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Will Esteban Chaves make it two in a row by winning the crucial mountain time trial?

Photo: ANSA - PERI / DI MEO / ZENNARO

GIRO D'ITALIA

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NEWS
21.05.2016 @ 19:47 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After two weeks of waiting, the queen stage fully lived up to expectations as it blew the race to pieces and confirmed what already seemed to be the case yesterday: that Vincenzo Nibali, Steven Kruijswijk and Esteban Chaves are the strongest climbers in the race. However, there will be no time to rest as what is likely to be the most important stage is coming up: the crucial mountain time trial up the Alpe di Siusi climb.

 

The course

While both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana seem to have abandoned the idea, the Giro d’Italia has often included a mountain time trial in recent years. There was no uphill individual test in 2015, 2012 and 2009 but apart from that, a mountain TT has been on the menu every year since 2007. This year it is back after a one-year absence and history shows that these stages are very often the most important of the entire race. The 10.8km up the Alpe di Siusi climb may only be a small percentage of the overall distance of the Giro but they could very well be crucial in determining the winner of the race.

 

The 10.8km stage will bring the riders from Castelrotto close to the Austrian border to the top of Alpe di Siusi. After a first false-flat drag (1,800 m), the route climbs steadily over the next 9km, with an average 8.3% gradient. The road is wide and well paved. Straight stretches alternate with hairpins having a high bend radius.  A split time is taken at km 4.4. The climb is very regular and after a relatively easy start, the gradient stays around the 9% mark almost all the time.

 

The final kilometres run entirely uphill, with constant slopes (avg. gradient: 8.0%, max. gradient: 11%), and on wide, well-paved roads. The route takes in a series of hairpins in the stage finale. The finish line lies at the end of a 180m long and 6m wide asphalt home straight.

 

Alpe di Siusi has hosted a stage finish once. In 2009, Denis Menchov first showed that he would be very hard to beat in the race when he won the first big mountain stage here, putting 2 seconds into Danilo Di Luca and 5 seconds into Thomas Löfkvist who took the race lead. It was Lance Armstrong’s first grand tour mountain stage in his comeback but as he mainly used the race to build form, he finished far back in 34th. It was also the stage that first gave an indication of Bradley Wiggins’ improved climbing as the Brit was a surprise 21st just a few weeks before his breakthrough performance at the Tour de France.

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

Most will agree that the weather destroyed the Chianti time trial so it’s a pleasure to inform that we won’t have a similar scenario tomorrow. Sunday will be a sunny day in the Dolomites with a maximum temperature at the bottom of the climb of 22 degrees.

 

There will be a relatively constant wind from a southerly direction which means that the riders will first have a headwind and then gradually turn into a cross-headwind and a crosswind as they go up the climb. It will be a crosswind in the finale

 

The favourites

When the course for the Giro was presented, it was a general assessment that the race was easier than usual and that the first two weeks would be a bit of a waiting game. Stage 14 was always expected to be the first big test in the mountains and that’s exactly how it turned out. The queen stage fully lived up to expectations as the GC contenders chose to not ride conservatively and it gave the first clear indications of who’s going to win the race overall.

 

The first mountain stages had given signs and as we said yesterday, Vincenzo Nibali, Esteban Chaves and Steven Kruijswijk had looked like the strongest riders together with Alejandro Valverde. Those three riders confirmed that they are riding really well and they are now likely to battle it out for the overall win.

 

However, things were different for Valverde. As we made clear yesterday, the Spaniard has always suffered at altitude and it was evident that he was not as strong as he has been in recent stages. It will be very interesting to see whether today’s result was a sign of fatigue and a reflection of his true level or whether it was again the altitude that got the better of him. Both answers are worrying as the riders face even bigger climbs in the key stages in the Alps at the end of the race where they will climb to almost 3000m above sea level.

