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Will things finally come together for Giacomo Nizzolo in the final sprint in Turin?

Photo: ANSA - PERI / DI MEO / ZENNARO

GIRO D'ITALIA

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28.05.2016 @ 19:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Vincenzo Nibali completed his magical comeback to virtually secure his second Giro d’Italia victory and now just needs to get safely to Turin before he can finally step onto the podium. While the race leaders hopes to stay safe on what will be a wet day in the saddle, the sprinters – and most notably Giacomo Nizzolo – all hope to make use of their final opportunity to take that elusive stage win that they are all missing.

 

The course

Unlike the Tour and the Vuelta which always finish in Paris and Madrid respectively (even though the Vuelta deviated from that pattern in 2014), the final destination of the Giro varies a bit. Milan has often hosted the final stage of the Italian grand tour but in 2009 the race finished in Rome and in 2010 Ivan Basso was declared winner in Verona. After finishes in Milan in both 2011 and 2012, the 2013 edition finished in Brescia and for the first time since 2007 when Maximiliano Richeze sprinted to a win in Milan, the final stage was not a time trial as Mark Cavendish ended his impressive Giro campaign by taking another stage win. In 2014, the race finished in Trieste and again the organizers had decided to give the sprinters a chance to shine, with Luka Mezgec sprinting to the win. Last year the race returned to Milan on a day when Iljo Keisse managed to do what is almost impossible: deny the sprinters on a flat final stage of a grand tour.

 

This year the race will again finish in another city as the Grande Arrivo will be in Turin and again the organizers have decided to skip the time trial in favour of a stage for the sprinters. They have received some criticism for making these often largely processional stages pretty long but they have not decided to change their script. Last year the desire to link the two major cities of Turin and Milan and include a few laps of a finishing circuit meant that the riders will have to cover no less than 178km on the final day but this year there is no such ambition. Nonetheless, the organizers have opted for a long 163km stage.

 

The route starts in Cuneo, runs through Borgo San Dalmazzo for a small circuit on the southern outskirts of the city and then heads north towards Turin, leaving Cuneo to the south-east. The stage course runs along wide and straight trunk roads across the plain, all the way up to Turin, where a final circuit shall be covered 8 times. Along the way, there’s an intermediate sprint at the 64.8km mark.

 

The final 7.5-km circuit runs almost entirely along the right bank of the Po River. After passing over the finish line, the route runs around the Chiesa della Gran Madre and then tackles the only short climb of the stage, a 1km uphill section with 500m at 6% near in the second part leading to Villa della Regina. Next, a fast-running descent leads into Corso Moncalieri, and then to the other bank of River Po. Here, the route passes under Ponte Balbis, enters Parco del Valentino and runs across the park up to the flamme rouge. In the last 1,000 m, two bends before and after Ponte Umberto I lead into the 600m long home stretch, on 8m wide asphalt road.

 

Turin has hosted no less than 39 stage finishes and was also the Grande Arrivo in 1982. The last finish in the city was in 2011 when HTC-Highroad won the opening team time trial here. In 2005, it hosted a time trial that saw Ivan Basso bounce back from illness in the previous stages by taking a rare TT win while Paolo Savoldelli defended the overall lead by finishing fourth.

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

The weather gods showed mercy and allowed the mountain stages to go on as planned but now they can no longer hold back the rain that has been forecasted for a long time. Sunday is set to be a wet affair as there’s a 75% chance of rain throughout the entire afternoon. The maximum temperature in Turin will be 20 degrees.

 

There will be a light wind from a northeasterly direction. This means that the riders will have a cross-headwind for their long trip from Cuneo to Turin. On the circuit, there will be a headwind in the first half and a tailwind in the second half.

 

The favourites

Three weeks ago no one would have been surprised to be told that the Giro d’Italia podium would be made up of Vincenzo Nibali, Esteban Chaves and Alejandro Valverde who were all among the five biggest favourites for the overall win. Especially a Nibali victory was the expected outcome for most pundits.

 

However, very few had predicted a Nibali just six days ago when the Italian spent the final rest day explaining that he was at a loss to explain his sudden drop in form. Hence, Nibali’s win marks the greatest grand tour comeback since Alberto Contador’s victory at the 2012 Vuelta which was even less of a surprise as the Spaniard had not shown the same kind of weakness as Nibali did in the Dolomites. Maybe we have to go back to 2006 Tour de France when Oscar Pereiro came back from a huge time loss of more than 20 minutes to find a more spectacular turnaround and that race had some very special circumstances.

 

However, Nibali’s win had probably never come if Steven Kruijswijk hadn’t crashed yesterday. Gracious in defeat, the Dutchman admitted that he was at the limit on the top the Agnello and that was probably the reason for the crash. However, he had a huge advantage of almost five minutes over Nibali and it is very hard to imagine that he would have lost that amount of time. Of course Astana would have ridden a lot more aggressively in today’s stage if they had more time to make up but with the strong headwind that killed the race on Bonette Restefond, it is very unlikely that it would not have come down to the Colle della Lombarda anyway. With the way, Kruijswijk had been riding, it would have been impossible for him to lose a huge amount of time on that climb.

