16/05 - Stage 8 - Fiuggi to Campitello Matese - 186 km

The route
Today, we’ll get the second big fight amongst the top GC contenders. The 186 km from Fiuggi to Campitello Matese barely have a flat kilometer to offer. It’s constantly up and down. The first 20 km are mostly downhill then, a 7 km climb with an average gradient of 4.5 % awaits the riders. It won’t be a surprise to see a morning breakaway make it all the way today. Therefore, we can expect a very fast start with lots of attacks. The weather forecast shows rain, meaning the riders are in for a very tough and cold day on the bike.

The first intermediate sprint is located in Sora after 50.9 km. Soon after, the peloton starts on the long ascent towards the top of Forca d’Acero. The following 30 km kick up with an average gradient of 4-5 % only interrupted by a short descent halfway through. From the top of the climb, there are still 105 km to go. The descent is about 25 km long and very fast. It’s not very technical. Upon coming down to Barrea, the following 65 km are mostly downhill but still include numerous small ascents to overcome.

The final struggle of the day starts with about 15 km to go. After a few kilometers of false flat, the road starts to kick up in San Massimo with gradients of nearly 10 %. From here, the next 11 km are uphill with an average gradient of 7 %. Campitello Matese is a very steady climb with only a few peaks of double digits gradients. It’s very similar to the climbs we usually find in the Tour de France. Passing under la flamme rouge, the gradients start to drop to just around 2-3 %. This is followed by a short descent as the riders turn right onto the final 250 meters straight-out towards the finishing line.

The favorites
Usually, Alberto Contador would be amongst the top favorites for any mountain top finish. However, it’s still a bit uncertain how the Spaniard’s shoulder will hold up. Wet and slippery roads won't make it easy for him either. On stage 7, though, Contador didn’t seem to have any major troubles standing in the pedals, which is where he excels on the climbs. It’s also important to remember that Alberto Contador is un-official world champion of downplaying his own chances. The latest example can be found in Vuelta a España last year. According to the Tinkoff-Saxo captain, he was nowhere near ready to fight for the win. We all know how that race turned out. Unless Contador’s shoulder gets worse, I don’t think it will hold him back too much. He may not be the first rider to attack this time, but I won’t be a surprise to see him following the enviable attacks from his rivals.

So far, Fabio Aru seems to be the biggest threat to Alberto Contador, at least in the mountains. The young Italian is extremely strong at the moment. He knows he will lose time against the clock on stage 14, so he needs to gain ground on his rivals whenever possible. The whole Astana team is riding very well. Thanks to the likes of Luis León Sanchez, Dario Cataldo, Paolo Tiralongo, Diego Rosa and especially Mikel Landa, Fabio Aru can rely on one of the strongest teams in the race. I’m sure Astana will take the lead on Campitello Matese, trying to set up Aru for the stage win. Remember, there are 10-6-4 bonus seconds on the line. Fabio Aru only needs to gain two seconds on Alberto Contador in order to rip the pink jersey off his shoulders.

Richie Porte is the last of the three big overall favorites. Until now, he has been riding a bit under the radar. Team Sky underperformed in the opening TTT and they haven’t been very strong on the climbs. Porte himself however, did not disappoint on Abetone the other day. He was the first rider to react to Alberto Contador’s attack. Porte doesn’t have the same kick as Contador and Aru. He needs to find his own rhythm. At least that’s how it used to be. This season, the Tasmanian has improved a lot on this aspect. Today’s final climb suits Porte very well. If he sees an opportunity to attack, I’m sure he won’t hesitate.

The outsiders
On stage 5, the morning breakaway made it all the way. It could very well happen again today. There are 46 KOM points up for grabs today. 32 of these are awarded to the winner of the stage. Therefore, the riders targeting the blue KOM jersey will be eager to get up the road early on.

Surprisingly enough, Stefano Pirazzi didn’t attack on his home roads of Fiuggi. The headwind and the high pace set by Tinkoff-Saxo probably played an important role in that. With today’s stage starting out in Fiuggi, Pirazzi gets another chance to show himself to his friends and family. The Bardiani-CSF rider came to the Giro with GC ambitions. These are now long gone. Instead, he has the KOM jersey as a new target. If Pirazzi gets in a winning breakaway, he’ll be very difficult to beat today.

If so, it takes a pure climber like Darwin Atapuma to beat him. The Colombian had a horrible beginning to the race. His mother passed away just before the start. Atapuma stayed in the Giro to honor his late mother and now he hopes to win a stage and dedicate it to her. The blue jersey is also a proclaimed goal for him. The Colombians have always done well in the mountains in the Giro. Winning the KOM jersey has a special meaning for the escarabajos. Atapuma is only 1:49 min down in the GC, but I don’t think the top favorites will mind him getting a gap. If he doesn’t get in the break, he might try an attack on the last climb, if it all comes back together. With 32 KOM points on the line, it’s very important to do well today if you want the blue jersey.

Another Colombian who has his eyes on a stage win and the KOM jersey is Carlos Betancur. He has been working very hard this season with the sole purpose of getting ready for the Giro. While many have been busy making jokes about his weight, Betancur has trained hard to silence his critics in this race. He looks better and stronger every day and I’m sure we will get to see him fighting for a stage win at some point in this year’s Giro d’Italia. It might already be today.

For other good breakaway candidates look to Edoardo Zardini, Tsgabu Grmay, Franco Pellizotti, Tom Danielson, Sylwester Szmyd and Sergei Lagutin. Don’t be surprised if Giovanni Visconti tries to attack on the final climb. He lost time on Abetone but only because he got caught up behind Diego Rosa’s crash. Visconti is in great shape at the moment. He has lost weight and looks very strong on the climbs. He’s only 56 seconds behind Alberto Contador. If everything works out, he might even take the pink jersey.  

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

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