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Will Aleandro Valverde finally get his stage win at the Giro d'Italia?

Photo: ANSA - PERI / DI MEO / ZENNARO

GIRO D'ITALIA

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23.05.2016 @ 18:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Steven Kruijswijk proved that he is currently the strongest rider in the race by doing an excellent mountain time trial and he now goes into the final week with a comfortable advantage. However, everything can change in the brutal final week that includes three big mountain stages, starting with Tuesday’s warm-up ride to Andalo. It may not include the big climbs that will come later in the week but with so much time to make up for the pre-race favourites, fireworks can be expected.

 

The course

Many riders are often nervous one day after a rest day and so they will be a bit apprehensive at the start of stage 16. It may be a very short one and may not include any very big climbs but a tough finale means that the GC riders will have to be vigilant and it is definitely not impossible that time gaps will created on what will be a pretty challenging day.

 

The 132km stage brings the riders from Bressanone where they spent the rest day, to Andalo and is short, yet it features long climbs and descents. It consists of a long southwesterly run as the riders slowly start their journey towards the Alps where the final stages will take place. Over the first 40km, the route runs initially downhill (although the road is deceptively flat) until the riders have passed Bolzano and the first intermediate sprint at the 38km mark. Then they will tackle the category 2 Passo della Mendola (14.8km, 6.5%, max. 10%) which is a very regular climb. Here the road takes a long, undulating descent leading to the bottom of the final ascent, with the final intermediate sprint coming at the 92.6km mark in Cles, the place where the Giro del Trentino finished earlier this year.

 

The final climb is divided into two parts, the first category 2 ascent leading to Fai della Paganella (10.2km, 7.4%, max. 15%) and being very regular, and the second one running all the way up to the finish after a small descent. 200 metres before the summit, in the urban area of Fai della Paganella, the gradient peaks as high as 15%. The summit comes with 9.6km to go.

 

The final 10km are clearly divided into two halves: first a fast-running descent (4km) on wide roads with sharp downhill gradients, then a mild category 3 climb that averages 3.2% over 6.1km and gets steeper  andsteeper up to 2km from the finish, with a maximum of 9%. Next there is a false-flat uphill drag for the final 2km. The finish line lies on an 80m long and 7.0-m wide asphalt home stretch, running gently uphill, after the riders have taken a sweeping bend at the end of a long, straight of more than 2km.

 

Andalo has only hosted a Giro d’Italia stage once. In 1973, Eddy Merckx claimed a stage win here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

The mountain stages at the Giro d’Italia have often been marred by bad weather but in 2016 it has been different. Luckily, there is more sunshine on the menu for stage 16 as Tuesday is expected to be sunny with a maximum temperature at the finish of 19 degrees.

 

There will only be a light wind from a northerly and later from an easterly direction. This means that the riders will have a cross-tailwind or a tailwind for most of the day. It will be a crosswind on the Fai della Paganella and a cross-tailwind after they have gone over the top.

 

The favourites

Is 2016 going to be the year of upsets? Arnaud Demare, Mathew Hayman and Wout Poels all took outsider wins in the monuments and none of them were among the pre-race favourites even though Demare and Poels featured on the list for most experts. However, surprise wins are much harder to achieve in grand tours as coincidences play less of a role during three weeks of hard racing than they do in in a one-day race.

 

Nonetheless, it looks like Steven Kruijswijk can become the first surprise winner since Chris Horner at the 2013 Vuelta a Espana. The Dutchman was clearly a solid podium contender – after all we had him as one of our eight biggest favourites before the race – but very few had expected him to be the strongest rider in the race. After undergoing surgery on his artery, however, he is finally starting to confirm the potential he showed at the start of his career and his solid ride on the short, steep climbs at the Tour de Yorkshire – a race that didn’t suit him at all – clearly indicated that he was on fire for this race. Still it comes as a surprise that he is able to ride away from a grand tour star like Vincenzo Nibali in the Giro mountains.

 

Kruijswijk now finds himself in a very comfortable situation as he has a big advantage over all his main rivals and so he can allow himself to ride pretty defensively. Furthermore, he has proved to be one of the most consistent grand tour riders and he never seems to have a bad day. He usually gets stronger and stronger throughout the race and has always been at his best in the third week. If it comes down to pure legs, it is hard to imagine how any can beat the Dutchman.

 

However, Kruijswijk has one big weakness: his team. Enrico Battaglin is probably climbing better than ever but while he has been time trialling great, Primoz Roglic has not lived up to expectations on the climbs. This means that the mighty Astana and Movistar teams can try to use their many climbers to isolate Kruijswijk early and this is apparently their biggest chance to turn things around. They have to use the fact that both Andrey Amador and Jakob Fuglsang are still within striking distance and if those two riders attack early, LottoNL-Jumbo can come under pressure. However, alliances are always created late in a grand tour where every team is trying to defend its position and so Orica-GreenEDGE, Katusha and Tinkoff could very well lend the Dutch team a hand in such a scenario.