 

Today’s stage also confirmed that Esteban Chaves still needs to work on his consistency and deal with the problem that he always fades in the third week. However, there is no reason to be worried in the long term. Chaves is still young and he just has to ask Nibali how to get more consistency in a grand tour. After all, the Italian was famously known for his bad days in the early part of his career.

 

Alejandro Valverde also deserves a mention. The Spaniard is not a real grand tour rider and so it is pretty remarkable that he now has a full set of grand tour podiums, including an overall win at the Vuelta. The Spaniard proved his class in today’s stage to get rid of Kruijswijk but he also had some luck. If there hadn’t been a strong headwind on Bonette Restefond, the war would probably have been started earlier and then the altitude could again have become an issue.

 

For the results to be confirmed, the riders now have to get safely through the final stage and this could be a tricky affair as rain is forecasted. The circuit is not as technical as the one that was used last year but there are two turns inside the final kilometre. It is almost guaranteed that the organizers will take the time at the first passage of the line which will allow the GC riders to stay safe while the sprinters and attackers do their business at the front of the race.

 

While the Champs Elysees stage in the Tour de France always follows a very traditional formula, the varying nature of the final stage of the Giro d'Italia means that here is a bit more room for innovation. In the Tour, it is an accepted rule that the first part of the stage is used to celebrate three weeks of exciting racing, congratulate the winners, take some photos and take a glass of champagne before the team of the race leader takes control of the situation and leads the peloton onto the finishing circuit where the real racing commences.

 

Most likely, we will see a similar pattern in tomorrow's stage but we may see some racing before the riders reach Turin. In 2013 the riders were unhappy about the length of the stage which seemed excessive for a largely processional race and wanted to show their dissatisfaction in the early part of the race. A few riders tried to attack pretty early and that caused some disagreement in the peloton. In 2014 Maarten Tjallingii and Sven Tuft briefly ventured off the front before they reached the finishing circuit but the real racing started when the riders got to Trieste where the stage finished.

 

This year there is a chance that the racing will start even before the riders reach Turin but the most likely scenario is the traditional one that sees the first part of the race take place under a ceasefire. Due to the distance, the organizers will be keen to make sure that the racing doesn’t get too dull and it will be up to Astana to make sure that they get to Milan within a reasonable timeframe. The headwind will make it even more important that the peloton doesn’t get too lazy.

 

When the riders reach the finishing circuit, we will get a real spectacle and some very fast racing. After last year’s surprise win by Keisse, many will be keen to try to repeat the formula but it is unlikely that we won’t get a sprint finish.

 

First of all this year's circuit is not as technical as the one that was used last year and this is definitely an advantage for the sprint teams. Secondly, the battle for the points jersey in 2015 prompted Trek not to bring the break back as Giacomo Nizzolo could lose it all in the final sprint. This year he is not really under threat. Matteo Trentin has to win the stage and Nizzolo has to score less than 7 points for the Trek sprinter to lose everything. That is unlikely to happen so Trek are probably willing to make the gamble. He can even solidify his lead by going for the points in the first intermediate sprint but he will probably skip the final sprint as it comes too close to the finish.

 

When we get to the circuit, we will see lots of attacks but in these stages the breaks rarely get much of an advantage. After the failure in stage 17, Trek and Lampre-Merida will leave nothing to chance. Giant-Alpecin and Dimension Data may also lend them a hand so it should all come down to a bunch sprint.

 

Two factors will be very important: first of there are two late turns which means that lead-outs and technical skills are much more important than pure speed. Secondly, the rainy conditions will make things treacherous and mean that it is important to take some risks.

 

Both elements suit Giacomo Nizzolo down to the ground. The Italian has proved so many times that he is the fastest rider in the race but as he says, karma is apparently against him. Now only one rider has more podium places in the Giro without winning a stage and the red jersey will be a poor consolation prize if he adds a 10th second place to his tally in tomorrow’s stage.

 

However, Nizzolo has a very good chance to finally turn things around. He loves technical finales and his bike-handling skills make the rainy conditions good for him. The big challenge is the lead-out. With no Boy van Poppel, he won’t have the best team to support him and his team can’t go up against Lampre-Merida in the finale. However, Nizzolo is a master in positioning and we expect him to be on Modolo’s wheel in the finale, especially it will be less crowded in the sprint as many of the fast guys have left. Modolo is likely to be given the best lead-out and then it will be up to Nizzolo to prove that he can beat his compatriot. Until now, he has clearly been faster than the Lampre sprinter so we expect Nizzolo to finally take that elusive first stage win.

 

His big rival will be Sacha Modolo. The Italian has actually been sprinting better than usual. Last year he won two stages but that was more due to the excellent lead-out train of Ferrari and Richeze than due to his own speed. In 2016, he has been really fast and he has done well in this race too.

