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

14/05 - Stage 6 - Montecatini Terme to Castiglione della Pescaia - 183 km

After three difficult days, the riders will now be able to take a breather on this designated sprint stage.

The route
Despite a very easy looking profile, the first 20 km of this stage will most likely be ridden with a furious pace. There is an intermediate sprint located in Altopascio after just 14.6 km. The sprinters targeting the red jersey will be eager to score some points, meaning it will be very difficult for a break to get away before this sprint. Afterwards, however, the peloton will slow down significantly. We are just six days into the race but everybody is already hurting after the last few stages. It’s up to the sprinters’ teams to control the race today.

After 80 flat km, the riders reach the Colline Metallifere. The following 50 km take place in these hills with the road constantly going up and down. The sole categorized climb of the day comes after 90.3 km in Pomarance and offers 3-2-1 KOM points.

The second and last intermediate sprint is in Ribolla with just 34.1 km to go. It will be interesting to see if the sprinters will use energy this close to the finishing line in order to win a few points. If so, those riders who aren’t thinking of the red jersey, will be able to save their legs and thereby getting a small advantage for the final sprint.

The finish
The run-in towards Castiglione della Pescaia is fairly easy. The last 10 km are mostly straight-out and only feature are couple of tricky parts. With a bit less than 3 km to go, the riders turn left in a sharp corner and a few hundred meters later they turn right. These two turns will stretch out the peloton significantly, meaning it’s important to be well-placed in order not to lose any positions.

According to the road book, there is a speed bump with just 1.5 km to go. However, it’s actually more like a small kick-up in the road, taking the riders through a narrow roundabout. Once again, it’s very important to be in a good position as the front of the peloton will be stretched out again. The riders continue alongside the water before a big right-hand bend leads them onto the Via Guglielmo Marconi. The final 1100 meters are pretty much straight-out all the way towards the finishing line.

The candidates
The pure sprinters haven’t had it easy in this year’s Giro d’Italia so far. Some missed out in the chaotic finish on stage 2 and others have been fighting just to stay in the race the last couple of days. Hopefully, we will get to see all of them fight for the win in Castiglione della Pescaia today.

As mentioned numerous times in the Giro previews already, the level of the sprinters in the race is very equal. There are no clear favorites. Elia Viviani took a beautiful win in Genova and he’s still riding in the red points jersey. He now hopes to keep this jersey until Milano. Viviani is clearly in great shape but he doesn’t get much help from his team. Team Sky only spares Salvatore Puccio and Bernhard Eisel to help their Italian sprinter. On stage 5, it was actually Viviani who supported his teammates with water on the climbs. Aiming at the red jersey also means that he will take part in the intermediate sprints. This may cause that Elia Viviani won’t arrive as fresh for the final sprint as those riders who are only thinking about the stage win.

My personal pick for the stage is Sacha Modolo. In Tour of Turkey, he proved to be in excellent shape. On stage 2 of this race, Modolo was in perfect position. However, a confrontation with Giacomo Nizzolo saw him lose momentum and Modolo stopped pedaling. Finishing 91st on the stage definitely doesn’t mirror his strength in the bunch sprints. To help their fast Italian on the last kilometers, Lampre-Merida has Max Richeze and Roberto Ferrari ready and eager to work. On stage 2, everything went according to plan right up until Nizzolo interfered. Without any incidents, I think Sacha Modolo will be very difficult to beat today.

Andre Greipel got a little carried away on stage 2, starting his sprint too early on the uphill finish. He faded at the end and had to settle for 3rd place. On his best days, Greipel should be a level above the rest of the sprinters in this race. However, not only does he not look as strong as in the past, he doesn’t have his usual leadout train. Only Greg Henderson is here to leadout the big German. If Greipel gets delivered in a perfect position for the final 200 meters, though, he should be considered as the top favorite for the win today.

Lotto-Jumbo has had a mixed Giro so far. Their GC hope, Steven Kruijswijk, lost valuable time on stage 4 and it will be difficult for him to make top10 overall now. However, Moreno Hofland gave the Dutch team a reason to smile on stage 2. For a while, it looked like Hofland was going to win the stage. He finished 2nd but proved that he has what it takes to fight for the win against the top sprinters. A bit of a more challenging finish would have suited Hofland better. Still, given his current shape, don’t be surprised to see a flying Dutchman win in Castiglione della Pescaia Thursday afternoon.

After five wonderful days in the Giro, things didn’t quite work out for Orica GreenEdge on stage 6. Despite putting up a courageous fight, Esteban Chaves couldn’t stay with Alberto Contador on the final climb and he lost a golden opportunity to take the pink jersey. Now the Australian team can focus on stage wins once again. Michael Matthews has already had a great race, taking maglia rosa on stage 2 and winning stage 3. In Genova he seemed to be in a good position, but he had to start his sprint too early and finished 7th. The Australian is obviously in great shape at the moment. He took it easy on the final climb on stage 6, trying to save a little energy for today. A flat sprint is usually not his cup of tea. However, Matthews has proven countless times that he’s more than capable of going head-to-head with the best sprinters.

Giacomo Nizzolo has been suffering from allergies the last couple of days, which hasn’t exactly made the tough stages any easier for the Italian sprinter. On his best days, Nizzolo is amongst the fastest riders in the peloton. Trek has built their Giro d’Italia team around him and he won’t be short of support in the sprints. If he can overcome his allergies and perform at his best level, Giacomo Nizzolo is a very serious candidate for the win today.

So is Luka Mezgec. The Slovenian did very well on stage 2. Had he not spent so much energy fighting for positions, he might have been able to win the stage. Giant-Alpecin usually do brilliant leadouts. However, they don’t bring their A-team for the leadouts to the Giro. It’s up to the German youngster Nikias Arndt to deliver his captain in a good position. Mezgec is definitely fast enough to win this stage but he needs a strong team around him. If he’s left alone like on stage 2, it will be very difficult for him.

For other fast riders with a chance of good result in Castiglione della Pescaia look to Nicolo Ruffoni, Matteo Pelluchi, Davide Appollonio, Juanjo Lobato, Daniele Colli, Alexander Porsev and the two veterans Alessandro Petacchi and Tom Boonen.

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

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