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A breakaway is likely to decide the first of three consecutive stages in the mountains





19.05.2016 @ 19:53 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After two weeks with relatively easy climbs, the waiting time is finally over. The next three days will offer the first big indications of who’s going to win the Giro d’Italia as the riders face three consecutive days in the mountains. Saturday’s queen stage and Sunday’s mountain time trial may have got most attention but before the riders get there, they will have to get through the mountainous stage 13 which could turn out to be much harder than most expect.


The course

The first two weeks have offered two summit finishes but with relatively easy final climbs, the climbers haven’t had many chances to make a difference yet. They will have to wait for the final part of the race to take back the time that they lost in Chianti and their waiting time will finally be over when we get to a brutal penultimate weekend of the race.  A high-mountain stage and a crucial mountain time trial await the riders on Saturday and Sunday but before they get there, they will face a serious and very tough test in the mountains close to the Slovenian border. Stage 13 may not offer a summit finish but the very tough climbs in the area mean that it is a day when the GC riders can make a difference.


The stage is 170km long and will bring the riders from Palmanova to Cividale del Friuli and is a very challenging mountain stage. The route takes in 4 categorized climbs in a row, with just a few stretches to let the bunch catch their breath. The first 45km run on apparently flat ground as the riders travel from the start in a northerly direction until they get to the finishing city after 28.8km of racing. The final part of the stage is made up of two circuits, one on the easterly outskirts and one on the westerly outskirts. The first one includes the first intermediate sprint at the 41.8km mark and three typical pre-Alpine climbs, marked by narrow roadway, high gradients and endless turns, both while climbing and while descending. The first one is the category 1 Montemaggiore (8.3km, 9.3%, max. 16%) whose gradient barely drops below the 10% mark for the final 5.8km. Then there’s a short uncategorized ascent of 3km at an average gradient of 7.6% and then it’s the category 2 climb of Crai (8.8km, 6.4%, max. 16%) which averages 9.7% for the first 4km before it gets significantly easier at 3.6% for the second half. The road narrows at point while crossing urban areas and the route features some technical descents, especially when climbing down form Passo San Martino at km 67.


After a flat drag including a passage over the finish line, the riders will tackle the 58.3km finishing city. The route heads towards the two final climbs in Porzùs and Valle, with a very winding and undulating profile, and tough uphill gradients. The category 1 Porzus (8.8km, 8.2%, max. 16%) is a very regular climb that leaves no room for recovery. The top comes with 31.5km to go and the descent leads straight to the bottom of the category 2 climb of Valle (6.2km, 7.8%, max. 13%) which is similarly regular. The top comes with 13.9km to go and is followed by a technical descent and a flat section.


The last 5km are deceptively flat and actually run downhill all the way to Cividale del Friuli. The route features a few twists and turns over the last 1,000m, with a roundabout leading to the final turn just 300m from the line. The home straight is on 7m wide asphalt road.


Cividale del Friuli has never hosted a stage finish before.












The weather

The riders had luck to have dry conditions for the finale of today’s stage and they are likely to have similar luck tomorrow. Fridays is expected to be a sunny day but there is a 25% risk of a shower, most notably late in the afternoon. It will be hot as the maximum temperature at the finish will be 25 degrees.


There will barely be any wind, with just a light breeze blowing from first a northerly direction and then a westerly direction. This means that it will be a headwind in the first part of the stage and a tailwind on the first two climbs. Then it will mainly be a head- and a cross-headwind in the flat middle section. On the final two climbs, it will be a tailwind and then a cross-tailwind in the run-in to the finish. The final turns leads into a headwind for the finishing straight.


The favourites

Two weeks ago we seriously doubted whether André Greipel would be able to win just a single stage at this Giro d’Italia. He was always set to leave the race at the midpoint and so he didn’t have many opportunities. On paper, his Lotto Soudal train looked weak compared to the formations from Etixx-QuickStep, FDJ and Lampre-Merida and with Greipel’s poor positioning skills, we thought that it would be hard for him to come out on top in this classy field.


