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

12/05 - Stage 4 - Chiavari to La Spezia - 150 km

This is another short and very tricky stage with a lot of climbing. We could easily see some of the GC riders miss out and lose time on the challenging circuit in La Spezia.

The route
From the start in Chiavari, the riders continue alongside the coast towards yesterday’s finishing town Sestri Levante. Here, they start heading into the country to take on the first categorized climb of the day. The 14.2 km towards the top of Colla di Velva have an average gradient of 3.5 %. The last 2 km kick up with 6.3 %. Most likely, this is where the morning break will get away. The following 40 km are mostly downhill but still quite undulating.

In Carrodano, the riders start on the next long ascent of the day. It’s not a categorized climb but the 8.8 km on Passo del Bracco kick up with nearly 5 %. Most of this stage takes place on narrow mountain roads, which twist and bend making for a very difficult and nervous day in the saddle. After coming back to the coast and reaching the intermediate sprint in Levanto, it’s time to climb once again. Passo del Termine is just under 10 km long and has an average gradient of 6 %. You can see a detailed profile of the climb by mousing over the area on the profile.

After Riomaggiore, the over 1 km long Biassa tunnel leads the riders to the Gulf of La Spezia. Here, they enter the town with a bit more than 25 km to go, taking on the last part of the finishing circuit. The peloton reaches the finishing line for the first time after 132.9 km.

The finish
The circuit in La Spezia is 17.1 km long and very demanding. After 1.3 km, the riders turn right onto the narrow Corso Cavour. The first part of this road is slightly uphill on cobblestones. With about 14 km to go, the peloton tackles a fast and very tricky chicane. Soon after the Biassa climb start. The first 2 km are very steady with about 5-6 %. The last part however, includes numerous hairpin corners with double digit gradients.

From the top, there are just 10 km to go. There are a few corners on the first 700 meters of the descent but the remaining 6 km are very fast. The descent ends with 3 km to go. Soon after passing the 2-km-to-go banner, the riders turn right, in a 90° corner, over the bridge. On to the last kilometer, the peloton then turns left in a roundabout. From here, the last 700 meters are flat and straight-out towards the finishing line.

The candidates
Given the nature of the stage, it’s very hard to talk about a top favorite for today. However, naturally, there are riders with much better chances than others.

Simon Gerrans had a fantastic start to this year’s Giro d’Italia. Orica GreenEdge won the opening team time trial, which had Gerrans taking the first maglia rosa of the race. Michael Matthews had his chance to shine on stage 3 and he didn’t disappoint. Now, I would imagine the Australian team to let Simon Gerrans go for the win. He’s very strong on these kinds of climbs and very fast on the line. With the sprinters gone, Gerrans will be one of the fastest riders in the peloton. Matthews could easily be in the group as well. If so, it won’t be a surprise to see the leader’s jersey lead out his teammate in La Spezia. Of course, if Gerrans is not up for it, Michael Matthews might go for the stage win himself once more.

As mentioned in yesterday’s stage preview, Philippe Gilbert went to do reconnaissance of stage 3 and 4. He did great on stage 3 and I think he’ll do at least as well today. On his best days, Gilbert will have no problems staying in the peloton on the last climb. He’s a brilliant descender and I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried an attack over the top in order to solo away on the downhill part. Philippe Gilbert is also fast on the line. If this ends in a sprint within a reduced group, Gilbert should be able to fight for the win like he did in Sestri Levante. His team mate Damiano Caruso is also a good candidate for this kind of stage.

Fabio Felline proved to be just as strong as expected on stage 3 where he finished 2nd after Michael Matthews. The Italian is much better on the climbs than most give him credit for. He’s obviously in great shape at the moment. After his third 2nd place in the Giro, Felline must be very eager to finally break the spell and take the biggest win of his career. If he manages to stick to the peloton on the final climb, he’ll be very difficult to beat in La Spezia.

Another very strong candidate for today, who I also named for stage 3, is Diego Ulissi. He too has done reconnaissance of this stage, which suits him perfectly. Monday, he proved to be in good shape, joining the initial morning breakaway.  The Biassa climb on the finishing circuit is almost tailor-made for a rider like Ulissi. The steep percentages near the top are an ideal place to attack and thin out the front group. Ulissi may not be able to beat Simon Gerrans or Fabio Felline in a flat sprint, but he won’t be far off.

The same goes for Ulissi’s former teammate Damiano Cunego. The Italian is now riding with the wild card team Nippo - Vini Fantini. There is a lot less pressure on Cunego to perform and that may play into his favor. In Giro del Trentino, Il Piccolo Principe proved to be in very good shape finishing 5th overall. He did great on the climbs and I know for a fact that this is a stage he has his eyes on. Cunego hasn’t won a race since March 2013. There are a few good stages for him in this year’s Giro d’Italia but this one may be the best one best suited for his characteristics. 

For other very strong contenders today, look to Tom-Jelte Slagter, Paolo Tiralongo, Grega Bole, Sergei Lagutin and the always opportunistic and quite fast Bardiani riders like Stefano Pirazzi, Sonny Colbrelli and especially Enrico Battaglin who won a stage with a somehow similar finish in the Giro two years ago.

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

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