Giro d'Italia 2024 stage 15 preview - The Queen stage

A big stage to shake up the general classification

Date: Sunday May 15, 2024
Distance: 222km
Start location: Manerba del Garda
Finish location: Livigno
Start time: 10:25 CET
Finish time (approx): 16:11 CET

At long last, after two weeks of simmering anticipation, we’re arrived: it’s time for the Alps! This will be the first of three back-to-back mountain stages interrupted only by the respite of a rest day tomorrow, and far from easing the riders into the high mountains, the Giro d'Italia organisers have thrown them in at the deep end with an absolute brute of a stage. In fact, pretty much however you measure it, this looks like the Giro’s Queen stage: it’s the longest (lasting 222km), features the most amount of climbing (5,700m elevation gain in total), and has by far the highest altitude finish. 

The first two climbs of the day, the category three Lodrino and category two Colle San Zeno, are easier warm-up acts, included to wear the riders' legs down by the time they reach the bigger mountains to come later. With about 80km of valley roads between the summit of the latter to the foot of the next climb, these are way too early to alight the GC battle, and will instead be of interest to any riders eyeing up the KOM classification, as a chance to both gain some points and gain a head start for the remaining climbs. 

Things start to get serious 80km from the finish, when the riders begin ascending the Mortirolo. A late addition to the stage after the organisers had to reroute due to refusal from Swiss authorities to allow the race to cross the border into neighbouring Switzerland, this is one of the famous mountains in cycling, and even though it isn’t climbed via the side that prompted Lance Armstrong to call it the hardest he’d ever faced, it’s average gradient of 7.6% over 12.6km is still formidable. 

The vital stats for the next climb, Passo di Foscagno, are a less intimidating 14.6km at 6.5%, and grind up at a steady rate rather than fluctuate between shallower sections and steep ramps, but pose the other probing challenge of high altitude. Reaching 2,315m at the top, and then an even higher 2,385m following a short descent and extra 4.8km climb to the finish in Livigno, the riders will find themselves almost 1,000m higher than at any point of the race so far.

Funny things can happen to riders when exposed to the thin air this high in the sky, and even the best climbers can struggle. When the Giro visited Livigno in 2005, pre-race favourite Ivan Basso plummeted from second overall to being out of contention altogether, having only days before looked comfortable in the pink jersey. The Italian was suffering from stomach problems, and although he managed to pull through and limit his losses on a category one summit finish the day before, the high passes of Foscagno and the Passo Stelvio before it mercilessly exposed his condition, and he ended up losing over 40 minutes, enduring one of the worst days of his career. GC contenders can’t afford an off-day here — all the good work of the previous two weeks could become undone in no time.

Stage profile sourced via the Giro d'Italia website

Contenders

It's hard to look past Tadej Pogačar as the likely winner of stage 15 of the Giro d'Italia. The UAE Team Emirates rider already has a sizeable margin on the general classification, and these climbs provide prime terrain for him to extend this. While he has spoken about riding more defensively during the second and third weeks of the race, we still wouldn't be surprised to see a bold, long-range attack from Pogačar to stamp his authority on this Giro with finality. 

Despite the Slovenian rider's status as favourite, there will still be other GC riders looking to stop him today. Daniel Felipe Martínez of BORA-Hansgrohe is a key rival to Pogačar and he relishes the longer climbs – if the Colombian is on a good day, we can expect Martínez to play a crucial role in this stage. The same can be said for Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers. The Welsh rider will be looking at climbs like the Mortirolo as good chances for him to show what he can do – he's more suited to these real mountains than the punchy climbs we have had so far this race. Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team) and Romain Bardet (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL) are two other GC riders who will be feeling hopeful looking at the elevation gain in stage 15. Both riders are strong climbers who will know that this stage is a key opportunity for them to move in to podium positions overall in this race.

There's also the chance of a strong breakaway making it to the finish line on stage 15, especially if Pogačar and UAE Team Emirates are focusing on the general classification, rather than the stage win. Juan Pedro López of Lidl-Trek has been active in this Giro so far and often performs well in the mountains. The same can be said for Esteban Chaves of EF Education-EasyPost and Filippo Zana (Team Jayco AlUla). It also could be possible that  Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team's sibling duo of Aurélien Paret-Peintre and Valentin Paret-Peintre like the look of stage 15, with Valentin already having a stage win to his name this race.

Prediction

While our hearts are willing this stage to go to an opportunistic breakaway rider, our heads are telling us that the most likely outcome is another display of domination from Tadej Pogačar. We're betting on the Slovenian rider to win today.

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