24/05 - Stage 14 - Agliè to Oropa - 164 km

After Thurday’s time trial, the GC riders now have a chance to take back time. The climb to the Oropa Sanctuary has a special place in the history of the Giro.
The route
Starting out in Agliè, the first 24 km are flat. Since this is a good day for a breakaway to make it all the way, we can expect a furious pace at the beginning. The final break will probably get clear on the category 3 climb La Serra. The 7 km towards the top have a steady average gradient of 5 %. After the descent, the breakaway will most likely be able to gain a solid gap on the following flat 45 km.

Upon reaching Crevacuore, the riders start on the first big struggle of the day: Alpe Noveis. This category 1 climb is 9 km long and extremely steep. There is a part of 4 km with an average (!) gradient of almost 12 %. The GC riders won’t already start attacking each other at this point but if you have an off day today, you might already lose ground on Alpe Noveis. The descent is very steep, meaning it’s important for the GC riders to reach the top of the climb in first positions in order to not lose time downhill. The climbing starts again right after the descent. The following 18.3 km are uphill towards the top of Bielmonte. A short descent before the top means the average gradient only is set to 5.5 %. However, a long part of 8 % in the middle makes this climb much harder than the profile suggests.

The descent from Bielmonte is very long, almost 30 km. The riders enter Biella for the second time today with a little less than 12 km to go. This is where the final climb of the day begins. The ascent up to the Oropa Sanctuary is where Marco Pantani made his amazing comeback in 1999. I could write page after page about the final 8 km in '99. Don’t worry, I won’t do that. Instead, you can watch it for yourself by clicking here. The climb itself is about 11 km long. The first 5 km aren’t very steep but upon reaching the city center of Favaro the climb gets tough. The final 6.7 km have an average gradient of 8 % with parts of 13 %.

Many of the GC riders lost valuable time against the clock the other day. There is still a long way to Trieste, but the pure climbers can’t afford to wait too long before taking back time on Rigoberto Uran. Hopefully this means that riders like Nairo Quintana, Domenico Pozzovivo and Rafal Majka will start attacking a bit further out than we’ve seen in the last mountain stages.

If the GC contenders end up riding for the stage win, my pick will be Domenico Pozzovivo. I’ve been talking up his chances for this race the whole season and Pozzzovivo hasn’t failed to live up to my expectations. He’s been the strongest rider uphill so far and did a great time trial in Barolo. He’s 2:32 min behind Uran in the general classification, meaning he needs to take as much time as possible today. There are 10 bonus seconds on the line and I’m sure Pozzovivo will be very eager to snatch these.

Nario Quintana has been suffering from his crash and a sore throat during the race. So far, he hasn’t been able to attack uphill. Instead, his main focus has been on not losing any time. However, being 3:29 min down in the GC, Quintana now has to start cutting seconds off the gap to Rigoberto Uran. Nairo Quintana definitely is the best climber in the world. The question is, however, how strong does he feel right now? I don’t think he will be able to drop Domenico Pozzovivo if he’s only at his 85 or 90 %.

For Rigoberto Uran, the main issue is to defend the pink jersey. He’s a much better climber than Cadel Evans and to me, his focus shouldn’t be on the Aussie but on pure climbers like Majka, Quintana and Pozzovivo. I don’t think Uran will be able to follow Pozzovivo on the steepest parts of the final climb. However, his team is strong and even if Pozzovivo slips away, I doubt the gap will be very big.

The outsiders
Personally, I like to see the big stars winning on the famous climbs. Still, today I feel confident that a breakaway will make it. There are still many hard climbs left in this Giro and it’s important to save as much energy as possible for the final week. So, unless Androni misses the break again, I think we have to look towards opportunistic riders who are strong uphill and to those targeting the KOM jersey.

So far, this has been an Australian and Colombian race. At the beginning, the Aussies were outstanding while the Colombians have taken over in the recent days. I think the South American climbers will continue to run the show this weekend. Julian Arredondo is wearing the blue KOM jersey at the moment. It’s an obvious goal for him to keep it all the way but his main target is winning a stage. I would expect Arredondo to get into the morning breakaway, sweeping the KOM points and then attacking on Oropa going for the stage win.

Another Colombian I see getting a big result today is Sebastian Henao (cousin of Sergio Henao). This is his first season on the World Tour and his first Grand Tour as well. So far, Henao has been looking very good, staying near the front in the mountains for the last couple of days. He didn’t push too hard in the time trial but still managed to do OK. In the general classification, Henao is over 30 minutes behind his countryman Rigoberto Uran. Sergio Henao and Uran are close friends and used to live together. I’m sure Uran would be happy if Baby Henao could pull off another big win for Colombia. He definitely won’t start to chase him down.

So far, Diego Ulissi has been the most successful Italian rider in the Giro. Ulissi keeps on impressing but I doubt he will be able to take his third stage win today. Instead, let’s look to another Italian. Paolo Tiralongo has done a good job protecting Fabio Aru on the climbs. The last couple of days, Tiralongo has been taking it very easy, saving energy for the mountains. He’s very experienced and knows how to pick his days. The Oropa climb suits the Sicilian veteran very well. Naturally, protection Aru has is the main objective for Astana. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tiralongo was given green light to try joining the morning breakaway today. It would also mean Astana had a strong rider up front, ready to help Fabio Aru, should the GC riders catch the break.

For other strong breakaway candidates, look to Yonder Godoy, Stefano Pirazzi, Miguel Angel Rubiano, Yonathan Monsalve, Damiano Cunego, Franco Pellizotti and Alberto Losada. Not to forget Ivan Santaromita. The Italian champion is eager to show off his national jersey in the Giro. Santaromita doesn’t live far away from the finish and since he’s not a threat in the GC anymore, I’m sure he will try to get into the morning breakaway.

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