17/05 - Stage 8 - Foligno to Montecopiolo - 179 km

After a week of racing, it’s now time for the first real mountains of this year’s Giro d’Italia. The general classification won’t be turned upside-down completely, but we will get a new rider in the pink jersey.

The route
The day starts in Foligno, where the stage finished yesterday. From here, the peloton heads north. The first 125 km are more of less flat, especially compared to the last 50 km. A morning breakaway will be able to gain a good gap on the peloton on this long stretch.

The first big struggle of the day comes after 136.7 km on the bike. The previous 6 km have been uphill on an uncategorized climb of 6.6 %. However, it’s not until the riders start on Cippo di Carpegna when the real climb begins. The first couple of kilometers are not very steep but the final 5.3 km of the climb have an average (!) gradient of more than 10 %. This mini Mortirolo will definitely make for a huge selection in the peloton. There are still 35 km to go from the top of Cippo di Carpegna, but a very difficult descent - on narrow roads - will make it hard for dropped riders to rejoin the front group.

With a little less than 20 km to go, the road starts to kick up again. The following 9.3 km towards the top of this category 2 climb have an average gradient of about 6 % with parts of 11 % near the top. After a short descent, it’s time for the final climb of the day. Montecopiolo is 6.3 km long. The average gradient is 6.4 % but this is a climb that constantly requires changes of rhythm. Today is one of three days dedicated to the late Marco Pantani. The pure climbers in the race will finally have a chance to show their strength on the many steep ramps.

The road evens out a bit on the last kilometer - about 3 % - but the final 500 meters are very steep with parts of 13 % close to the finishing line. You won’t win the Giro today, but you can easily lose it. It’s a cliché but it’s true.

Scenario #1
The way I see it, there are two likely scenarios. In the first one, a morning break stays away and fights for the stage win. BMC will be happy to see the bonus seconds taken out of the equation, especially on a climb that doesn’t really suit Cadel Evans. A breakaway will be able to get big gap on the first 125 km. Unless Movistar and other teams decide to take control, I think we will see two races within the race. One for the stage win and one for the general classification.

This is an important day for those riders targeting the KOM jersey. Both Cippo di Carpegna and Montecopiolo each offer 32 points to the first rider over the top, while there are 14 points up for grabs on the top of Villaggio del Lago.

I would expect riders like Miguel Angel Rubiano, Yonathan Monsalve and Julian Arredondo to try to get into the morning breakaway. Rubiano and Monsalve have already been very active in the race, while Arredondo now has to change his focus after losing more than 18 minutes the other day. The final steep part of the stage is perfect for the little Colombian who has a very powerful kick uphill. Julian Arredondo is no longer any threat in the general classification. Now, he can attack as he pleases without being shut down immediately by the GC riders. Arredondo is my personal favorite to win from a breakaway on Montecopiolo.

For other strong breakaway candidates look to Yonder Godoy, Enrico Barbin, Jarlison Pantano and Dani Moreno.

Scenario #2
In case the overall favorites end up riding for the win, Nairo Quintana is the prime pick. Quintana is 1:45 minutes after Cadel Evans in the general classification and he needs to start taking back time now. The steep gradients and change of rhythm on the final climb suit Quintana very well. As a pure climber, this is where he excels. Furthermore, he won’t have any problems on Cippo di Carpegna where other riders may be in red already. On the final climb, there is a part of over 10 % with about 5 km to go. This could very well be where Quintana puts in his first attack. Quintana could also let teammate Igor Antón hit the front at this point. The Basque climber used to be among the best riders in the world on such steep gradients. If he’s having a good day, I doubt there will be many left in the front group when he’s done pulling.

Domenico Pozzovivo is another rider who likes it as steep as possible. With only 53 kg to carry, Pozzovivo gets wings on these kind of climbs. He is just a few seconds after Nairo Quintana in the general classification and he, too, needs to gain time whenever possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two climbers tried to get away together on Montecopiolo.

Riders like Rigoberto Uran and Rafal Majka shouldn’t have any troubles staying near the front either. Majka will most likely take over the white jersey from Michael Matthews after this stage. The Polish climber seems to be in great shape right now, but I don’t think he will attack already. This Giro is still very long. Without being a top favorite, Majka just has to follow the other GC riders for now. The same goes for Uran. These very steep gradients are not his favorite ones but I don’t think he will lose any time.

Personally, I’m very eager to see what Wilco Kelderman can do today. He came to the Giro in great shape and so far, he’s been looking very sharp. The steep gradients on Cippo di Carpegna and Montecopiolo don’t really favor the young Dutchman but I don’t think he will be far off the front. He can’t follow Nairo Quintana or Domenico Pozzovivo on the parts of 10 % if they decide to go full speed. However, Kelderman shouldn’t have any problems moving into top10 overall when the stage is over.

Strong climbers like Fabio Duarte, Franco Pellizotti, Prezmyslav Niemiec and Robert Kiserlovski should all be near the front as well. The first three have already lost a little time in the GC due to the big crash the other day and we might seem them start taking back time today.

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