A final week made up exclusively of mountainous stages would be too exhausting for the peloton, so this brief detour away from the Alps southwards for a flat stage finishing in Treviso has been included to ensure some respite and a one-day truce in the intensifying fight for the pink jersey. The parcours is mostly flat, but a bunch sprint isn’t guaranteed, as there will be many riders keen to try and win from a breakaway.
Borgo Valsugana > Treviso, 156km
Based on the parcours alone, everything about this stage points to a bunch sprint. There’s barely any climbing throughout the whole day, and the finale in Treviso (which, incidentally, is home to the Pinarello bikes used by Ineos Grenadiers) looks perfect for a big bunch sprint finish, with a long, straight and wide finishing straight lasting 1200 metres. There is one very steep one-kilometre climb averaging 12 percent, but at 50km from the finish it’s way too far out for any successful attacks to be made out of the peloton.
However, it is much easier for sprinters’ teams to control matters in the first two weeks of a Grand Tour than it is in the final few days, so the day’s breakaway could succeed if a strong enough group gets up the road; in which case the aforementioned climb (the Muro di Ca’ del Poggio) might serve to break the group up and swing this in favour of the better climbers.
Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) have not spent the last few days toiling over huge Alpine mountains for nothing. With the exception of Demare (who has a points classification to win), there is no real reason for them to still be in this race other than to target this stage, so you can be sure they’re desperate not to let a breakaway take the chance from them.
Cavendish and Gaviria in particular really struggled on stage 16, each reaching the finish in a small grupetto that arrived five minutes later than the larger, main grupetto featuring Demare — Cavendish despite having started the day with a small head-start having gotten himself in an early breakaway. Still, they managed to make it within the time limit, so, provided they do so again on stage 17, they’ll be in with a shout of victory in this stage.
Demare has been king of the sprints, winning three out of the five bunch sprints so far, so will again be the man to beat. He needs just one more to match his four-stage haul from the 2020 Giro, and add what would be a ninth career Giro win.
Whereas Demare has improved as the race has gone on, Cavendish hasn’t yet managed to match his race-winning form from the first bunch sprint, and could get nowhere near Demare in the most recent sprint in Cuneo on stage 13. But the many days of climbing since then might have affected their legs differently, and the Manxman has a history of winning the final sprint of a Grand Tour.
Gaviria has certainly looked quick enough to win a stage, but so far hasn't enjoyed a day when everything’s come together for him, and remains winless. This is his last chance to put that right.
As for the other sprinters, Alberto Dainese (DSM) must be considered a contender given the way he stormed to victory on stage 11, even if he couldn’t get up to that speed in the following sprint where he placed fourth. And Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Victorious) showed improvement in Cuneo to place second behind Demare, meaning a first ever Grand Tour stage win for the German could be on the cards.
In the event of a breakaway, riders like Magnus Cort (EF Education-Easypost), Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), and, as always, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) could be victorious.
Given the way he’s dominated the sprints so far, it’s difficult to see past Arnaud Demare as the favourite for the stage win today. As well as still having a full roster of Groupama-FDJ teammates to support him, he’s also looked more comfortable than his rivals on the climbs lately, so may have fresher legs too, further swinging things in his favour.