 

Kruijswijk’s biggest threat seems to be Esteban Chaves who was actually three seconds faster than the Dutchman in the second, hardest part of the time trial (however, both lost more than 30 seconds to Alexander Foliforov who finally starts to confirm the potential he showed as a U23 rider). As opposed to this, Vincenzo Nibali was on a disastrous day. It is not rare for the Italian to have a bad day in a grand tour and he should be able to bounce back. He has always aimed to become stronger and stronger during the race so he is definitely not out of the battle. Nonetheless, it is hard to take back almost three minutes on the superior Kruijswijk.

 

Alejandro Valverde proved that his poor performance in stage 14 was indeed due to the altitude. He is still riding at a very high level and remains in podium contention. However, it is a bit of a disaster for the Spaniard that the biggest climbs are yet to come. He claims that the altitude will be less of a problem in stages 19 and 20 as he won’t have to spend the entire day at more than 2000m above sea level but the Spaniard can’t change the fact that altitude has always been a big problem for him. If one looks at most of the Tours de France he has done in the past, he has always suffered on climbs like the Tourmalet and Galibier and it is definitely not a coincidence that his best results have come in the Vuelta where the mountains are rarely that high.

 

Valverde’s big goal is to get on the podium while Nibali only has his eyes on the win. Both are big fighters and they will take every opportunity to take back time. The final weeks offers four chances: stages 16, 18, 19 and 20. The hardest climbs definitely come on Friday and Saturday but tomorrow’s stage is definitely an opportunity that can’t be missed.

 

Fai della Paganella is only a category 2 climb but it averages almost 8% over 8km. That’s a pretty tough challenge and it means that time gaps can definitely be created in the finale. However, the descent is not technical and the final uphill drag suits a group more than a lone rider. There is time for a regrouping to take place so it is probably not a day to win the race but time can definitely be lost.

 

The tactics will be pretty interesting. We have little doubt that Astana will again take on the race and make it as hard as possible as Nibali is a real fighter who will be looking for any signs of weakness from Kruijswijk, especially on the day after a rest day which can always be tricky. The question is whether they will already try to go hard on the first climb in an attempt to isolate Kruijswijk. Another option is to send Fuglsang off in a long-distance attack but they may prefer to save that option for the harder stages in the weekend.

 

It’s a great finale for Valverde and to get on the podium, he probably needs to pick up bonus seconds whenever he can. Furthermore, Movistar haven’t won a stage yet and this may be their best chance. On the other hand, they are never very fond of chasing and until now they have done nothing to set their captain up for a stage win. They may again take a conservative approach as they want to save energy for the bigger stages to come. Instead, they could use their usual tactic of sending one of their climbers on the attack to go for a stage win from a breakaway.

 

In any case, everybody knows that it’s a good chance for a breakaway so it will be a brutally fast start. To win the stage, you have to be a very good climber though and the first part doesn’t suit climbers at all. Much will depend on whether the break has gone clear before the first climb. If not, the good climbers will go away on the first climb and then it will be hard to bring them back in such a short stage. If the break goes earlier, it requires a bit more luck to make it and it makes it harder to select a favourite for the stage.

 

However, we believe that we will either get a very big group in the flat part as we have had in the last two stages, or we will get a strong group of climbers that will ride away on the first climb. Then everything will depend on Astana and Movistar. If none of those teams start to chase early, the break will make it. If they do, the favourites will probably battle it out for the win.

 

Usually, this should be a stage for a breakaway but this time we will put our money on the GC riders. Valverde simply needs the bonus seconds and a stage win so Movistar have to come to the fore. More importantly, we expect Astana to drop the hammer already on the first climb or send Fuglsang on the attack. This will make it a fast stage and so we expect the break to get caught.

 

If that’s the case, we will put our money on Alejandro Valverde. The mountain time trial proved that he is still riding well and this is a finale that suits him down to the ground. The final climb is not overly difficult and even though he has not been able to follow Esteban Chaves and Steven Kruijswijk yet, he should be much closer on a stage like this. If those two riders get away on the final climb, they no longer have the same incentive to work together so there is a bigger chance that riders like Nibali and Valverde will get back. If he makes it over the top of the climb with the best, Valverde will be hard to beat in the finale.

 

As always, the big challenge will be to keep things together for a sprint. Andrey Amador is sick and unless he has recovered, he won’t be there in the finale. If he is again on his own, there is always a chance that an outsider will ride away and then Valverde will only have the chance to sprint for a place of honour. On the other hand, the likes of Majka and Zakarin will mark each other closely so it will be harder for those outsiders to get away. This means that a sprint finish is more likely so we will put our money on Valverde to win the stage.

