The calm serenity of Monday’s rest day will come to a startling halt with stage 16, an epic slog through the Alps and arguably the hardest stage of the whole Giro. The Alpine climbs on the menu today are too hard for a repeat of stage 15’s stalemate, and fireworks in the battle for the pink jersey are guaranteed. There are currently still four riders all within one minute of Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) on GC, but those time gaps could be significantly larger by the time the top of the Santa Cristina headline mountain.
Salò > Aprica, 202km
With three climbs all classified as the most difficult tier of category one, and a total length exceeding 200km, stage 16 might just be the toughest of the entire Giro d’Italia. The seemingly endless slog up the fluctuation gradients of the 20km Goletto di Cadino will wear the riders' legs out in time for the infamous Passo Mortirolo, which, although taken via a less steep way up averaging 7.6 percent, is still difficult enough to start the GC battle.
In fact, the stage is probably even harder than it looks on paper, given how a 5.6km uphill tackled in between the Mortirolo and Santa Cristina that averages 8 percent hasn’t even been recognised as an official climb. The race should therefore already be very much alive by the time they reach the 13.5km Santa Cristina, and some of the most pivotal moments of the race could occur on the 10 percent slopes of its second half.
The difficulty of the mountains climbed early in the stage means that strength-in-numbers will be crucial for the GC teams, who cannot afford to leave their leaders isolated. Ineos Grenadiers, for instance, desperately need Richie Porte and Pavel Sivakov to up their game on the climbs, or else risk losing Richard Carapaz’s pink jersey. He’s guaranteed to come under attack today, and won’t be able to fend them all off without the assistance of his teammates.
The terrain means there will be a huge chance for Bora-Hansgrohe to apply the pressure again just as they did on stage 14. On the basis of their performances that day, Lennard Kämna and Wilco Kelderman have the legs to tear the race to pieces on a climb like the Mortirolo, and they could also choose to make use of Emanuel Buchmann’s high place on GC (seventh at 1-58) by sending him on the attack and forcing their rivals to chase him as a decoy for their main man Jai Hindley.
Bahrain-Victorious are in a position to adopt a similar ploy with GC riders Mikel Landa (fourth at 59 seconds) and Pello Bilbao (sixth at 1-52). Both riders have been relatively quiet so far in this race, aside from a few accelerations from Landa on the Blockhaus, but the third week is when they should come into their own, and start setting about gaining the time they need to potentially win the pink jersey.
Based on the way he has struggled on the toughest climbs, the double-digit gradients of Santa Cristina could prove too much for João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), even if he does manage to stay in contention on the earlier climbs — in addition to their descents, which he has also struggled on. And talking of descents, might Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) try something bold on the downhill of the Mortirolo? The Italian veteran needs to go long if he’s to gain the significant amount of time he needs to take the pink jersey, and has historically loved a long-range attack on a downhill.
In terms of the stage win, there are a cluster of riders in and around the top ten who have lost enough time to possibly be allowed to get into the breakaway, such as Lucas Hamilton (BikeExchange-Jayco), Lorenzo Fortunato (EOLO-Kometa) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who is still searching for the stage win he made his priority before the race.
The third week of a Grand Tour and the high mountains of the Alps are where Mikel Landa comes into his own, and having survived the first two weeks unscathed, he’s ready to be unleashed. With Bahrain-Victorious able to call upon Bilbao, Santiago Buitrago and Wout Poels to assist him, everything is in place for him to soar away with one of his devastating attacks.