However, Lotto Soudal have proved us completely wrong. After poor showings in the Netherlands, the team has done everything right in the Italian sprint stages. With brutal power, they have been riding on the front in the finales of every sprint, keeping Greipel in position. Admittedly, the best trains are not here but on paper there are better lead-outs here. However, they have simply not been able to match the Belgians and today’s performance was the crowning achievement. The team hit the front as soon as they got to the circuit and apart from a short turn from Jose Joaquin Rojas with 20km to go and a brief surge from Matej Mohoric in the finale, they stayed there throughout the final 21km. In the end, Jurgen Roelandts proved his class when he managed to hold off Roberto Ferrari before the final turn. Everybody knew that Ferrari-Modolo would make their move their but the Belgian made sure that Greipel was the first sprinter through the final turn. From there the outcome was never in doubt. Greipel will now head home and leave the final two sprint stages to the likes of Nizzolo, Modolo and Demare.


For now, however, it is four days of survival for the fast riders as the GC battle will take centre stage. Until now, it has all been a bit of a waiting game. The Chianti time trial was the only really important test in the first two weeks and it was always evident that the rest of the opening part of the race would be a bit of a waiting game. They cost Mikel Landa the chance to win the race and the time trial set Esteban Chaves and Ilnur Zakarin back but pre-race favourites Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali have come through the two weeks almost tied on time, just like many had expected.


The next three stages will play a huge role in the final GC. The biggest time gaps will probably be created in the mountain time trial as those stages are always the most selective while the big queen stage will also do a lot of damage. Tomorrow’s stage has been a bit overlooked but it is a very good idea not to take anything for granted. The four climbs are all very hard and if the riders really decide to give it a go, big time gaps can be made.


However, everybody will have the next two stages in the back of their minds and so they will probably have a slightly more cautious approach. They will definitely not risk everything in this stage. We will have a battle between the GC contenders on the final two climbs but we doubt that one of the teams will go into the stage with big plans to make a major move and really shake up the GC.


This means that the stage is almost destined to be won by a breakaway. The flat finish means that it is a solid chance for Alejandro Valverde but Movistar are always very cautious when it comes to using their domestiques. Until now, they have not chased in any of the stages that suited their captain and tomorrow’s stage is not an obvious one for him. Hence, they will probably do what they usually do: send a rider on the attack to have tactical options late in the race and possible go for a stage win with one of the domestiques.


One could imagine that Astana, Katusha, Cannondale, Orica-GreenEDGE or Tinkoff would go for the win here but the flat finale means that they could very well end up giving Valverde 10 valuable bonus seconds. Saturday’s stage is so brutally hard and a lot more prestigious that they will probably prefer to save some energy. When we get to the final two climbs, we expect Astana to really go full gas to test their rivals and make the race selective but they won’t focus on the stage win. Hence, the early break could very well have a big gap at this point and so they will ride away with the win.


What can change the outcome is that a strong GC contender gets into the move. If Jungels’ jersey is under threat, Etixx-QuickStep have to control things more and so Astana’s late acceleration may spell the end for the break. Otherwise, we expect this stage to be won by a breakaway.


Everybody knows this so it will be a brutally fast start to the stage. It will probably take a long time for the break to be formed. However, only the very good climbers can win this stage and so it is a bit of a problem that the first part is flat. This means that it requires much more luck to join the move and the climbers will be at a disadvantage. On the other hand, there is a big chance that no one has gone clear when we get to the climbs and then some very good climbers will ride away. They may also try to bridge the gap to an earlier group as it happened in the mountain stage last Tuesday.


Lotto Soudal have had so much success in this race but they could very well win another stage. Tim Wellens has already won once and he is looking for more opportunities. The big climbs later in the race could be too much for him but this stage suits him really well.


Compared to the pure climbers, Wellens has one big advantage: he is much stronger on the flats. With this kind of start, he has a much better chance to join the right move than the likes of Igor Anton and Mikel Nieve who are better climbers. The climbs may be a bit too long and steep to suit him well but he may very well be the strongest climber in the group that goes clear, especially if the break is formed in the flat section. The downhill finish means that he can allow himself to lose a bit of ground and then use his great descending skills to get back and he is fast in a sprint. He doesn’t look as strong as he was earlier in the race but he is still riding well. We will put our money on another Wellens win.


If the race had had an uphill start, Igor Anton would have been our favourite. However, the Basque will have a hard time in the fast, flat section and he will have to wait for the first climb to make his move. If the break hasn’t gone clear at that point, he could very well win the stage. He has been climbing with the best in the mountains and seems to be stronger than he has been for a few years. He should find the steep gradients to his liking too. Of course the downhill finish is not ideal but the climbs are hard enough for him to make a difference. He crashed yesterday but only has a few bruises on his leg so he should be ready to go in this stage.


