A blockbuster endgame to the Giro is on the cards, starting with this mountain stage in the Alps. This deep into a Grand Tour, it’s unusual for the top two to be as close together as Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Jain Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) currently are, and for the third place rider (Mikel Landa) to also be so hot on their heels at 1-05. The parcours might not be as difficult as the previous mountain stages, but with so little road left to work with, big attacks could still be made.
Marano Lagunare > Santuario di Castelmonte, 177km
What would otherwise be a mild parcours compared to your average mountain stage in the high Alps is made complicated by one remarkable looking new climb tackled across the border in Slovenia. Aside from a brief flattening in the middle and a slight easing off a few kilometres from the top, the Kolovrat rises at gradient in the double-digits for virtually the entirety of its 10km distance, making it one of the very hardest climbs of the whole race.
It’s much more difficult than the couple of category three climbs that precede before the border crossing, and the category two summit finish at Santuario di Castelmonte, which lasts 7.1km at an average of 7.8 percent. Summited with over 40km still to ride, attacking on the Kolovrat would be a big commitment, but one that is necessary if any wants to gain any serious time today.
The final climb does not look difficult enough to cause any ruptures between the GC contenders, especially considering just how evenly matched Carapaz, Hindley and Landa have been on all of the climbs so far. So if this is going to be a significant day in the race for the pink jersey, and if anyone is serious about taking the pink jersey from Carapaz, then they’re going to need to attack on the Kolovrat.
Having such a tough climb so far from the finish sets the stage for some intriguing tactical racing. As there’s a long and often shallow descent followed by about 10km of flat in the valley road before the foot of the final climb, having teammates’ slipstream to sit in between these two climbs could be game-changing, especially if gaps do emerge between the favourites on the Kolovrat. Expect an almighty tussle to get into the breakaway at the start of the stage as the GC teams try and get riders up the road so they can assist their leaders at this crucial point.
This is where the strong squads of Bahrain-Victorious and Bora-Hansgrohe come into play. Should either Hindley or Landa at last manage to put some daylight on the climb, then having, say, Wilco Kelderman or Lennard Kämna for the former, or Wout Poels or Domen Novak for the latter to be able to drop back from the break and pace them could help ensure that Carapaz does not manage to recover and return.
Ineos Grenadiers are also presented with a tactical dilemma as to whether to surround Carapaz with as many teammates as possible, or also put riders in the break. So far only Richie Porte and Pavel Sivakov have stayed with him on the climbs, so he may be loath to be separated from them, but domestiques like Jonathan Castroviejo or Grand Tour debutant Ben Tulett could offer great insurance if able to drop back from the break.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) would surely love to do something special and go for the pink jersey, 5-48 is a massive amount of time for even for him to make up.
Although they weren’t separated on the final climb, Carapaz had more of a spring in the sprint to the line than either Hindley or Landa, suggesting that he’s ending this Giro stronger than his pink jersey rivals. Despite leading the race, the Ecuadorian hasn’t yet won a stage — so it’s high time for him to land one today.