25/05 - Stage 15 - Valdengo to Plan di Montecampione - 225 km

This stage isn’t as hilly as Saturday’s stage 14. However, the final ascent up Montecampione is anything but easy. We should be in for quite a show Sunday afternoon.

The route
Today’s stage can be divided into two parts. The first long one, more than 200 km, is completely flat. From Valdengo the peloton heads east through Milano towards Bergamo where the intermediate sprint is located. We can expect a morning breakaway to gain a huge gap on the peloton on this long and flat stretch. After 205 km in the saddle, the riders finally reach the main attraction of the day.

Plan di Montecampione is where Marco Pantani and Pavel Tonkov fought for the overall win in 1998. After numerous attacks on the climb, Pantani managed to drop the strong Russian with 3 km to go and soloed away to win the stage and seal the overall win. If you want to re-watch the memorable fight click here.

Like the stage, the final climb can also be divided into two parts. The first 11 km have an average gradient of 8 %. After 7 km the climb reaches its max gradient of 12 %. With about 8 km to go, the riders enters the town of Alpiaz. Here, the climb evens out a bit and the riders will be able to catch their breath as the following 3 km have gradients of 2-4 %. The final 5 km kick up with an average gradient of 8.3 %. The hair-pin corners are steep. This is where the pure climbers will excel. The Giro d’Italia hasn’t finished on this climb since Pantani won in 1999. Hopefully, we will see another great champion reaching the finishing line first this time.

The favorites
The favorites for this stage are the favorites for the overall win as well. Despite the Movistar’a team doctor claiming that Nairo Quintana was only that 70-80 %, the Colombian proved to be back at a very a high level on stage 14. After getting off his antibiotics, Quintana is now ready to fight for the pink jersey again. Personally, I would like to see Quintana trying to attack at the beginning of Montecampione already. The Giro is still long, but Quintana can’t afford to wait any longer. If he wants to win this race, he has to take back as much time as possible before the rest day.

Hopefully, Domenico Pozzovivo will be able to keep his outstanding shape. I can’t see why he shouldn’t. Pozzovivo and Quintana are the two best climbers in the race. If they decide to attack together again on Montecampione, I seriously doubt anybody will be able to hang on to this tandem.  Head-to-head it’s difficult to pick a winner between the two of them. None of them is rather fast on the line. In case this ends in a sprint between Pozzovivo and Quintana, it’s important to open early. If you start your sprint with 300-400 meters to go, you should be able to get first into the last corner with just 30 meters left. Naturally, first rider out of this corner wins the stage.

Wilco Kelderman made a very ballsy move when he tried to bridge the gap to Pozzovivo and Quintana on his own on stage 14. Rafal Majka tried to do the same, but had to slow down fearing he would  blow up. That could have very well happened to Kelderman, but the young Dutchman proved to be extremely strong, even on the steep gradients. It’s still a bit uncertain how Kelderman will do in the last week. With the rest day on Monday, I think it would make sense for Kelderman to try to attack on Montecampione trying to gain as much time as he can before the last week. Even if he digs too deep, he will be able to recover on Monday. The same goes for young Fabio Aru. So far, the Italian has just followed the wheels of the other GC riders, not risking blowing up if he pushed too hard. Knowing there isn’t a stage the following day, I think Aru will try his luck on the climb.

The outsiders
I doubt a breakaway will make it this time. However, for this stage, there is one outsider above the rest. Fabio Duarte has been talking about Plan di Montecampione since this winter. Long before Team Colombia even knew if they would get a wild card or not. When he’s not home in Colombia, Duarte lives in Italy not far from today’s finish. He knows this climb very well. Fabio Duarte got a daughter, Marianella, in December last year. His big wish is to win on Montecampione and dedicate the victory to his daughter. With Marianella tattooed on his right arm, Duarte will do whatever he can to win this stage. Team Colombia came very close to winning their first stage in the Giro d’Italia when Jarlison Pantano finished 3rd on stage 14. Maybe Fabio Duarte will have more luck this Sunday.

For other strong outsiders look to Franco Pellizotti, Damiano Cunego, Edoardo Zardini, Alberto Losada and Sebastian Henao. For more about Henao, check Saturday’s preview.

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