 

It was a bigger surprise that Nibali was unable to follow Kruijswijk and Chaves and we definitely hadn’t seen that one coming. The Italian seemed to be very confident when he launched his first attack and he seemed to be pretty surprised by the outcome. However, he rode very well to limit his losses and clearly proved that he is definitely not out of the battle for the overall win.

 

Nibali’s big advantage is his experience and the fact that he deliberately entered the race a bit shy of his best form. He has always tried to peak for the crucial third week and there is little doubt that he will only get stronger. Furthermore, he has often had a single bad day in grand tours and if this was what he had today, he can be pretty pleased with the small time loss.

 

For Kruijswijk, things are looking good. The Dutchman is finally fulfilling the potential that he showed as a young rider in 2011. He was set back by an artery problem but since he finally got that solved, he has steadily improved. As we wrote in our pre-race preview, we expected him to do better than ever here and this is definitely true. Furthermore, it is very important to know that his diesel engine only gets better and better throughout a three-week race so there is little chance that he will show any kind of fatigue.

 

Things are different for Chaves. The Colombian has done two grand tours for GC and in both cases, he has faded in the third week. He cracked completely in the 2014 Vuelta and last year he was not as strong in the third week of the Spanish race as he had been at the start where he was absolutely flying. It remains to be seen whether he can maintain his level all the way to the finish.

 

For now, however, it is time to focus on the next big battle. Mountain time trials are usually more important than any other stage. With no tactics, it all comes down to climbing skills and this means that the climbers can create huge differences. These stages always suit the climbers and TT skills mean nothing in this kind of stage.

 

When the riders last did a mountain time trial in 2014, Nairo Quintana and Fabio Aru battled for the win and only Rigoberto Uran and Pierre Rolland managed to finish within two minutes of their times, with Dario Cataldo being a massive 4.10 behind in 10th place. This time trial is significantly shorter but there is little doubt that huge time gaps will be created on the slopes of Alpe di Siusi.

 

As said, mountain time trials are all about climbing legs and has nothing to do with TT skills. However, it is very important to remember that it is a very short effort. This is a big disadvantage for the diesel engines and they rarely do well in these stages. For example, Ivan Basso was by far the best climber in the 2010 Giro d’Italia but he did a pretty poor mountain time trial. The stage was simply too short for him to get his big engine going.

 

This is why we regard Esteban Chaves as the favourite for the stage. While Kruijswijk is a real diesel engine, the Colombian is much better suited to short, punchy efforts. Today those two riders were the best climbers and they should again be among the very best on this kind of steep ascent. Today Kruijswijk was probably slightly stronger than Chaves but tomorrow’s short stage tips the balance in favour of the Colombian.

 

Chaves is definitely not a TT specialist but that means nothing in tomorrow’s stage. The pure climbers will come to the fore and Chaves is one of the best on these steep slopes. He has never done a professional mountain time trial before but there is little doubt that he masters the discipline. As said, recovery could become an issue but if he is not showing signs of fatigue yet, we expect him to win the stage and get closer to the maglia rosa.

 

When he last did a mountain time trial at the 2013 Giro d’Italia, Vincenzo Nibali firmly stamped his authority on the race by crushing the opposition. The Italian has always been great in this discipline. He was fourth in 2010 and second behind Contador in 2011 before he took the win in 2013. It’s no surprise as he is one of the best climbers in the field and he is a master in gauging his effort.

 

Nibali is not an explosive rider but he can still do well in short efforts. He has proved that on numerous occasions and he should find this kind of regular climb to his liking. The headwind should favour him in the battle with Chaves who has less power. Furthermore, we know that he recovers well from a big stage like today’s so there is a solid chance that Nibali will bounce back with a win tomorrow.

 

Today Steven Kruijswijk was probably the strongest rider. However, the short distance is not suited to his diesel engine and he may not be able to do as well as he did today. At his breakthrough Giro in 2011, he could only manage 13th in the mountain TT and was beaten by riders whom he had easily defeated in the mountain stages.

