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

30/05 - Stage 20 - Saint-Vincent to Sestriere - 196 km

The route
The penultimate stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia is yet another long and difficult one. This is the last chance to move up in the general classification or to gain points for the blue mountain jersey.

From the start in Saint-Vincent, the first 150 km are mostly flat. At least compared to what awaits the riders on the last part of this stage. The route goes by the outskirt of Torino, where the first intermediate sprint is located in Venaria Reale. From here, a tailwind will make sure the pace is high for the following 50 km towards the foot of this year’s Cima Coppi.

Colle delle Finestre is 18.5 km long and has an average gradient of 9.2 %. The steepest part comes on the first kilometer of the climb where the road kicks up with 14 %. The gradients are much steadier on the remaining part of the climb, always around 9 %. No less than 42 hairpin corners await the riders towards the top. On the first part of the climb, 29 of these are placed within just 3.4 km. The last 7.8 km of Colle delle Finestre take place on a dirt road. This will be a spectacular scenery. Since this is the Cima Coppi of the Giro, there are 45 KOM points up for grabs on the top of the climb. We can expect Movistar to work hard in order to put Giovanni Visconti or Beñat Intxausti in the morning breakaway to secure the blue mountain jersey.

The first part of the descent is very technical, taking place on narrow roads. The riders have to be very careful. Luckily, the weather forecast doesn’t predict any showers. In Pourrieres, the road starts to rise again. The gradients are low but the following 7 km are nevertheless uphill.

The finish
The actual ascent of Sestriere doesn’t start until the riders pass through Pragelato. From here, the last 9.2 km have an average gradient of 5.4 %. The steepest part of 9 % comes halfway to the top on a part of 3 km with 6.5 %. Passing under la flamme rouge the gradients start to drop. There is a small roundabout with 500 meters to go before it’s straight-out towards the finishing line. This is a category 3 climb, offering 7 KOM points to the winner of the stage.

The favorites
Tinkoff-Saxo and Alberto Contador didn’t want to go for the stage win on Cervinia. Contador’s sole focus was on making sure Mikel Landa didn’t get away. Today is his last chance to win a stage in this year’s Giro d’Italia. In 2008, Contador won the race overall without winning a single stage. I doubt he wants to repeat that. Winning while wearing the leader’s jersey is always something special. This is an iconic stage and it would be a huge win for both Alberto Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo to win on Sestriere. I think he will give it a go today. It won’t be easy, though. Astana has proven to be extremely strong every day.

Mikel Landa never seems to be in trouble on the climbs. It always looks very easy for the Basque climber. He has already won two stages and he might as well win again today. Astana hasn’t shown any weakness yet. If they put Dario Cataldo, Diego Rosa, Paolo Tiralongo and Tanel Kangert on the front early on Colle delle Finestre, the peloton will explode completely and Contador will most likely be isolated. Then, Landa and the resurrected Fabio Aru will be able to attack Alberto Contador one after the other on Sestriere. If Aru is as strong as he was on stage 19, Contador won’t be able to respond to every attack. On Friday, he only focused on Landa. Now, Aru is 2nd overall so Contador may focus more on him on the final climb, meaning Landa will be able to get away and win the stage. Given their incredible strength, Astana should be controlling this stage, not allowing a break to get too much of a gap. It’s also worth noticing that before this Giro d’Italia started, Cataldo, Rosa, Tiralongo and Aru were on an altitude training camp here on Sestriere. They know exactly how to ride this climb.

The outsiders
If the past is any indicator, Astana will win this stage if they want to. It seems to be as simple as that. However, Ryder Hesjedal and Steven Kruijswijk have been very strong in the second part of this Giro. Hesjedal tried on stage 19 but he didn’t stand a chance against a very determined Fabio Aru. The Canadian climber is clearly in great shape and I’m sure he will try again today. Steven Kruijswijk is in a difficult position. Given there are only 7 KOM points on the finishing line, he has to attack on Colle delle Finestre if he wants to win the blue jersey. A stage win would be a big result for Kruijswijk but it might cost him the chance to top the mountain classification in Milano.

In the unlikely case that a morning break makes it all the way, my personal outsider is Fabio Felline. It may sound strange to pick a rider many see as a sprinter, but Felline is much more than just fast on the line. He’s in the shape of his life right now and he’s never been better uphill. Every day he tries to stay with the group of favorites for as long as possible on the climbs, testing his limits. Before this Giro, Felline too was training on Sestriere. Coming from Torino, he knows these roads very well. He will have a difficult time on Colle delle Finestre but if he’s in the group fighting for the win on Sestriere, I think he might pull off the biggest win of his career.

The Bardiani-CSF duo of Edoardo Zardini and Manuel Bongiorno have also recently spent time on Sestriere. Zardini has been very aggressive so far in this race. He showed great legs on stage 18 when he followed Mikel Landa on his way back to the peloton after the big crash. Bongiorno also proved to be very strong on that stage, finishing 2nd behind Philippe Gilbert. The Italian climber was obviously the strongest uphill. I would imagine both Zardini and Bongiorno would be extremely eager to make it into the morning breakaway, trying to give Bardiani-CSF another stage win this Giro.

For other strong breakaway candidates, look to riders like Franco Pellizotti, Darwin Atapuma, Carlos Betancur, Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve.

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

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