Just before the GC race takes centre stage with the arrival of the serious mountains from stage 14 onwards, the sprinters have one last chance to steal the headlines. It’s been an open race so far in the pure sprints, with three different riders all so far bagging stage wins, so it should be another close-run, unpredictable finish. A tough climb early on means a bunch finish isn’t guaranteed, but the sprinters will be particularly incentivised given that they’ll have to wait a whole week until there’s even a chance for another.
Sanremo > Cuneo, 150km
Compared with the other sprint stages of this Giro, this finish in Cuneo presents a different kind of proposition. Although the roads are appealingly wide, the tarmac well paved, and the final kilometres all fairly straightforward aside from a couple of tight turns shortly before the Flamme Rouge, there is a slight incline uphill in the final 2km of a barely perceptible but still possibly critical 2.5% gradient. It’s a draggy finish rather than a flat one, so will suit a particular kind of sprinter.
Before then, the sprinters face a testing challenge to remain in the peloton, in the shape of a long, 10km category three climb where some teams could choose to lay the hammer down. This tricky opening also presents a chance for a strong break to go clear and get a gap, but they’ll face an unlikely task staying out for what is a very easy, flat final 96km.
The last bunch finish on stage eleven turned the established hierarchy of sprinters at this Giro on its head, as Alberto Dainese (DSM) was the surprise winner. Despite never having won so much as a World Tour race, the 24-year-old stormed past Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) to take victory. Taking into account from just how far back he had to make that sprint, plus the fact that the plan of his DSM that day was improvised at the last minute to lead him out rather than their other sprinter Cees Bol, Dainese could go even better in more organised circumstances.
Arnaud Demare admitted after the finish that he had opened his sprint too early, hence the reason he faded towards the line to finish fourth. That’s his lowest finish in a sprint so far at this Giro, so he should go better if his timing is better on this occasion.
One of the riders to pass Demare on the finishing straight on Wednesday was Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), who must have thought he had the win in the bad just metres from the line, before Dainese came flying pass to relegate him into second. The result moved the Colombian up to third-place in the Maglia Ciclamino competition, but what he wants more than anything else is a stage win.
Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) in second in that classification, but appeared to miss abandoned lead-out man Michael Mørkøv on Wednesday’s finish, as nobody was able to guide him to the front after the final corner. He’s also one of the sprinters at risk of being dropped on the stage’s early climb.
By contrast, Simone Consonni (Cofidis) and Vincenzo Albanese (EOLO-Komea) should fare better on the climb, and have been improving in recent days with third-place on stage 11 and stage 10 respectively.
The withdrawal of Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) from the race means there are less teams now with an incentive to dry and drop the sprinters, but Alpecin-Fenix may do if Mathieu van der Poel gives them the signal, remembering how they ignited proceedings on stage five. Caleb Ewan has also now left the race, describing it as the "Giro from Hell" and heading home to focus on his preparation for the Tour de France later this year.
He’s been getting closer and closer, with second-place behind Alberto Dainese in Reggio Emilia his nearest miss yet, and the draggy nature of the finish today will give the edge that Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) has so far lacked to at last land his first stage at Grand Tour level for over three years.