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

15/05 - Stage 7 - Grosseto to Fiuggi - 264 km

The route
On paper, this may look like another stage for sprinters. However, due to the long distance of 264 km and the undulating last part of the stage, a morning breakaway has very good chances of making it all the way today.

From the start in Grosseto, the riders head south towards the coast. Here, they continue for a while before turning left towards Tuscania. The first 100 km are mainly flat. An early breakaway will be able to gain a huge gap on the peloton. Autodromo di Vallelunga hosts the first intermediate sprint of the day after 151.8 km. About 30 km later, it’s time for the only categorized climb, Monterotondo, which offers 3-2-1 KOM points.

In general, the first 200 km are relatively easy. The long distance is the main struggle for the riders today. The last 60 km, taking place on undulating roads, are the most difficult part of the stage. There is a small hill with its top just 13.8 km from the line but the gradients are not very high. The most challenging part comes as the riders approach the finishing town Fiuggi.

With 10 km to go, the road starts to kick up. The following 5 km have an average gradient of 4.4 % and take place on a big road. The weather forecast predicts a slight headwind, meaning it will be very difficult to attack at this point. The gradients drop a bit towards the top as the peloton passes through the Monte Porciano tunnel (672 meters long). After a short descent, the riders take on the last 4 km of the stage. The next 3 km are slightly up and down. A left turn in a roundabout with about 1.5 km to go will stretch out the peloton before taking on the last kilometer. With 500 meters to go, the riders turn left. Here, the road starts to kick up with 4-5 % before it evens out towards the finishing line. The last 350 meters are straight-out.

The candidates
There are a few different scenarios for this stage. Therefore, you can’t really talk about any real favorites. Everybody is tired after the first six stages. The pure sprinters will have a hard time staying in the peloton on the last 20 km. Furthermore, Alberto Contador will be very grateful for an easy day in the saddle without any stress. If a strong break gets away, it could easily make it all the way today.

If so, we should look to riders already out of the GC who are strong enough to perform on the kinds of hills and semi-fast on the line. There is a long list of riders matching this description. Philippe Gilbert, Simon Gerrans, Rinaldo Nocentini, Maciej Paterski, Simon Geschke, Luca Paolini, Sylvain Chavanel, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Diego Ulissi all have what it takes to win this stage. So do youngsters like Gianfranco Zilioli, Davide Villella and Stefan Küng. Giovanni Visconti might try to sneak away as well. He’s only 56 seconds down in the GC but he’s not a serious threat for the overall win. For Visconti, a stage win - and some days in the pink jersey - would mean the world.

It’s a difficult stage to call but one thing is sure; Bardiani-CSF will be represented in the breakaways. They simply have to. Being sponsored by Fiuggi, this is the most important stage of the race for the Italian wild card team. Luckily, all of the team’s riders are very opportunistic and most of them are quite fast as well. The most motivated rider today is probably Stefano Pirazzi, who comes from Fiuggi. He always looks for an opportunity to attack. If he makes the morning break, I wouldn’t bet against him. Pirazzi is only 15:29 min down in the GC. If the peloton gives the break a huge gap, Pirazzi may end up in maglia rosa on home soil.

If it all comes down to a sprint within a reduced peloton, Michael Matthews is surely the man to beat. He has already had a great Giro d’Italia but he’s not done yet. There are many more stages well-suited for the young Australian. If GreenEdge doesn’t get a man in the morning break, they should be trying to set up Matthews for the sprint.

Fabio Felline is another top favorite for a sprint. He beat Matthews in Vuelta al Pais Vasco last month and finished second behind him on stage 3 in this race. Felline seems to be stronger than ever this year. Trek doesn’t really have any good climbers in the Giro. If they miss the break, I’m sure they will work hard to make sure Fabio Felline gets another chance to raise his arms.

For other strong candidates, if it all ends in a sprint in Fiuggi, look to Philippe Gilbert, Heinrich Haussler, Francesco Gavazzi, Grega Bole and the Bardiani-CSF duo Enrico Battaglin and Sonny Colbrelli. Not to forget Juanjo Lobato who now seems to be finding his legs after a difficult start to the race. As mentioned, it will be difficult for the pure sprinters to stay in contention if the peloton decides to go hard on the last 50 km of the stage. However, a rider like Sacha Modolo might be able to fight for the win if he’s on a good day. The Italian proved to be very strong on the slightly uphill finish in Tour of Turkey two weeks ago.

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

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