15/05 - Stage 6 - Sassano to Montecassino - 247 km

The route
This is a typical long Giro d’Italia stage. You could argue it’s even too long - especially after the race organizers have added 10 km to the route making it a total of 257 km in the saddle. The first 248 km are more or less flat and we can expect a morning breakaway to gain a big gap on the peloton. Once again, the rain seems to follow the race. On a long day like this, it’s very important to stay focused and pay attention to the many traffic islands and roundabouts. Let’s hope the roads won’t be too slippery.

With 8.5 km to go, the road starts to kick up. The ascent up Montecassino includes seven hairpin corners. After a steep part of 10 % in the beginning, the gradients are very steady at around 5.5 % until the final kilometer. Here, it evens out a bit, which means this stage could easily end in another sprint within a reduced group. The last kilometer takes the riders around the Abbey in what seems like a huge 180° left-hand turn. Only the last 40 meters are straight out.

The favorites
After his impressive stage win in Viggiano, naturally, Diego Ulissi is the number one favorite today. The sprinters won’t survive the final climb and in this field, nobody seems capable of beating the strong Italian. Personally, I don’t think Ulissi will aim at the GC in the Giro. Lampre already has Niemiec and Cunego for that. Instead, Diego Ulissi is going for stage wins - as many as he can get. This also means that Lampre now has to take responsibility in the peloton. I can’t imagine GreenEdge will do all the work again today.

However, GreenEdge is very eager to keep the pink jersey. Michael Matthews put in a great effort when he closed the gap to Edvald Boasson Hagen on stage 4. It gave him another day in maglia rosa, but it also prevented him from sprinting for the win. He simply didn’t have enough left in the legs. For many, the Giro would already have been a success after four days in the pink jersey. However, Matthews came here to win a stage and I don’t think he will be completely satisfied without achieving this goal. Today’s climb may be a little too long for the young Australian, but on stage 4 he showed that he’s climbing very well now. Actually, Matthews has been more focused on climbing than sprinting this season. The ‘flat’ finish suits him better than Ulissi. It would be very interesting to see the two riders go head-to-head in front of the Abbey.

The outsiders
My personal outsider for this stage is Julian Arredondo. Despite a more or less flat finish, Arredondo should have a solid chance of winning. He finished 3rd on stage 4 and is now very eager to take the last steps up the podium. Arredondo has never raced for more than 10 days in a row. This means we don’t know how his legs will respond on the steep climbs in the final week. He may fade off, and therefore, he has to take any chance he’ll get. The Colombian is fast on the line and he has no problems following the best climbers on these kind of gradients. To anticipate going up against Diego Ulissi and Michael Matthews, we may even see Julian Arredondo attack on the final kilometers.

Given the fact that GreenEdge has been working so much the whole race, they may let a breakaway get away, if they don’t get any help controlling the race. On stage 4, the Australian team was left to chase all by themselves and it would only be understandable if they didn’t want to do that again. This means we could see a break make it all the way today. Especially if the riders up front aren’t any threat to the pink jersey. If a break makes it, look out for riders like Fabio Felline and Edoardo Zardini.

Fabio Felline was unlucky to crash in the final corner of the wet descent on stage 4. He lost 5:27 min but he seems to be okay. Felline is strong on these kind of climbs and he’s very fast on the line. If he’s in the winning breakaway, I wouldn’t bet against him. Edoardo Zardini surprised many with his stage win in Giro del Trentino when he held off all the favorites on the first mountain top finish. Bardiani is always aiming to animate the race and I would be surprised not to see a green rider in the morning breakaway. Zardiani is also an excellent pick for a late attack on the final climb if the peloton arrives together.

For other strong riders with a fast finish look to Simone Ponzi, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Ben Swift and Enrico Battaglin. If you are looking for riders able to take the peloton by surprise with a late attack, look to guys like Matteo Rabottini and Stefano Pirazzi.

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