Stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia 2021 is the next mountain test, leading into a brutal day in the mountains in stage 20 on Saturday. Although the route has been altered following the tragic cable car disaster on the Mottarone mountain last weekend, the key GC contenders must be at their very best.
Stage 18 was another gift to the breakaway, and for a while it looked like Remi Cavagna would end Deceuninck Quick-Step’s three year wait for a win at the Giro. However, the Frenchman was caught and swiftly passed by Alberto Bettiol who was set free to fight for his own chances by his captain Hugh Carthy.
Stage 19 profile
Beginning in Abbiategrasso just west of Milan, the first half of stage 19 is mostly flat. The route was set to climb the Mottarone, but after the recent cable car disaster the stage was altered to avoid the scene of the accident. In its place, the Gignese climb will fill in. Although it is over 12km, the average gradient doesn’t even reach 3% which makes it a fourth category effort. The original climb was first category. That means the altered route is clearly easier with less total climbing and descending.
The next ascent starts at kilometre 120 in the form of the Passo della Colma. At 7.7km and an average gradient of 5.9%, it’s a third category effort. After the descent, there are 18 kilometres of false flat which means attacks on the Passo della Colma may be fruitless without teammates up the road to drop back and help in this leg-sapping section. The GC contenders will likely wait for the final climb which is the most challenging of the day by some margin.
Alpe di Mera profile
The Alpe di Mera begins with just under 10km left and it is very steep. Perhaps not quite as difficult as the Sega di Ala where Dan Martin won a few days ago, it still averages 9% for just under 10km. The ascent increases in difficulty as the road moves uphill which adds to its allure — if any of the GC favourites crack early, they’ll lose minutes. The first 5km average 7.7%, while the final 4.7km are 10.4%. Riders looking to be offensive should strike a balance between not waiting too late whilst attacking on the most difficult section of the ascent.
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With just two mountain stages left, the key GC contenders must make their move now, particularly if they aren’t confident ahead of the final time trial in Milan. Egan Bernal still holds pink, but Damiano Caruso is just over two minutes down and after Simon Yates jumped up the leaderboard on Sega di Ala, he is just over three minutes behind. With almost three weeks of racing in the legs, the pendulum still has plenty of time to change direction.
Bernal showed his first signs of weakness on the Sega di Ala. He had been unflappable to that point in the race. Although he holds a comforting buffer, this will give those behind hope that they can still win the Giro d’Italia. Here, we will find out whether Egan Bernal will bounce back or suffer again on the Alpe di Mera. He is supported by the strongest team which was on show when Dani Martínez first geed up Bernal before pulling him to the line on Sega di Ala. The mental support from his teammates may be just as crucial to Bernal’s chances, particularly if he suffers again, meaning Martínez has a considerable role to play here.
Damiano Caruso has been uber-consistent at the Giro thus far after he was thrust into the Bahrain-Victorious leadership role early on. If Bernal falters, Caruso is sat in the next best seat to steal the Giro d’Italia. He entered as a domestique, but a strong performance on the Alpe di Mera could be his next step to the podium in Milan. We will soon learn whether he can dream of the top step.
The man with momentum on his side is Simon Yates. The Brit cracked on the Passo Giau, where he later stated that the win is perhaps out of sight and he’ll fight for a podium. However, after a sublime performance on Sega di Ala, Yates may shift his goals to the top step. Although slightly shorter, the Alpe di Mera is not too dissimilar to the Sega di Ala, and could be the perfect opportunity for Yates to gain more time. The only drawback for Team BikeExchange is the loss of Nick Schultz who crashed on stage 17. He had been Yates’ primary mountain domestique to this point.
Alex Vlasov, Hugh Carthy and Romain Bardet are next in the GC and will all need to improve on the Alpe di Mera if they are to finish on the final podium.
Another rider that is improving day-by-day is João Almeida. He came closest to catching Dan Martin on Sega di Ala, a ride which moved him to eighth in the GC. It’s too late for him to climb onto the podium, but based on his current form a top five is very possible — he is just two minutes and 36 seconds behind Hugh Carthy in fifth. Given his time gap to the pink jersey, he’ll be given more freedom than the aforementioned Yates and Caruso.
The parcours could suit another breakaway victory, particularly as Ineos may be cautious in pushing on considering Bernal’s performance on Sega di Ala. Further, Team BikeExchange recently lost a key mountain domestique, Bahrain-Victorious have limited numbers and although Astana Premier-Tech have a team capable of making the race difficult, their leader Alexander Vlasov has struggled lately. This will provide promise to the early attackers.
UAE Team Emirates are still looking for a second stage triumph following Joe Dombrowski’s win in Sestola in the opening days of the race. Their best chance most likely lies in the early breakaway where they possess numerous options. Diego Ulissi climbed incredibly to fourth on Sega di Ala, but was in the stage 18 breakaway spending pivotal energy. This means their best option could be Davide Formolo, who was among the frontrunners from the breakaway in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
The other riders with a genuine chance if the breakaway goes to the line are Koen Bouwman, Michael Storer, Antonio Pedrero, Geoffrey Bouchard, Jan Hirt, Bauke Mollema, Dan Martin and George Bennett.
With few severe opportunities to press on until the Alpe di Mera and almost 4,000 climbing metres to come on stage 20, the early breakaway could be set to steal a third consecutive victory. Here, many riders stand a great chance, but we are going with Davide Formolo. UAE Team Emirates have no GC ambitions and can therefore go all in to ensure the breakaway makes it to the finish ahead of the chasing GC favourites.
Cover image: Tim de Waele/Getty Images