 

Esteban Chaves won the queen stage and has proved that he is the only rider who can match Kruijswijk on the climbs. This punchier finale is much better suited to the Colombian than to the Dutchman and if those two riders again turn out to be the strongest, Chaves will be the obvious favourite in a sprint finish. Kruijswijk has no real incentive to ride aggressively in a finale that doesn’t suit him so he probably won’t try to ride to a solo win. Chaves is almost guaranteed to be there and if Valverde has been dropped, the Colombian will be the favourite in a sprint finish.

 

Ilnur Zakarin is definitely not as strong as he was earlier in the race but he is still riding solidly. He did a pretty good time trial and seems to be on track for a top 5 finish. He would be a great candidate for a late attack as he won’t be heavily marked by the biggest favourites but Rafal Majka won’t give him an inch. To win the stage, he will probably have to wait for the sprint. He is pretty fast though and can beat most in this kind of finish.

 

Vincenzo Nibali is not known as a sprinter but he has actually been sprinting very well in this race. In stage 13, he beat Alejandro Valverde in the battle for bonus seconds and that’s just the most recent example of a solid sprint performance by the Italian. There is little doubt that he will ride aggressively and try to gain time on his rivals but we doubt that he is strong enough to get away. If he can sprint like he has done recently, he may still have a chance to win the stage though. On paper, he is not as fast as Chaves but when you can beat Valverde, you can definitely also beat the Colombian.

 

As said a breakaway has a big chance. If the group makes it, Joe Dombrowski stands out as an obvious candidate. The American is finally confirming the excellent potential he showed when he beat Fabio Aru at the Baby Giro and he is really getting into form for the third week. He was great in stage 13 and in the mountain time trial, only Foliforov, Chaves and Kruijswijk were faster than him in the second part. Cannondale are no longer in podium contention so Dombrowski will be free to take a chance in a breakaway. If he makes, it, he will be very hard to bring back.

 

Sky already have a stage win and they will be going for more in the third week. They had four climbers who did well in the mountain time trial so they have lots of cards to play. Mikel Nieve has already proved that he is one of the best climbers in this race and he will be their best card. The relatively short stage doesn’t suit him ideally but if he gets into the right break, he is very likely to be the best climber.

 

If Movistar go for their usual strategy, they will send riders in the break. Their best option is Giovanni Visconti who was close to the win in stage 13. The Italian is also going for the mountains jersey which is an extra incentive to join the break. He is one of the best climbers in this race and if he makes it over the top of the final climb, it is very hard to imagine that anyone will be able to beat the fast Italian in a finale like this.

 

Ian Boswell hasn’t shown much in this race as he was ill in the second week. However, he bounced back with a great mountain time trial where he was one of the 10 best in the second part. Last year he proved that he go the distance in a big mountain stage as he finished third in the queen stage at the Vuelta a Espana. He has done nothing to hide that he targets a stage win in the third week.

 

Nicolas Roche gave it a try in stage 14 and he will definitely try again. He is not at his best but he is clearly riding at a solid level. Compared to the likes of Nieve and Boswell he has a better chance to make it into the break in the flat first part. Furthermore, he is fast in a sprint so the finale suits him well. The climbs are not as hard as they were last Saturday so that will give him a bigger chance.

 

Sebastian Henao is also climbing really well. He was one of the fastest on the climb in the mountain time trial and has been riding consistently well throughout the entire week. His big problem is that he is Jungels’ nearest rival for the white jersey. However, he is more than 11 minutes down so Etixx-QuickStep won’t be too concerned if he rides away.

 

Etixx-QuickStep are in search of another stage win and David de la Cruz seems to be their best option. He was one of the best in the breakaway on stage 14 and he did a very good mountain time trial too. He will definitely be keen to make it into the break in stage 16 too.

 

Darwin Atapuma was agonizingly close to victory in stage 14 and he will target victory again tomorrow. The Colombian is great at making it into the right break and he seems to be getting stronger and stronger. He would have preferred the longer climbs and higher altitude of stage 14 but he can do well here too. Furthermore, he has a decent punch in a sprint which makes him suited to this kind of finale.

 

Georg Preidler has been riding excellently in this race and has been in the break several times. The shorter distance doesn’t suit his diesel engine ideally but he has proved to be one of the freshest at this late point of the race. Furthermore, he is pretty fast in a sprint so the finale suits him well. He just has to stay a bit calmer than he did when he sprinted for the win last Saturday.

 

Other good breakaway candidates include Rein Taaramae, Giulio Ciccone, Damino Cunego, Stefano Pirazzi, Alessandro De Marchi, Moreno Moser and Tim Wellens.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Alejandro Valverde

Other winner candidates: Esteban Chaves, Ilnur Zakarin

Outsiders: Vincenzo Nibali, Steven Kruijswijk, Joe Dombrowski (breakaway), Mikel Nieve (breakaway), Giovanni Visconti (breakaway)

Jokers: Ian Boswell (breakaway), Nicolas Roche (breakaway), Sebastian Henao (breakaway), David de la Cruz (breakaway), Darwin Atapuma (breakaway)

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