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15/03 - Stage 5 - Esanatoglia to Terminillo -194 km

This is the Queen Stage of Tirreno-Adriatico 2015. Unless the time differences are still very small, we will find the overall winner of the race on the top of Terminillo this Sunday afternoon.

The route
Right from the start in Esanatoglia the road is uphill. The climb isn’t categorized but the 7.2 km of 4.5 % towards the top will make for a very difficult start to the stage. The following 65 km include two tough climbs, Passo Sallegri and Le Arette, which definitely will leave their marks in the legs of the riders. However, from the top of Le Arette, the next 70 km are pretty much downhill, giving the riders a chance to recover.

The last intermediate sprint of the day comes after climbing up to Castelfranco, yet another climb the organizers haven’t categorized today. From here, the riders take on a short descent before they start on the final struggle of the day.

The 16.1 km towards the top of Terminillo have an average gradient of 7.3 %. It’s a very steady climb with only a very few spikes with double digits gradients. It evens out a bit halfway to the top, in Pian di Rosce, with gradients of around 3-4 %. The second part of the climb doesn’t have any punchy parts but it doesn’t have any easy ones either. The gradients are constantly around 8 %.  This climb clearly favors those riders who are good at keeping a steady pace uphill. You need to be on a very good day in order to create a big time gaps on your rivals today. With about 500 meters to go, the gradients drop to just 2-3 %, meaning you will be almost impossible to catch if you arrive at this point with a small gap. The Terminillo climb was on the menu in the Giro d’Italia in 2010, when Chris Anker Sørensen won from a breakaway. You can re-watch the stage by clicking here. Back then, the weather wasn’t good and it doesn’t seem to be much better today. The weather forecast predicts snow and temperatures of around 0°c on the climb.

The favorites
Given his performances in Ruta del Sol, clearly Alberto Contador is the number one favorite to win this stage. Without Chris Froome, Contador started out Tirreno-Adriatico as the prime pick for the overall win. However, so far, it’s hasn’t been a great race for him. The Spaniard had a poor prologue and suffered a small crash on stage 4. There is no doubt that Alberto Contador is the best climber in the race but he needs to bring his A-game if he wants to take the blue leader’s jersey at the end of the day. As mentioned, it’s not easy creating big time gaps on Terminillo.

Rigoberto Uran did very well in the opening prologue and took important bonus seconds by finishing 2nd on stage 4. The Colombian has shown good shape this month and today’s climb really suits him. The steady gradients are perfect for Uran, who isn’t a fan of constant changes of rhythm. In Gianluca Brambilla, he has a strong teammate to help him on the final climb. It won’t be easy for Rigoberto Uran to follow Alberto Contador but I don’t think he’ll be far off.

Another Colombian who won’t be far behind is Nairo Quintana. After having to postpone his European debut, due to a crash in the national championships, Quintana seems to have arrived in great condition. He looked good on the steep climb on stage 4 and he’s still in contention for the overall win. However, like Contador, Quintana has to put on a great show if he wants to make it onto the podium. He’s 34 seconds down in the GC, meaning he can’t afford to wait too long on the final climb before starting to attack.

The outsiders
While the top GC favorites were looking at each other, Wout Poels didn’t hesitate for a second on stage 4. He attacked at the perfect time, just before the top of the last climb, and soloed away to win and take the overall lead. Poels usually does very well in Tirreno-Adriatico but he has never been in such a good position before. With 17 seconds down to Uran (2nd) and 32 seconds to Contador (10th), Poels now has a real chance of winning this race overall. The Dutchman started out the year with an altitude training camp in South Africa together Chris Froome, which clearly has been good for him. Even though Poels is an explosive rider, he’s also good at keeping a steady pace on the climbs. Terminillo should suit him well. Having strong climbers like Mikel Nieve and Leo König to help him, I’m sure Wout Poels will do very well on this stage.

Domenico Pozzovivo put in a solid attack on stage 4 but didn’t have the legs to follow Wout Poels’ explosive move on the final meters of climb. The pint-sized Italian is much better on the longer climbs. In 2010, he finished 10th on Terminillo. The Ag2r captain is notably stronger now and I would be surprised not to see him near the front today. Being 35 seconds down in the GC, Pozzovivo too has to attack from afar if he wants to win. Unless the pace is too high at the bottom of the climb, I think that he will try an early attack and get a gap before the other GC riders start attacking each other.

There are less than 45 seconds between the leading Wout Poels and Daniel Martin in 20th place. Obviously, nothing is settled yet. A lot of riders have a chance of making it onto the final podium. Katusha and Purito Rodriguez did very well on stage 4. It seems like the Spanish climber has finally found his legs again. If Purito has another good day today, he will be very difficult to drop on Terminillo. Other strong riders like Thibaut Pinot, Stephen Cummings, Bauke Mollema, Jurgen van den Broeck and of course former winner Vincenzo Nibali are all within striking distance too. The same goes for GreenEdge’s youngster Adam Yates who now gets a chance to prove his huge talent against the best climbers in the world. For other interesting outsiders, a bit further down in the GC, look to Louis Meintjes (+1:26), Julian Arredondo (+1:48) and Davide Formolo (+1:57).

Due to the fact that top favorites like Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana need to take back over 30 seconds on Wout Poels, I doubt a morning breakaway will have a chance of making it all the way. With 10-6-4 bonus seconds on the line, the GC riders simply can’t afford to miss out on any further opportunities to gain time.

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