16/05 - Stage 7 - Frosinone to Foligno - 211 km

After two uphill sprint finishes, the sprinters now have a chance to fight for the win. However, the lumpy profile will make it difficult to control the race and today might be the first time a morning breakaway makes it all the way to the finishing line.

The route
Starting out in Frosinone, the peloton begins to climb right at the beginning. The first 28 km are basically uphill towards the top of Valico di Arcinazzo. It’s a long but easy climb with an average gradient of around 4 %. Everybody knows that a breakaway will have good chances of making it today. The riders are still relatively fresh and we can expect a furious pace on the climb. Those banged up badly in the big crash on stage 6, will be in for a very difficult day on the bike.

The following 100 km may not look like much, but there are several uncategorized climbs alongside the road. After 135 km in the saddle, the riders take on four climbs in a row. The first three aren’t categorized but this doesn’t mean they won’t leave their mark in the legs of the riders. The final climb of the day is Valico della Somma. The 6.7 km towards the top have an average gradient of 4.8 %.

The last 40 km of the stage are more or less straight out. The riders can expect a light headwind, but it doesn’t change the fact that this final part of the stage will be very fast. So far, we have already seen many dangerous corners close to the finishing line in this Giro d’Italia. Today is no difference. With about 1500 meters to go, the riders turn right in a 90° corner, which is followed by two sharp left-hand turns. For once, the weather forecast doesn’t show rain so hopefully we won’t see any crashes despite the tricky finish. The final kilometer is pretty much straight-out with a slight right-hand corner about 250 meters from the line. If this ends in a bunch sprint, the first rider out of this corner, will most likely win the stage.

The candidates
On a day like this, you can’t really talk about any real favorites. After the nightmare finish to stage 6, many riders will be happy to have a quiet day in the bunch. Therefore, the most likely scenario is that the morning break will stay away. This means, we have to look to opportunistic riders, who won’t get dropped on the climbs.

To me, Johnny Hoogerland (Androni) seems like a very good pick. The Dutch champion has had a very light start to the season, looking at his results. Team manager, Gianni Savio, hasn’t been impressed so far, but he hopes that Hoogerland will rise in the Giro. Before the race started, Savio pointed out this stage as one that his team would target. On stage 6, Johnny Hoogerland was the first rider to attack. He didn’t end up in the final break, but that might have been a blessing in disguise for him. I think Hoogerland will be very eager to get in the morning breakaway today and show himself on the big scene again.

Another national champion who might have his eyes on this stage is Miguel Angel Rubiano (Colombia). The Colombian climber won a somehow similar stage in the Giro in 2012. He has already been in a couple of breakaways so far and despite a few crashes he seems be in great shape right now. Rubiano is very strong on the hills and actually quite fast if it comes down to a sprint within a reduced group. Furthermore, he’s not afraid of attacking from afar.

The two other wild card teams, Bardiani and Neri Sottoli, will do whatever they can to put a rider in the morning breakaway as well. Mauro Finetto did very well on stage 6, finishing 8th behind the front group. If he manages to get into the break, he will be very difficult to beat. Given that the stage starts with a climb, whoever makes in into the final breakaway, will have to be strong uphill. For Bardiani, Manuel Bongiorno seems like a good pick. The young Italian is very good on the climbs and always eager to attack. However, Bongiorno is only five minutes after Michael Matthews in the general classification. This means the peloton can’t afford to let him get too big of a gap. If so, he might turn out to be the big surprise in the race, finishing high up in the GC.

The teams with the big overall favorites like BMC (Evans), Movistar (Quintana), Tinkoff-Saxo (Majka) and OPQS (Uran) will most likely tell their riders to save as much energy as possible. Therefore, we shouldn’t see any of these team colors in the morning breakaway. Instead, look to riders like Fabio Felline, Moreno Moser and Lars Bak. The Danish Lotto-Belisol won a stage in the Giro in 2012 from a breakaway and has this stage red-circled in his road book. Bak knows how to get into the right breaks. Despite the early climb, I would expect to see him up front.

Another strong candidate is Salvatore Puccio. Team Sky’s young Italian comes from Assisi, just 20 km outside of Foligno where the stage ends. Puccio was very strong in Milano - San Remo this year. If he can find the same kind of legs for this stage, he might be able to pull off a big win in front of his friends and family.

The sprinters
Personally, I think a breakaway will make it today. It’s a very difficult day to control the race and the many small hills might be too much for Elia Viviani and Nacer Bouhanni. However, they are both gunning for the red jersey and will do whatever they can do hang on to the peloton. Still, if this stage ends in a sprint, I think it will be within a reduced peloton. Therefore, my favorites would be riders like Luka Mezgec, Enrico Battaglin, Edvald Boasson Hagen/Ben Swift and of course the leading rider Michael Matthews, who’s now aiming for another stage win in Maglia Rosa.

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