 

However, that doesn’t mean that Kruijwijk won’t win the stage. He has been very impressive in this race and he even seems to have become a lot more explosive. He has been sprinting well and did well on the short climbs in Yorkshire before this race. Furthermore, he did a very good prologue which was an even shorter effort. At the moment, he is the best rider in the race so he can still win the stage even though it will be harder than it was today.

 

Ilnur Zakarin should also do well here. The Russian is clearly not as strong as he was in the early part of the race but he is still riding solidly. Furthermore, he has gauged his effort very well as he has opted not to go with the attacks. Today he finished very strongly and he even thinks that he would have made it back to Nibali if he hadn’t been forced to change his bike. He is a very good time triallist who knows how to spend his energy in the right way so we expect a great ride by the Russian.

 

Tomorrow is a big test for Alejandro Valverde. He hasn’t done many mountain time trials during his long career and he hasn’t done any since his suspension. However, he should be suited to this kind of effort and he is definitely a great climber. As said, the big question is whether he is starting to show signs of fatigue or whether it was the altitude and the long climbs that got the better of him today. Tomorrow we will get the answer. If he can recover well, he can definitely bounce back with a good ride in a stage that suits him well.

 

Rafal Majka has also confirmed that he is one of the best climbers here and he should prove that again on the climb to Alpe di Siusi. When he last did a mountain TT in 2014, he was set back by stomach problems so his poor showing can’t really be used to gauge his potential. He did really well in 2013 where he finished fifth and beat riders who had been climbing better than him. On paper, he is suited to this kind of effort so he should definitely deliver a good ride.

 

Sebastian Henao finished 8th in the mountain time trial two years ago at a time when he was not nearly as strong as he is now. In 2016, he is a lot stronger and he has been up there with the best in the mountains since Landa left the race. He is a pure climber and he has proved that he can do really well in this kind of stage.

 

We are very curious to see what Primoz Roglic can do here. The LottoNL-Jumbo rider won the long time trial but he has never been known as a TT specialist. In fact, he is a pure climber and so he should be excellently suited to a mountain time trial. He can do well in a short effort, he climbs really well and he knows how to use his energy wisely. He has not been climbing at his best in this race but he is not riding poorly. If he has recovered from today’s breakaway, he should do very well.

 

Today Joe Dombrowski really proved why he was the hottest prospect on the transfer market in 2013. That year he beat Fabio Aru in the Baby Giro and he is one of the most talented climbers in the world. He is clearly riding very well at this late point in the race and as a pure climber, he should do very well here. The main question is whether he will be allowed to go full gas.

 

Another interesting rider is Giulio Ciccone. The Italian proved that he is not fatigued yet as he rode solidly in today’s stage which was the biggest test of his career. It remains to be seen whether he can recover from such a big effort but as a pure climber, he should be able to do very well in a mountain time trial.

 

How will Michele Scarponi handle this stage? The Italian was one of the strongest riders in today’s stage but he may be asked to save energy for later in the race. On the other hand, Astana lead the teams classification and if they want to defend that position, they need three riders to go full gas. Scarponi has always been an excellent mountain time triallist so if he gives it a go he should be one of the best.

 

Mikel Nieve may choose to save energy for later. On the other hand, his next big goal comes in stage 19 so he may as well give it a go tomorrow. He is a bit of a diesel engine so a mountain time trial doesn’t suit him perfectly but as one of the best climbers in the race, we expect him to deliver a great ride if he gives it 100%.

 

Finally, we will point to Carlos Verona. The Spaniard is slowly getting better and has really stepped up his level in this race. Today he stayed with the best for a long time which proves that he is recovering well. He has never done a mountain time trial at this level before but on paper he should be able to do well.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Esteban Chaves

Other winner candidates: Vincenzo Nibali, Steven Kruijswijk

Outsiders: Ilnur Zakarin, Alejandro Valverde, Rafal Majka

Jokers: Sebastian Henao, Primoz Roglic, Joe Dombrowski, Giulio Ciccone, Michele Scarponi, Mikel Nieve, Carlos Verona

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