a long time before the final breakaway was established. Today, it shouldn’t take as long. The riders start climbing right from the beginning in Pinzolo. The first 13 km are uphill with an average gradient of 6.5 %. Most of this ascent is the same one the riders did last Sunday towards Madonna di Campiglio. This brutal start to the stage will leave a lot of riders praying that a break will get clear as soon as possible so the race can settle down a little. Many will have to fight for their lives just to finish within the time limit today.

From the top of Campo Carlo Magno, the peloton takes on a fast descent towards Dimaro. Here, the road starts to kick up once again. The following 15.3 km have an average gradient of 6.1 % with parts of 10 % halfway to the top. The descent is nearly 30 km long and gives the riders a rare opportunity to catch their breath on this leg-breaking stage. In Edolo, the peloton begins on the first ascent towards Aprica. It starts out with a steep kilometer of 11 % (max of 15 %) before a couple of undulating kilometers take the riders to Corteno Golgi. The last 7 km are uphill with an average gradient of just 3.3 %. The steepest part of 6 % comes with about 4 km to go.

After crossing the finishing line for the first time in Aprica, the peloton starts on a 12 km long descent. The first part is fast, taking place on wide roads. Then, the descent gets more technical as the road narrows towards Stazzona. A few flat kilometers lead the riders towards the intermediate sprint in Tirano. Soon after, they start on the main struggle of the day.

The finish
The Mortirolo ascent begins with 47.2 km to go. Its 11.8 km have an average gradient of 11 %, peaking at 18 % after 4 km. There is no place to hide on this climb. Mortirolo is also ‘Montagna Pantani’ of this year’s Giro d’Italia. It was here, in hairpin corner 11, that Marco Pantani initiated his big attack in 1994 leaving Miguel Indurain behind. Like on the previous stages, we can expect many of Il Pirata’s fans along the roads today. The descent from Mortirolo is also extremely difficult. It’s very technical and the first part takes place on narrow roads. A good descender will be able to create a solid gap on this part if he attacks just over the top. The weather forecast says it might rain today. If so, this descent will become very dangerous!

The riders reach Edolo again after 160 km on the bike. Here, they take on the climb towards Aprica for the final time. They know what awaits them and they know it will be difficult to make a difference on the final part. The pure climbers will have to attack on Mortirolo if they want to win today. The last 7 km of the stage are simply not steep enough. Instead, a strong rider with a good engine might be able to solo away on the low gradients. A light tailwind will help such an attack.

The candidates
With 74 KOM points up for grabs, this is another important day for the riders targeting the blue jersey. Compared to stage 15, it should be ‘easier’ to make the break, given this stage starts with a difficult ascent. Only the best climbers will be able to get into the break. We can expect Beñat Intxausti and Carlos Betancur to fight for the points. Steven Kruijswijk may want to join the action as well. Given his recent excellent performances though, I think the Dutchman is more focused on making top10 overall. After a bad start to this Giro, Kruijswijk is now just under two minutes out of top10.

If Intxausti and Betancur make it into the early breakaway, it will be of huge importance to have a teammate with them. The breakaway needs as big of a gap as they can get before taking on Mortirolo. With just 3-4 minutes, they may not be the first riders on the top, fighting for the 32 KOM points. While Betancur is Ag2r’s only realistic bet for a stage winner today, Movistar have many good candidates. Igor Antón finally seems to have woken up. He did very well on stage 15. On his best days, few can match Antón on the steep climbs. I would not be surprised to see him win a stage from a breakaway in the last week of the Giro. It might already be today.

The same goes for another strong Basque climber. Mikel Nieve tried to make the early breakaway on stage 15 numerous times. He seems to be going very well at the moment. Leo König is still aiming for the overall podium, but Team Sky can’t afford to put all the focus on him. A strong break has a solid chance of making it all the way today. I’m sure Team Sky will be eager put a good climber up front. It will also give König a teammate to help him, should the break get caught. The last time Mortirolo was on the menu in the Giro was in 2012. Mikel Nieve finished third that day. Today he has a chance to improve that result and give himself a very nice birthday present. Team Sky’s Belorussian duo of Vasil Kiryienka and Kanstantin Siutsou are also two good picks for today. The final climb suits these diesel motors very well.

For other strong breakaway candidates look to Franco Pellizotti, Ilnur Zakarin, Sebastien Reichenbach, Esteban Chaves, Przemyslaw Niemiec, Stefano Pirazzi and youngsters like Ruben Fernandez, Louis Vervaeke, Kenny Elissonde and Sebastian Henao. Not to forget Darwin Atapuma who was very active at the beginning of stage 15. With an uphill start, the Colombian have a much better chance of getting into the right breakaway this time.

Astana may try to send a rider up front as well. After a very good start to this Giro, Dario Cataldo didn’t manage to keep up with the best riders on stage 15. The Italian is now 18:53 min behind Alberto Contador. It’s doubtful that Tinkoff-Saxo will allow any Astana riders to make the break. However, since Cataldo is no longer a threat in the GC, he might be able to get away. If so, he will be a very serious contender for the stage win. Cataldo is in great shape at the moment. If he can survive Mortirolo, the final climb suits him perfectly. He has a big engine and he’s not slow should it end in a sprint within a reduced group.

In case the GC contenders end up fighting for the stage win, it’s important to remember that the final climb isn’t very hard. With 7 km of just 3.3 %, we could easily see in-shape riders like Damiano Caruso, Giovanni Visconti, Andrey Amador, Maxime Monfort and Ryder Hesjedal getting clear in the final. Of course, this requires they are able to stay with the maglia rosa group on Mortirolo. A tall order indeed.

Naturally, Alberto Contador would love to win this iconic stage with the mythical Mortirolo on the menu. However, it won’t be easy for him to drop his rivals without any steep sections. I also doubt he can outsprint Fabio Aru or Mikel Landa if the three riders end up going for the stage win again. If Contador is to win this stage, he probably has to attack on the steep part with 12 km to go, hoping the tailwind and his time trial skills can help him keep the strong Astana duo at bay.

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

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