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

17/05 - Stage 9 - Benevento to San Giorgio del Sannio - 215 km

The route
There are actually just over 10 km between the starting town of Benevento and San Giorgio del Sannio where the finishing line is placed. However, instead of taking the easy way, the riders take on a very hilly 30 km loop around Benevento before they head south for the first categorized climb of the day.

Monte Terminio is long but not very steep. The 20 km towards the top have an average gradient of just 4 %. With almost 4000 meters of climbing this is another very difficult to stage. It’s also a very important stage for the riders targeting the blue jersey. There are no less than 60 KOM points up for grabs today.

After a long descent, the riders start on the most difficult climb of the day. Colle Molella is nearly 10 km long. The steepest part are the last 4 km with an average gradient of over 9 %. This is the ascent to Lago Laceno, where stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia 2012 finished with Domenico Pozzovivo as the winner. Unfortunately, the pint-sized Italian isn’t in this year’s race anymore. There are 32 KOM points to the first rider on the top of Colle Molella. The descent starts a bit later, after another uphill section of 4 km with an average gradient of 5 %.

The second intermediate sprint is located in Lioni after 148 km. The final 67 km don’t include any long ascents but the terrain is constantly up and down. With 18 km to go, the riders start on Passo Serra. This category 2 climb is set to be 6 km long but the first 3 km are not very difficult. The last 3 km, however, kick up with 9 % and have parts of 13 %. The weather forecast predicts a light headwind. This might decrease the amount of attacks on the climb.

The finish
The descent from Passo Serra is fast. It ends with 5 km to go where the peloton starts climbing again. The following 2 km have an average gradient of 4.9 %. The ascent is steepest at the beginning. It evens out a bit as the riders get onto the big road with 3.8 km left to ride. The terrain is mostly flat the last 2.5 km but it does have a few up- and downhill sections. The final 500 meters kick up ever so slightly with about 2-3 %. Remember, you can see detailed profiles of the climbs and the finish by mousing over the areas on the stage profile at the top.

The candidates
This is another good stage for a break to make it all the way. Punchy riders and those targeting the KOM jersey will be very eager to get into the morning breakaway. With nearly 4000 meters of climbing and over 200 km on the bike, it will be a huge surprise to see the pure sprinters fight for the win.

The list of breakaway candidates is very long. At the top, we find Philippe Gilbert and Stefano Pirazzi. Then strong riders like Jan Polanc, Simon Clarke, Sylvain Chavanel, Yonathan Monslave, Sergei Lagutin, Maciej Paterski and Stef Clement follow. Not to forget Italian youngsters Gianfranco Zilioli, Davide Villella and Edoardo Zardini.

Diego Ulissi is obviously in great shape at the moment. The Italian won’t have problems on the climbs and he’s very fast on the line. Ulissi took an impressive win on the long stage 7 when he outsprinted Juanjo Lobato - another outsider for today. If Lampre-Merida don’t get a rider in the breakaway, they should be pulling in the peloton, trying to set up Diego Ulissi for another stage win.

In case it all comes back together for a sprint within a reduced peloton, Orica GreenEdge has a very dangerous duo in Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans. The two Australians are both good on these kinds of climbs and very fast on the line. Gerrans had his chance to shine on stage 7 but didn’t have the legs to finish it off. Most likely, Matthews will be the designated leader today. With the pure sprinters gone and Simon Gerrans to lead him out, I can’t see anyone in this field able to beat Michael Matthews in a sprint.

Fabio Felline will have his eyes on this stage too. He might even try to join the morning break if a strong group gets away. This season, the Italian has been stronger than ever. He’s much better on the climbs than people think and he’s very fast on the line. If Felline is in the group fighting for the win, it will be foolish to underestimate him.

Don’t be surprised if Astana decide to set a furious pace on the climbs, thinning out the peloton like they did on stage 4. Fabio Aru wants the pink jersey and he only needs to gain 4 seconds on Alberto Contador to get it. It won’t be easy for the young Italian but I’m sure he won’t hesitate if he sees an opening. GC riders like Damiano Cunego, Giovanni Visconti and Damiano Caruso are also very fast in a reduced group, should the overall favorites end up fighting for the win.

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

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