27/05 - Stage 16 - Ponte di Legno to Val Martello/Martelltal - 139 km

It’s time for the Queen Stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia. This is the stage the race organizers had to cancel last year due to snow. Hopefully we won’t see the same thing happening this time!

The route
Today, the riders have to climb more than 4300 meters - in just 139 km. However, the day starts out with a short descent. After 5 km, the peloton takes on Passo Gavia. The 17.6 km towards the top have an average gradient of 7.7 %. The riders targeting the KOM jersey will be eager to attack. Some of the GC riders may be tempted to follow and, if so, many riders will get dropped already on the very first kilometers of this climb. For the heavy riders, this day is all about surviving. The first part of the descent on narrow roads from Passo Gavia is very technical. After reaching Caterina Valfurva, the roads become wider and the last 12 km towards Bormio will be very fast.

After 49 km in the saddle, it’s time for the second big climb of the day. The Stelvio Pass is this year’s Cima Coppi - the highest point of the race - and offers 40 KOM points to the first rider over its top. It’s a very long climb of 21.3 km with a steady gradient of 7-8 %. There are, however, a few easy parts of 4 % where the riders will be able to catch their breath. From the top of Stelvio, there are almost 50 km left to the beginning of the final climb. This means that we most likely won’t see the top GC riders starting to attack each other on the climb. Unless some are really feeling great and just want to tire out their rivals.

The descent from Stelvio is a bit tricky. It’s very important to stay alert at all time. This won’t be easy on a 25 km descent after two incredibly hard climbs. The intermediate sprint is located in Lasa/Laas. However, it won’t be of any importance as the sprinters most likely will be struggling just to make the time cut today.  The final climb, Val Martello, is 21 km long. The average gradient is set to 6.4 % but that’s a bit misguiding. This climb is a bit of a staircase, with multiple steep ramps over 10 %. With about 4.5 km to go, the climb evens out for more than 2 km. This part comes just after the climb reaches its maximum gradient of 14 %. If the gaps are small, a strong rider may be able to bridge to the front on this flat part.

With 1.5 km to go, the road kicks up once again. The gradients don’t drop below 10 % before the finishing line. There are numerous very steep hair-pin corners on the last kilometer. A pure climber with something left in the legs, will be able to gain up to 30 seconds on this part alone, if his rivals are on their limits. Be sure to make it home in time to watch this spectacular stage!

The favorites
Since this is a very important day for the riders targeting the KOM jersey, I think the chances of a breakaway making it this time are 50/50. Therefore, it’s hard to pick a top favorite. In case the GC riders end up fighting for the stage win, Nario Quintana is the obvious choice. He’s getting stronger day by day and I’m sure the rest day will have suited him very well. Movistar is betting everything on their Colombian super climber by not sending any riders in the morning breakaways. So far, it might have cost them a stage wins but it also shows how much they trust in Quintana. The way I see it, nobody will be able to drop Nairo Quintana on the steep gradients on the final part of Val Martello.

Domenico Pozzovivo had an off day on stage 15 but still managed to limit his losses. Sunday was the first time this season that Pozzovivo couldn’t stay near the front in the mountains. I think the long flat stretch of over 200 km drained the lightweight climber. There are barely any flat parts this Tuesday and I’m confident Pozzovivo will be back at the front again on the climbs. Before the Giro started, the pint-sized Italian had pointed out this stage as his favorite stage, hoping to win on Val Martello. Personally, I doubt Pozzovivo will be able to drop Nairo Quintana on the final climb.

Astana’s super talent Fabio Aru lived up to my high expectations on Montecampione. The young Italian attacked like a true champion and simply dropped his rivals from his wheel. Aru is now a serious contender for the overall win in this year’s Giro d’Italia - or at least for a spot on the podium. Last year, Fabio Aru was surprisingly strong in the final week, despite having worked hard for Vincenzo Nibali the whole race. This time, Aru hasn’t wasted any energy early in the race. In Michele Scarponi and Paolo Tiralongo, Fabio Aru has two extremely important and experienced team mates to escort him in the mountains. Add to that Basque climber Mikel Landa and Guiseppe Martinelli in the team car and you really can’t ask for more.

The outsiders
If a break makes it all the way, my prime pick is Julian Arredondo. Stage 14 was an important day for Arredondo and the other riders fighting for the blue KOM jersey. However, Trek ordered Arredondo to stay in the peloton working for Robert Kiserlovski. This caused Tim Wellens to move dangerously near the Colombian in the KOM competition. Arredondo’s main goal is still to win a stage but naturally the KOM jersey is a priority as well. On stage 15, Arredondo was too nervous, attacking way too early on the final climb. On stage 16, Julian Arredondo has to be involved in the morning breakaway, taking as many KOM point as possible. I’m pretty confident he will make it into the break and therefore, he’s a strong candidate for the stage win.

Fabio Duarte came very close to realizing his dream of winning on Montecampione. Only an outstanding Fabio Aru could do better than the Colombian Sunday afternoon. Duarte is always best in the last week of the Giro. He’s more or less out of the GC (14:46 min down) and will be able to get into the morning breakaway without being chased down immediately. On stage 15, Duarte showed he is strong enough to follow the top favorites. The KOM jersey is not a goal right now and without having to chase those points, Duarte will be able to save a little energy for the final climb.

For other strong breakaway candidates look to Dani Moreno, Sebastian Henao, Edoardo Zardini, Matteo Rabottini, Jarlinson Pantano, Philip Deignan and Georg Preidler.

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