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21.05.2016 @ 13:43 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

As expected, none of the favourites were willing to give it their all in today’s stage as the fear of the queen stage made for some conservative racing. However, bigger time gaps are set to be made when the riders head into the famous Giro d’Italia terrain in the Dolomites on the hardest stage of the race where we are likely to get the first big indication of who’s going to win the Giro d’Italia


The course

While the previous stage included some very steep climbs, it never headed into the high mountains. The riders will finally get to the Dolomites and the most famous Giro d’Italia terrain on stage 14 when theywill climb some of the most well-known climbs and reach more than 2200m of altitude. The stage may not have a summit finish but the combination of a long distance and big mountains means that it will offer the climbers their best chance yet and it is definitely no coincidence that some even regard it as the queen stage of the race.


The stage will bring the riders over 210km from Alpago to Corvara  and over the last 150km of this queen stage across the Dolomites, 6 passes will be climbed, for a total amount of climbing of 4,700m (out of 5,400). From the start, the riders will head from the Po Valley in a northerly direction into the Dolomites. The route runs across the Val Cordevole along well-surfaced and gradually ascending roads, all the way to Arabba and the first intermediate sprint at the 85.4km mark. From here the stage consists of a sinuous system of circuits in the most difficult terrain in Italy.


First the riders will climb the category 1 Passo Pordoi (9.3km, 6.9%, max. 9%) – a very regular climb –followed by the category 2 Passo Sella (5.5km, 8.0%, max. 12%) – a similarly regular climb – and the category 3 Passo Gardena (5.8km, 4.4%, max. 9%) – which offers a descent in between two climbing sections – and there will not be even a single flat metre in between. Then they will head to the first pass over the finish line in Corvara  where there will be a final intermediate sprint and the rest of the stage consists of a tough 83.2km circuit.


The road climbs up the category 2 Passo Campolongo (6.0km, 5.8%, max. 13%) which is pretty regular and then an undulating section leads to the hardest climb of the stage, the category 1 Passo Giau (9.85km, 9.4%, max. 14%). It’s a very regular climb where the gradient stays around 9-10% all the time.  The descent leads to the bottom of the category 2 Passo Valparola (11.5km, 5.8%, max. 14%) which is relatively easy. The gradient is around 6-7% for most of the time but there’s a 14% ramp at the top.


The summit comes with 19.4km to go and leads to the descent that ends with 5km to go. Here the route includes Muro del Gatto (360m, with gradients ranging from 13 to 19%), and then drops down into the trunk road leading to Corvara, still climbing slightly (average gradient: 2-3%). It’s a straight road until the riders get to the last bend 150m from the finish line.  


Passo Sella is the Pantani mountain of this Giro d'italia, to commemorate his feat with Giuseppe Guerini on June 3, 1998. On that occasion he crossed Passo Sella to arrive at the finish line in Selva di Val Gardena and get the Maglia Rosa.  



Corvara has hosted five stage finishes of the Giro d’Italia. Moreno Argentin and Claudio Chiapucci both won stages here in 1993 while Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio rode to a solo win in 2002 on a day when a young Cadel Evans surprisingly rode himself into the race lead.













The weather

In recent years, the stages in the high mountains have been marred by bad weather and it is always risky to enter head to altitude at this time of the year. Luckily we won’t have any issues in the queen stage as Saturday will be sunny and hot. The maximum temperature will even be a massive 20 degrees at the finish which is located 1528m above sea level.


It will be a bit windier as there will be a moderate wind from a northerly direction. This means that the riders will have a headwind in the first part that leads to the categorized climbs. There will mainly be a headwind on the first three climbs and then a cross-tailwind leads to the Passo Giau where there will again be a headwind. It will be a cross-headwind and crosswind on the final climb and a cross-headwind during the run-in to the finish. With 6km to go, the riders will turn into a cross-tailwind.


The favourites

In the 2014 Criterium du Dauphiné, Chris Froome crashed out of contention while wearing the leader’s jersey and it looked like Team Sky would leave the race empty-handed. However, Mikel Nieve saved the race for the Brits by riding to a solo win on the final stage.


Last year Chris Froome crashed out of the Vuelta a Espana and again it looked like Sky would miss out on a result in a major race. Again they could look to Nieve to save the race though as the Basque finished 8th overall.


Fast forward a few months and Sky found themselves in a similar position at the Giro d’Italia as illness forced Mikel Landa to leave the race. Luckily Sky again had Nieve in the line-up and again the Basque saved the race by riding to a solo win in today’s first big mountain stage of the race.


Nieve has always been a master in long-distance breakaways and in the early part of his career, he was known as the king of the queen stages. He won the hardest stage of the 2010 Vuelta and repeated the feat on the brutally tough stage go Gardeccia in the 2011 Giro where the riders faced some hard, Basque weather condition and lots of climbs over a mammoth distance. Today it wasn’t the queen stage but it was a great ride from the Basque who had missed the move but bridged across with Alexander Foliforov on the first climb.