 

However, Nizzolo has been better than him in every sprint so to win the stage, he needs the best lead-out. Luckily he has the best train here and we expect Lampre-Merida to completely dominate the finale. They failed to do in stage 17 as they had to use Roberto Ferrari and Matej Mohoric to bring the break back and so Modolo never got his usual support. However, tomorrow the chase is likely to be less hectic so things should work as planned. Matej Mohoric will position Roberto Ferrari and Modolo and it will be a surprise if Ferrari and Modolo are not the first two riders through the final turns. Then it will be up to Modolo to show that he can beat Nizzolo. If the Trek sprinter is right behind him, it won’t be easy but if he has an advantage, it’s not impossible, especially on a rainy day that suits Modolo well.

 

Alexander Porsev has been one of the most consistent sprinters in the race. He has done some really good sprints despite having very little support in the finale. In fact, he has had to use a lot of energy to fight for position and often has had to come from very far back. When it comes to pure speed, he has proved to be one of the very best here.

 

Now Porsev has a much better chance to make use of his speed. There are fewer sprinters here so it will be easier for him to be in position for the sprint without having to use too much energy. Viacheslav Kuznetsov supported him well in stage 17 where he chose to hit out early in an attempt to catch Kluge. In this race he is probably the second fastest rider behind Nizzolo and with no Zakarin in the race, he will even have a full team at his disposal. If he still has the freshness and the speed, he had earlier in the race, he will be one of the best.

 

Etixx-QuickStep dominated the lead-out in the Netherlands but now they have lost both Kittel and Sabatini. It will be up to Matteo Trentin to defend them in the sprint and as he has Lukasz Wisniowski for support, he won’t be completely on his own. He is usually very good at positioning himself so he is very consistent. He is not a pure sprinter and there are faster riders here but he recovers better than most. This will give him a better chance at this point in a grand tour and this kind of technical sprint should suit him really well.

 

IAM have lost main sprinter Matteo Pelucchi and back-up sprinter Leigh Howard. Hence, it will now be up to Heinrich Haussler to do the sprint. He will have the support of Roger Kluge who again seems to be very strong at this late point of a grand tour. If Haussler can stay with the German in the finale, it won’t be impossible for him to be one of the first riders through the final turns and then it means less that he is not as fast as the pure sprinters.

 

At this point in a grand tour, freshness is very important and this means that Nikias Arndt will be a contender. The German was only narrowly beaten by Nizzolo in the sprint for second in stage 17 and his great ride in stage 18 proves that he has recovered very well. The Giant-Alpecin train didn’t work well in the early part of the race but as the sprints are now less crowded, he has a much better chance. He misses Bert De Backer a lot but he has some big powerhouses to keep him near the front. He is probably not fast enough to win but he can definitely do well.

 

IAM are likely to support Haussler but we won’t rule out that Roger Kluge will be given his chance. Last year the German won the sprint for third behind Keisse and Durbridge and after stage 17, he hinted that he would love to win the sprint in Brescia. On paper, Haussler is faster but with Kluge apparently being very fresh, the German may be given his chance.

 

Bardiani have been a bit anonymous in the second part of the race but now they hope to bounce back with a good ride from Paolo Simion. The neo-pro sprinter still seems to be fresh at the end of his first three-week race and he did a good sprint in stage 17. He has Sonny Colbrelli to support him and if the classics star can stay on the road – which he failed to do on Wednesday – the Bardiani youngster should do well.

 

Kristian Sbaragli also deserves a mention. The Italian has been suffering from bronchitis and was not competitive in the last sprint where he admitted that his form was not good enough to go for the wins. To be a contender here, he has to have recovered significantly but he will definitely give it a try. He is good at positioning so the finale should suit him well.

 

We will also point to Pim Ligthart. The Dutchman is not a pure sprinter but he has a solid team to support him. Lars Bak, Adam Hansen and Sean De Bie have lots of lead-out experience and this means that Ligthart is likely to be in a good position for the sprint. In such technical finish, it means a lot that there are faster riders than him.

 

Enrico Battaglin is in a very similar position. He is not a pure sprinter but he has good technical skills and a very powerful team to support him. If the times are taken at the first passage of the line, LottoNL-Jumbo don’t have to look after Kruijswijk and the Keizer, Tjallingii, Castelijns and Van Emden should be strong to position Battaglin for the sprint.

 

Rick Zabel, Ramunas Navarduaskas, Mickael Delage, Ivan Savitskiy, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Eduard Grosu, Christian Knees and Filippo Pozzato are likely to try in the sprint but they are unlikely to be in podium contention.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Giacomo Nizzolo

Other winner candidates: Sacha Modolo, Alexander Porsev

Outsiders: Matteo Trentin, Heinrich Haussler, Nikias Arndt

Jokers: Roger Kluge, Paolo Simion, Kristian Sbaragli, Pim Ligthart, Enrico Battaglin

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