Giro d'Italia 2021: Stage 17 Preview - the Giro's hardest finish

Rouleur previews stage 17 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia. Despite a shortened queen stage, Egan Bernal blew away his opposition on the Passo Giau and entered the second rest day in pink. Will that change on the punishing Sega di Ala?

Stage 17 features one of, if not the most difficult climb at the Giro d’Italia 2021. The Sega di Ala rivals the revered Monte Zoncolan for both its length and absurd gradients and is likely to play a key tactical role in this year's GC race.

After Egan Bernal put his rivals to the sword yet again on the Passo Giau, the Colombian holds an ever-increasing lead in pink which is swiftly becoming insurmountable. However, with over 3,700 metres of climbing and a mountain-top finish, fortunes could quickly change.

Although the queen stage 16 was shortened, removing the Passo Fedaia and the Passo Pordoi, the peloton still had an arduous test in the Passo Giau. EF-Education - Nippo increased the rhythm early for Hugh Carthy and soon, the numbers in the maglia rosa group could be counted on two hands. 

Sadly, TV images were few and far between. That didn't prevent Egan Bernal from arriving solo in Cortina d’Ampezzo, where he confidently removed his rain jacket to reveal the pink jersey before sitting up and celebrating what was a sublime win in emphatic style. Damiano Caruso and Hugh Carthy were the other big winners and now sit second and third overall respectively. 

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Route

Giro d'Italia 2021 Stage 17 profileGiro d'Italia Stage 17 profile

Starting in the Alpine resort of Canazei, the riders will enjoy a gentle start to the stage. With no climbing until kilometre 58, the breakaway may struggle to form immediately. However, by the peak of third category Sveseri climb (2.9km @ 9.3%), the early attackers will hope to have amassed a lead.

A long descent follows to the intermediate sprint in Trento — with few uphill metres to this point this is a rare opportunity for any of the riders hoping to challenge Peter Sagan for the maglia ciclamino to claw back some points. Davide Cimolai and Fernando Gaviria are the only riders who may consider this a possibility.

Giro d'Italia 2021 Guide

The real climbing begins with 54km left. The Passo San Valentino is the longest climb of the stage, but still plays second fiddle to the Sega di Ala. The Passo San Valentino clearly deserves its first category status with 15 kilometres at 7.8%.

Passo San Valentino

Passo San Valentino profile

The Sega di Ala begins with 11.2 kilometres left and it is a brute. The first half of the ascent averages over 10% and after a short section of ‘respite’ which averages 7%, the toughest section follows. The next 2.5 kilometres average a tortuous 12%, though the final 2km are the easiest section of the climb. At this point riders will be scattered all over the road due to the hellish percentages.

Sega di Ala

Sega di Ala profile

The Sega di Ala featured at the 2013 Giro del Trentino, now the Tour of the Alps. A disgruntled Bradley Wiggins was forced into a bike change on the final ascent and Vincenzo Nibali was the victor that day. The time gaps indicate just how difficult the Sega di Ala is. Pierre Rolland was the 10th rider to the top and was over two minutes behind Nibali, whereas Leopold König was over four minutes down in 20th. We can expect similarly sizable time gaps again here.

Contenders

Image credit: Marco Alpozzi/Getty Images

Let's start with Egan Bernal. The Colombian has been irresistible at the Giro d’Italia, gaining time at every opportunity, which means he exits the final rest day with a 2:24 lead at the top. Although TV cameras failed to capture most of Bernal’s attack on the Passo Giao and descent into Cortina d’Ampezzo, it was easy to see that it was a special ride. Bernal removed his jacket to celebrate in the maglia rosa for his second stage win of the race, and based on his current form he starts as the favourite to make it a hat-trick.

The surprise package of the GC fight is Damiano Caruso. Bahrain-Victorious’ hopes were dashed when Mikel Landa crashed out on stage five. However, Caruso has consistently been there or thereabouts, particularly in the high mountains. Following third place on stage 16, Caruso said, “I felt good in the last climb and I was looking at the faces of the other contenders and I understood in this moment I was almost the strongest, except for Bernal of course.” To this point, Caruso’s career best result at a Grand Tour is eighth. He is performing well above his stock which makes him a leading contender here.

Third in the general classification is Hugh Carthy. EF Education-Nippo made the race tough early on stage 16 and their leader was rewarded when he moved into a podium position. The Sega di Ala fits Carthy well, he proved that he is elite on steep climbs when he conquered the Angliru at the Vuelta a España last year. 

Although Giulio Ciccone is now 6th in the GC, he has been among the very best climbers throughout the Giro d’Italia — he lost a large chunk of time on the gravelled stage to Montalcino. Now in his sixth Giro d'Italia, Ciccone is proving that he can mount a serious GC challenge — his best GC result prior was 16th. However, he is a very poor time trialist so must be aggressive to make up time before the time trial in Milan. The Sega di Ala is a great opportunity for him to do just that.

Another rider whose stock is seemingly rising as the race does on is Team DSM’s Romain Bardet. The Frenchman is riding the Giro d’Italia for the first time, but a sublime second-place in Cortina d’Ampezzo places Bardet just over a minute behind the podium. The Frenchman has two Tour de France podiums to his name and if his form continues to trend upwards, a third Grand Tour podium may well be on the cards.

Simon Yates looked to be Bernal’s closest rival when attacking on Monte Zoncolan and dropping all the other GC riders bar Bernal. However, after Yates dropped back on the Passo Giao he enters the final five stages over four minutes down. After the disappointing performance, Yates stated, “The victory is a bit far away now, but the podium is still well within reach. We’ll keep the head up, keep the chin up, and go from there.” With multiple first category climbs to come, Yates is still a key challenger. However, he must avoid losing time on the Sega di Ala.

Deceuninck Quick-Step’s GC challenge is now all but over. Remco Evenepoel has faded after starting well which culminated in the Belgian starlet losing 24 minutes to Bernal in Cortina d’Ampezzo. However, João Almeida joined the early breakaway and was the best finisher from that group which has moved him into the top 10. It is too late for Almeida to mount a podium challenge, but Deceuninck can save their Giro with a stage victory from the breakaway.

If the breakaway are to survive and claim the stage, they must escape early and build up a large lead before the Passo San Valentino begins. Some of the riders that have a chance from a large breakaway group include Antonio Pedrero, Koen Bouwman, Davide Formolo, Mikel Nieve, Dan Martin, Bauke Mollema, Jan Hirt and Vincenzo Nibali, who has now dropped to 22 minutes down in the GC. Nibali knows how to win on Sega di Ala, too…

Prediction

Despite Nibali's previous victory on Sega di Ala, Egan Bernal has comfortably been the best climber at the 2021 Giro d’Italia. On a stage where huge chunks of time could be won and lost, we think the Colombian will chase a third stage victory and cement his position in the maglia rosa. Egan Bernal is our pick to win stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia.

Cover image: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images