Nieve is slowly getting into form. He was a late addition to the team after Benat Intxausti, Leopold König and Sergio Henao who were all set to ride in Italy, had to skip the race, and so he has not been at his best yet. Now he is slowly getting there and there may be more to come from him later in the race.


As we had already predicted yesterday, the GC riders all played it relatively defensively. The queen stage and a crucial mountain time trial loom on the horizon and it was simply too dangerous to risk everything on a stage where the late descent and flat finish meant that it could all very well be lost in the finale. Like we said yesterday, the only riders likely to lose time in this stage were Andrey Amador and Bob Jungels and that’s exactly what happened. However, Amador – who is emerging as the greatest descender of the race – made it back and now enjoys the biggest moment in his life.


However, his time in the maglia rosa is likely to be short-lived. Amador has been unable to follow the best on every longer climb in this race so there is very little chance that he will be able to defend his position at the top of the hierarchy. Tomorrow’s stage is brutal and it will definitely create bigger time gaps than today’s much shorter stage did.


We are a bit curious to see how the riders will approach the stage. It’s a very tough one but the final climb is not that hard. As there will also be a headwind on that mountain, it may not be possible to make that much of a difference and in any case it will cost some energy to stay away in the finale. The mountain time trial is probably the most important stage of the entire race and many riders will have it in the back of their minds, knowing that they still have two tough mountain stages later in the race to make a difference.


This means that it could very well be another day for a breakaway and everything will probably depend on Astana’s approach. We are pretty sure that Valverde will be relatively conservative and Movistar are unlikely to bring the break back. Rafal Majka and Esteban Chaves may be eyeing a stage win but their teams may not be strong enough to control things. Astana definitely are – after all they are clearly the strongest team in the mountains – so if Nibali wants to win the stage, it should be a day for the favourites. Otherwise, a break will probably make it again.


This means that we will have another very fast start with lots of attacks and again it will be a big tactical battle as all the main teams want to have riders in the break. Again it’s a flat start and this means that there are no guarantees that the good climbers will be able to join the break and they have to hope that it will take a long time for the group to go clear. If that’s the case, they may be able to bridge the gap when the climbing starts, just like Nieve did in today’s stage. In any case, you have to be a very good climber to win the stage.


In fact, Nieve’s victory in today’s stage destroyed out plans a bit. Ever since Landa abandoned the race, we had considered Nieve to be the favourite for this stage as it is the kind of long day in the mountains that he really loves. We had expected him to save energy for this stage but he opted to go one day earlier. After today’s effort it will be hard for him to go on the attack again.


When the break has gone clear, Movistar will take control but as said, we doubt that they will do much to bring the break back. Hence, Astana may come to the fore to keep things in check until we get to the key point of the race: Passo Giau. It would not be a bad idea for Movistar to send Giovanni Visconti on the attack. The Italian is likely to be the best-placed rider in the breakaway and so he will force Astana to chase while he can also go for a stage win and the mountains jersey.


Passo Giau is one of the hardest climbs in the Dolomites and this is where Astana will go full gas. Michele Scarponi has proved to be one of the best climbers in this race and he can whittle the group down to around 10 riders. With the final climb being easy, we won’t be surprised if Vincenzo Nibali already attacks at this early point in the race. History shows that Valverde always suffers at high altitude – just recall what happened on the Tourmalet in the 2008 Tour de France and in the highest mountains in the last two editions of the French race – and if Nibali can get rid of the Spaniard on Passo Giau and still have some company from the likes of Majka, Kruijswijk and Chaves, we could really be in for a great pursuit in the finale. This will make it much harder for the break to stay away and the fact that Passo Giau comes so early means that the favourites will have to go fast so early that the odds are on the favourites to win the stage.


If that’s the case, Vincenzo Nibali is the favourite. Until now, it has been a waiting game for the Italian who has only occasionally shown his strength. He arrived for the start a little short of his best condition and it was always evident that he would only get better and better. He seems to be close to his best now. He was strong when he attacked on the final climb today but he opted for a conservative approach. In the end, however, he proved his strength by beating Valverde in the sprint for third which would usually have been totally impossible.


Nibali is a rider for the long, hard stages and so he should find this stage to his liking. History shows that he can maintain his level in the third week of a grand tour and there is little doubt that this is one of the stages that he would most dearly love to win. The final climb is not that hard so he may move already on the Passio Giau. However, at the end of such a long stage, even the final ascent can do some damage. Furthermore, he has the small wall in the city to make a final difference and by the way he sprinted in today’s stage, he can beat most of the favourites in a final dash to the line. We expect Nibali to launch a bit attack in this stage to take both the victory and the maglia rosa.


Esteban Chaves has looked very strong on the climbs until now but he has been riding relatively conservatively. His powerful kick in stage 6 was the first indication of his form and since then he has been so much at ease that it has been noticed by several rivals. Already last year, he proved how much he has improved and he is likely to have taken another step this time. In the past he has faded in the third week but this year he has not shown any signs of weakness yet. He seems to be the rider who is most likely to follow Nibali on the climbs and he is great descender too. Furthermore, he has a great punch so he is well-suited to the finale. Finally, the high altitude suits him well. Chaves could very well ride himself firmly into podium contention by winning this stage.