Sky are now searching for stage wins and their best card for this stage is probably Nicolas Roche. The Irishman is not in his best form but he is not riding poorly either. After all he has just finished second in the Tour de Yorkshire and he did reasonably well in the first week. Of the Sky climbers he is the rider with the best chance to join the break in the flat section and he should find the climbs and the downhill finish to his liking as he is also fast in a sprint.


This stage is tailor-made for Rein Taaramae who is in great form, strong on the flats and an excellent climber. He has been riding extremely well in this race and has only had one bad day. However, the Russian is Ilnur Zakarin’s lieutenant and so he may not be given the freedom to go for the win. If he gets his chance, he could very well win this stage.


As said, Movistar definitely want to have a rider in the break as they also have an eye on the teams classification. Their best card is Giovanni Visconti who is riding solidly and is tailor-made for this stage as the climbs are not too long and the stage has a flat finish. However, the Italian is pretty close on GC and so he may not be given the freedom that is needed to go for the win. On the other hand, Etixx-QuickStep are not that strong in the mountains so they may not be able to bring Visconti back even if they want to.


Alessandro De Marchi is tailor-made for this stage but the Italian has not been at his best. However, his diesel engine always gets better and better and now it is about time that he gets to his best level. The flat start suits him really well and he is a master in joining the right breakaways. Furthermore, he knows how to gauge his effort well. It remains to be seen whether his form will allow him to be competitive but if he is getting closer to his best, he will be a contender.


Giulio Ciccone has already won a stage and he will try to do so again tomorrow. He finds himself in untested territory and nobody knows how he recovers. However, if he has the legs he had last Tuesday, he will be very difficult to hold back. The flat start isn’t ideal but if the break hasn’t gone clear when we get to the first climb, he should try his hand.


Damiano Cunego and Stefano Pirazzi are both chasing the mountains jersey so they have to go on the attack in this stage. However, stage 14 has more points on offer so they may prefer to save their energy. Furthermore, the flat start is not ideal for them so it will be hard to join the break. They were riding solidly in stage 10 but their forms seem to go in different directions. While Pirazzi is not as strong as he was at the start of the race, Cunego is clearly getting better and so the Nippo rider probably has the best chance.


Mikel Nieve is one of the best Sky climbers but just like Igor Anton, he will suffer in the first part of the stage. Stage 14 suits him a lot better and he may prefer to save some energy for the queen stage. However, if the break hasn’t gone clear when we get to the climb, he should try his hand. He was a late addition to the Sky roster so he is not in his best form but he is not that far off the mark. If he joins the break, he should definitely be one of the best climbers.


His teammate David Lopez is also a great climber. The Spaniard has not been at his best level but he hasn’t been riding badly. Compared to Nieve, he is much better in the flat sections and so has a better chance to join the break. He has already been riding aggressively earlier in the race and knows how to hit the breaks. He is not climbing as well as Nieve though.


As said, we expect the break to make it but there is a small chance that the break will be caught. In that case, the GC riders will battle it out. The final climbs are very hard so we expect it to be a selective stage, with just a very small group or maybe a lone rider making it to the top of the final climb. Until now Alejandro Valverde has been very strong and we doubt that he will be dropped on the relatively short climbs tomorrow. He will be the obvious favourite in a sprint but it will be very hard to control things in the finale. The final climb could very well be too hard for Amador and so he may find himself isolated in the flat section. He will mark Vincenzo Nibali closely and this could open the door for Ilnur Zakarin, Esteban Chaves and Rigoberto Uran who seem to be the best climbers alongside Valverde, Nibali and Steven Kruijswijk. They can all launch a late attack in the flat section and as they are a bit down in the GC, they could very well get the freedom. Chaves and Zakarin may even be so strong that they ride away from everybody on the final climb. If it comes down to a sprint, Valverde will be unrivaled.


Finally, Bob Jungels deserves a mention. We expect the climbs to be too hard for the Luxembourger but they could also be too hard for Amador who has not been able to follow the best when the pace has been fast. Jungels may be able to limit his losses enough to stay in pink but we won’t be surprised if Valverde is in the maglia rosa on Friday evening.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Tim Wellens

Other winner candidates: Igor Anton, Nicolas Roche

Outsiders: Rein Taaramae, Giovanni Visconti, Alessandro De Marchi, Giulio Ciccone, Damiano Cunego

Jokers: Sebastian Henao, Stefano Pirazzi, Mikel Nieve, David Lopez, Ilnur Zakarin, Esteban Chaves, Rigoberto Uran, Alejandro Valverde



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