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28/05 - Stage 18 - Melide to Verbania - 170 km

The route
Starting out in Switzerland, the peloton enters Italy after 15 km on the bike. The next 100 km are mostly flat. The two intermediate sprints are located close to each other in Stresa and in Bieno on top of a 2.3 km climb with an average gradient of 6.7 %.

A strong morning breakaway will be able to gain a huge gap on the peloton on this first part of the stage. In Cannero Riviera, the terrain changes completely. The following 10.6 km are uphill with a staggering average gradient of 9 %. The steepest part comes at the beginning with gradients of 13 %. There is a very short part of false flat about 2 km from the top. After this, the road kicks up with 10 % for the remaining part of the ascent.

From the top of Monte Ologno, the riders take on a short but technical downhill section before they start to climb again. The actual descent doesn’t start until they reach Alpe Segletta with just under 30 km to go. It takes place on wide roads and isn’t very technical. A short climb up to Premeno interrupts the descent briefly before the following 11.6 km are downhill towards Verbania.

The finish
The descent ends with 5 km to go. After passing a few roundabouts and traffic dividers, the riders reach the waterfront with about 3.5 km left. Here, they turn left. The next 2.5 km are pretty much straight-out without any major difficulties. The road is slightly downhill towards the last-kilometer-banner. Soon after, a right-hand bend awaits the riders before they later turn left onto Corso Zanitello with just 250 meters to go. The final part is straight-out towards the finishing line.

The candidates
The breakaway didn’t make it on stage 17. Today, it may be different. However, since the first 124 km are more or less flat, it may not be an early break that makes it all the way. Unless a big and strong group of riders gets a solid gap before starting on Monte Ologno, it could all very well come back together on this steep climb. Then, we should see the riders targeting the KOM jersey make their move.

There are 32 points to the first rider on the top of Monte Ologno. Beñat Intxausti and Carlos Betancur will be eager to take these points. We might also see Steven Kruijswijk join the attacks. However, the Dutchman is starting be a real top5 threat in the general classification. The other GC riders can’t let him get away. For other strong climbers, out of the GC, who might attack on Monte Ologno, look to Damiano Cunego, Darwin Atapuma, Igor Antón, Franco Pellizotti, Mikel Nieve and Esteban Chaves.

So far, Tinkoff-Saxo has kept all the breakaways in a tight leash. Given that the first descent is very technical, we might see them set a hard pace once again, making sure Alberto Contador starts in front. That is, of course, if Tinkoff-Saxo has any riders left to support Contador. Astana will probably have four of five riders in the group of favorites. If so, they should try to attack near the top or on the following counter hills. A good descender like Luis León Sanchez will be very difficult to catch if he gets gap on the last descent. Katusha might also try to set up Yuri Trofimov again. He proved to be very strong on the downhill sections the other day. Today, he may be able to pull it off.

However, it’s important to remember that Katusha and especially Astana won’t have much goodwill within the peloton after the number they pulled on stage 16. We might even get a scenario where the other teams work together against Katusha and Astana to make sure their riders won’t get away. Still, at the end, it’s all about strength. This late this in the Giro, anyone who has something left in the legs can make a difference on the last 45 km.

If it all ends in a sprint within a reduced group of favorites, look to Damiano Caruso and Carlos Betancur. Both are very fast on the line. The same goes for Rigoberto Uran. The Colombian is 22:12 min down in the GC. He has now changed his mind to focus on winning a stage. Today, he has a golden opportunity to do so. A win in Verbania would mean a lot for Etixx Quickstep who has had a very bad Giro d’Italia so far.

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

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