We are very curious to see how Alejandro Valverde will do. Until now he has not shown many signs of weakness but there was a small chink in his armour when he failed to respond to Nibali’s attack in today’s stage. However, he had just made an attack himself and this may be the reason for his apparent lack of strength.


However, Valverde has a bad history when it comes to high-altitude climbing and we fear that he will be unable to keep up with the likes of Nibali, Chaves and Kruijswijk on the long climbs in the finale. However, he is a master in gauging his effort and there will be time to get back as he is a great descender. The finale in Corvara with a small wall and an uphill drag to the line, is tailor-made for him so he won’t be easy to beat if he makes it to Corvara with the best.


Until now, Steven Kruijswijk has clearly been one of the best climbers. The Dutchman is better than ever after he got sorted out his artery problem in his leg and he is finally confirming his full potential. He has been very strong on the short climbs which don’t suit him which is a scary prospect for his rivals. Now he gets into his preferred terrain and his diesel engine is really suited to this stage. We have little doubt that he will be one of the best but it will be hard for him to win. His good GC position will make it hard for him to escape and he doesn’t have the sprint to beat the likes of Nibali and Valverde. He will have to ride away from everybody to come out on top but that’s not impossible in this kind of tough stage.


Rafal Majka has been hiding himself until now but now it is time to come to the fore. Like Kruijswijk he has been there on every occasion and that’s a good sign as we head into his preferred terrain. He looked very strong in today’s stage and he will be pleased to learn that the weather is good. As he is no immediate threat to Nibali and Valverde, he may get a bit more freedom in the end. Furthermore, he has a decent kick in an uphill finish like this one.


As said, a breakaway could very well make it. Most of the good climbers who can win this stage and are not in GC contention were in the break in today’s stage, and that always makes things a bit difficult. However, at this time of a grand tour, the usual suspects are always there and we can expect many of the riders from today’s stage to be on the attack again.


One rider who was missing from today’s break was Igor Anton. The Basque seems to have returned to a solid level as he has been close to the best on the climbs. He has made it clear that he is aiming for victory in the Dolomites and after he missed out today, tomorrow is his big chance. The flat start doesn’t suit him but if the break takes a long time to get clear, he should be able to join the move. He has won this kind of long stage in the past and he has been one of the best climbers in the race. He crashed in Asolo and hurt his leg a bit but as he doesn’t seem to be badly injured, he should be able to go.


Davide Formolo was not at his best at the start of the race but now he is getting there. The Italian has looked very strong in the last few stages but he lost much time in the TT and so will be given some freedom. The problem is that he is a white jersey threat but Etixx-QuickStep have worked so hard the last few days that they may no longer be able to control the Italian. He has done nothing to hide that he is aiming for a stage win in the third week and we expect him to ride aggressively. Last year he proved that he knows how to finish it off.


Sergey Firsanov has been in GC contention until now but now he has started to fade. Today he lost a lot of time and he is no longer as strong as he was at the start of the race. His goal will now be to win a stage. He is on a downward trajectory so he may not be able to go on the attack but if he has recovered well, he is a great climber who can win this stage.


Kanstantsin Siutsou has been climbing well in this race and he is usually pretty consistent. He is never afraid of going on the attack and as he is more than five minutes down on GC, he will be given some freedom. This stage suits his diesel engine really well and he is not showing any signs of fatigue yet.


Bardiani missed the move in today’s stage so they will be keen to strike back. It’s a big day for the KOM jersey so both Stefano Pirazzi and Giulio Ciccone should give it a try. However, Pirazzi is clearly not as strong as he was at the start of the race and today he looked pretty poor when he attacked on the first climb. Ciccone spent the day in the gruppetto and is riding his first grand tour so he may be dead. However, he might also have saved some energy for a big attack in stage 14 and if he has the legs, he had in stage 10, he can definitely win again.


As said, the usual suspects always try again in these stages and as it’s an important day for the mountains jersey, Nieve and Visconti should be up there again. They may be too tired to go for the stage win but they are clearly some of the better climbers at the moment. The course suits Nieve especially well and if he has recovered, he could have another great ride in his legs. As Visconti is close on GC, Movistar may want to have in the break to avoid having to chase all day and as he can also go for the mountains jersey, it would be a great plan.


Stefan Denifl is also a great candidate as he is now eyeing the mountains jersey and was riding really well today. We will also point to Hubert Dupont who is close to the level he had a few years ago when he almost finished in the top 10. Ag2r are in search of a stage win and Dupont is strong enough to win this kind of stage.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Vincenzo Nibali

Other winner candidates: Esteban Chaves, Alejandro Valverde,

Outsiders: Steven Kruijswijk Rafal Majka, Igor Anton (breakaway), Kanstantsin Siutsou (breakaway)

Jokers: Ryder Hesjedal, Davide Formolo, Sergey Firsanov, Giulio Ciccone, Mikel Nieve, Giovanni Visconti, Hubert Dupont, Stefan Denifl (all from a breakaway)



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