20/05 - Stage 10 - Modena to Salsomaggiore Terme - 173 km

After two hard days in the mountains and a well-deserved rest day, the Giro d’Italia now continues with a stage for the sprinters.

The route
Looking at the profile, anything but a bunch sprint would be a huge surprise today. A small hill near the end may be used for late attacks, but except for this part, this stage is completely flat. It starts out in Modena, home of Ferrari and Lamborghini, so naturally, this has to be a day for the fastest riders in the in peloton.

The rain has now left the Giro and the weather for this stage will be perfect for a day on the bike. The biggest obstacles are the traffic islands and roundabouts in the many populated areas the race passes through. After 165 km in the saddle, the riders have to overcome a short climb. There are only about 5 km to go from the top of the hill and we might see some riders trying to get away. The descent is fast but technical. The final 4 km are flat but there is a number of difficult corners, giving a strong rider a chance to keep the peloton at bay. However, it will be extremely difficult. There aren’t many stages left for the sprinters and most of the teams are still gunning for their first win in the race.

The favorites
Without Marcel Kittel in the race, the level of the remaining sprinters is very equal. Nacer Bouhanni has momentum after his two stage wins, but it doesn’t mean he’s much stronger than the rest. However, he must be considered the favorite today. Right now, Bouhanni is leading the points classification and he’s very eager to take the red jersey all the way to Trieste. Today’s short climb shouldn’t trouble the sprinters and the many sharp corners won’t be a problem for the fast Frenchman either. As a former boxer, Bouhanni doesn’t let anybody push him around. I’m sure we are in for another very intense final.

If Nacer Bouhanni doesn’t win in Salsomaggiore Terme, I would expect Giacomo Nizzolo to do so. So far, Nizzolo has been on the podium three times in this Giro. The way I see it, the reason for why he hasn’t won yet isn’t because he’s not fast enough. On stage 1, Nizzolo started his sprint from way back and couldn’t do better than third. On stage 4, the Italian made a gap to Bouhanni in the final wet corner and had to start his sprint from 10 meters behind. Still, Nizzolo managed to get back to Bouhanni and most likely, he would have won the stage, had it just been 20 meters longer. On stage 7, Nizzolo was in a perfect position to win. He easily went past Luka Mezgec on the Slovenian’s left side. However, for some reason Mezgec opened up a way for Bouhanni on the inside track, giving the Frenchman a perfect leadout. I think today’s sprint will be another close fight between Bouhanni and Nizzolo. This time, the Italian may come out of it victoriously.

Marcel Kittel won the first two sprint stages despite Giant-Shimano not getting their leadout right a single time. Since then, the Dutch team has been absolutely brilliant. Luka Mezgec probably would have won stage 4, had he not dropped his chain in the last corner. On stage 7, he was delivered perfectly but couldn’t finish it off. I would expect Giant-Shimano to take the lead on the final 2 km today, trying to set up Mezgec once again. This means, the Slovenian will most likely be the first or second rider out of the last corner. From here, it’s all about top-speed. Personally, I doubt Mezgec can outsprint Bouhanni or Nizzolo, but as we have seen in this Giro already, anything can happen!

The outsiders
I have already been talking about Nicola Ruffoni in some of the previously stage previews. The young Italian has had a great start to his first season as a professional. He didn’t have any luck on his side in the first couple of sprints in this race, but he has looked very strong lately. In the intermediate sprints, Ruffoni has turned out to be just as fast as the other sprinters. Of course, it’s something different when you’re sprinting for the win. Still, it shows that Ruffoni is very confident at the moment, which is the most important thing for a sprinter. I’m not saying that Nicola Ruffoni is going to win this stage, but he could make Top5 on a good day.

The rest of the riders fighting for the win in Salsomaggiore Terme will be the usual suspects: Elia Viviani, Ben Swift, Roberto Ferrari, Davide Appollonio, Manuel Belletti, Tyler Farrar and maybe even Alessandro Petacchi who seemed interested in trying his luck on stage 7. Former pink jersey, Michael Matthews, crashed hard on stage 9. It might take a day or two before he’s back at 100 % in the sprints.

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