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13/05 - Stage 5 - La Spezia to Abetone - 152 km

This 'Tappa Bartali' is the first mountain top finish of Giro d’Italia 2015. You won’t win the race today but, as the cliché goes, you might lose it.

The route
From the start in La Spezia, the first 35 km are more or less flat. In Rometta, the road starts to kick up. However, it still takes 13 km before the riders officially start on Foce Carpinelli. This category 3 climb is 10 km long and has an average gradient of 5 %. From the top, the following 35 km are downhill with a few counter hills.

The first intermediate sprint is located on the top of the hill in Barga after 97.1 km. A bit more than 15 km later, the peloton reaches the second intermediate sprint of the day in Bagni di Lucca. Here, the riders start to climb again. The next 20 km are uphill. This is followed by a quick descent leading to La Lima, where the final struggle begins.

The Abetone climb (cat 2) only has an average gradient of 5.4 %. However, its 17.3 km will definitely make for a huge selection in the peloton. It starts out rather gently with gradients of just 3 % for the first 4.5 km. Then, after a very short descent, the following 8 km kick up with an average gradient of 7 %, including a few parts of 10 %.

With about 5 km to go, the gradients drop to 4-5 % before the last steep ramp of 10 % comes with just under 2 km to go. If you haven’t done it already, this is probably your last chance to drop your rivals. If not, this might end in a sprint within a select group of riders.

The favorites
After Tuesday’s mayhem stage, everybody will welcome an easy day in the saddle. At least an easy start to the day. If a group of riders out of the GC gets away early, I think they will be able to build up a significant gap before taking on Foce Carpinelli. However, unless it’s a very strong group of riders, I doubt the break will make it all the way.

Alberto Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo had a bit of a scare yesterday. At the end, nothing bad happened but Contador doesn’t like this kind of uncertainty. He wants to be in control and establish a hierarchy in the race. It may not be an advantage to take the pink jersey already on stage 5 but I don’t think Contador will mind. Leading the race will bring a bit of ease to the team. The following two stages won’t be too difficult to control either. Contador is the best climber in the peloton. This year, he’s trying to pull off the Giro-Tour double. Naturally, he wants to arrive at the Tour as fresh as possible. Therefore, it would be of huge importance for Contador if he could create a gap to his rivals already this early in the race.

Astana put on a big show on stage 4. Clearly, the Kazakh team is going extremely well at the moment. They seem to have the strongest team for the climbs and in Fabio Aru, they have one of the top candidates for the overall win. Aru knows he will lose time against the clock on stage 14. He has to gain as much time as possible on the climbs, which is where he excels. In this field, I only see Contador as a better climber than Aru. The young Italian suffered from a very bad stomach virus prior to the Giro. Despite Aru claiming he lost 5 kg, it doesn’t seem to have had any effect on his performances though. If anyone were to beat Alberto Contador on the climbs in this Giro, my pick would be Fabio Aru.

Richie Porte is another strong candidate for the win today. The steady gradients on Abetone suit the Team Sky captain very well. Due to his great time trial abilities, Porte is able to maintain good pace on these kinds of climbs. Usually, he doesn’t have the same kick as Contador and Aru. This year however, Porte has shown big improvements. He was able to drop Contador in Volta a Catalunya and he didn’t seem to have any problems following Aru and Contador on the Biassa climb on stage 4. I don’t think Porte will initiate the attacks on Abetone, but if he’s still in the front group on the last 2 km, he might try a late attack, using his ITT skills to solo away.

The outsiders
Many GC riders lost a lot of time on stage 4. Top10 candidates like Ion Izagirre (+4:22), Ryder Hesjedal (+5:25) and Steven Kruijswijk (+8:27) must be eager to start taking back time as soon as possible. The same goes for one of the favorites for the overall podium, Rigoberto Uran, who crossed the line in La Spezia 42 seconds behind his main rivals. If Uran wants to make top3 for the third year in a row, he can’t afford to lose any more time.

My personal outsider for the stage win today is Diego Ulissi. He knows the Abetone ascent very well and I’m sure he marked this stage months ago. After joining the break on stage 3, Ulissi didn’t try to get in the mix on stage 4, losing more than 17 minutes. The Italian probably tried to save as much energy as possible for today. Last year, he won a somehow similar stage to Montecopiolo. I doubt Ulissi will be able to follow the top favorites if they start to attack. His best chance is to win from a break. He’s not a threat in the general classification anymore so the GC riders won’t mind him getting up the road. It won’t be easy for him to pull it off but I’m sure Ulissi will be very focused on performing well in Toscana, his home region.

Giovanni Visconti too knows this climb very well. Movistar doesn’t have a top favorite for the GC. Their best chance of success is to win a stage or maybe take the leader’s jersey for a few days. Despite being just 29 seconds down in the GC, Visconti is not a serious threat for the overall win. If he can manage to stick with the front group on the steep part of Abetone, he may be able to put in an attack when the gradients start to drop on the last 4-5 km. Given his current shape, I won’t put it past him.

For strong breakaway candidates, who are already out of the GC, look to Carlos Betancur, Stefano Pirazzi, Manuel Bongiorno, Ilnur Zakarin and Tom-Jelte Slagter. Given the nature of the final climb, riders like Damiano Caruso, Jurgen van den Broeck, Darwin Atapuma, Yuri Tromofiv and Damiano Cunego should be able to stay in the group of favorites for a long time. With a well-timed attack, one of them may even take the top GC riders by surprise and win the stage.

Orica GreenEdge has already had a fantastic Giro d’Italia with two stage wins and three different riders in maglia rosa. Esteban Chaves has a good chance of being the forth rider from the Australian team to wear the leader’s jersey in just five days. However, he’s only seven seconds ahead of Alberto Contador in the GC. If the top GC riders end up fighting for the stage win, it will be extremely difficult for Chaves to ride into pink. Don’t forget Chaves has been a part of the morning breakaway the last two days in a row as well. He’s clearly in great condition but his recent efforts may cost him dearly on Abetone today.

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

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