30/05 - Stage 19 (ITT) - Bassano del Grappa - Cima Grappa (Crespano del Grappa) - 26.8 km

This is the most important one of the remaining stages in the race. Today, you will be able to gain much more time on your rivals than on Monte Zoncolan. Nobody can afford a bad day.

The route
The stage can be divided into three parts. The first one, consisting of 7.5 km, is flat and ends with the intermediate time check in Semonzetto. From here, the riders start on Monte Grappa. This feared category 1 climb is 19.2 km long and has an average gradient of 8 %.

The gradients are very steady on the first 10 km of the climb. Then comes a part of nearly 2 km of a false flat before the second intermediate time check in Campo Croce. This relatively flat part is very important. You need to speed up but on the other hand you can’t afford to go too hard, in case you explode on the final very steep section. It’s not given that the riders with the fastest time at this check point will win the stage.

The final 7.5 km are very steep with an average gradient of nearly 9 %. Multiple times the gradients rise to double digits and the final 3 km kick up with 10 % for most of the time. This is truly an ascent for the pure climbers.

The favorites
Forget everything about typical time trial bikes and long aero helmets. Even though the beginning is flat, this time trial will most likely be done on normal race bikes. Naturally, it’s important to keep a high pace on the first flat part, but the real time differences will be made on the climb. Therefore, the top favorites for this stage are also the top favorites for the overall win.

Nairo Quintana is the best climber in the race. Naturally, he’s the prime pick today. He won’t have the best time at the first check point, but I’m confident he will at the finishing line. On Val Martello, Quintana already rode an uphill time trial, distancing all his rivals. Even without the gap he gained on the descent from Stelvio, nobody would have been able to stay with the strong Colombian on the final climb. I would be very surprised not to see Nairo Quintana fight for the stage win today.

I named Domenico Pozzovivo as one of the strongest candidates for the time trial in Barolo and he delivered. On the opening climb, nobody could match the Italian who had the best time of all riders at the first check point. However, on the following descent, Pozzovivo faded a bit. This time, there isn’t a descent for Pozzovivo to lose time on. Monte Grappa suits him perfectly. If Pozzovivo is at 100 % again after his bronchitis, I think it will be a close fight between him and Quintana for the stage win. People can no longer say Pozzovivo isn’t good against the clock. His last two long time trials prove otherwise.

Having won the first individual time trial of the race, naturally, Rigoberto Uran is a serious candidate as well. However, Uran hasn’t looked too good in the mountains lately. On Rifugio Panarotta the Colombian did well, but he didn’t have the strength to attack. I can’t see him matching Quintana on the steep gradients today. Therefore, I would be surprised to see Rigoberto Uran repeat the win from Barolo.

The outsiders
Personally, I was very impressed with the way Rafal Majka handled himself on the final climb on stage 18. Majka had stomach problems and got dropped a couple of times. However, each time the young Pole managed to fight his way back and ended finishing with the best GC riders. Bjarne Riis has always put a lot of focus into time trial performances. With exception of the Schleck brothers, Riis’ GC riders always tend to perform well against the clock. Last year, Majka finished 5th on the uphill time trial - in front of Rigoberto Uran. In the time trial in Barolo, Majka put in another great effort, finishing 4th after a strong performance on the flat part. If he’s over his stomach problems, I’m confident Majka will do great on this stage. On a super day, he might even surprise everybody and win this one.

It’s starting to sound like a broken record, but Wilco Kelderman just keeps on impressing. However, on the final kilometers of stage 18, Kelderman might have overestimated his own strength, attacking a little too early. He ended up losing time and he’s now 1:08 min off the podium. Usually, Kelderman is very strong against the clock. This is not a normal time trial, but after showing these kind of climbing legs, I’m sure Kelderman will do very well today. I can’t see him winning this one, but he should be near Top5.

Fabio Aru is only two seconds behind Pierre Rolland (3rd in the GC). The overall win seems out of reach for the young Italian, but a spot on the final podium is definitely possible. Aru seemed to be struggling a bit on Rifugio Panarotta but managed to find extra energy and ended up taking time on his rivals. Fabio Aru was 3rd at the first time check - on top of the climb - in the first time trial but lost a lot of time in the final part. Like Pozzovivo, Aru won’t have this disadvantage today. He shouldn’t have problems beating Rolland, but it won’t be easy to keep Majka behind him. In any case, it should be a great stage to watch!

For other outsiders today, look to Riccardo Zoidl, Wout Poels and Jonathan Castroviejo who seems very strong right now.

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