It’s the final day in the mountains, and the organisers have saved the best ‘till last with a spectacular stage in the famous Dolomites. All three of today’s huge mountains are either near or above 2000 metres, and when racing takes place at altitude as high as this, anything can happen; even at this late phase of the race, there could yet be twists and turns in the race for the pink jersey. Extreme weather isn’t forecasted, so thankfully it should avoid the fate of last year’s queen stage go ahead in full as planned.
Belluno > Marmolada, 168km
The final five kilometres of the last climb of today’s stage could be where the fate of the Giro d’Italia is decided once and for all. Although the first half of the Passo Fedaia climbs at a difficult enough incline of around 6 percent, it’s when the road kicks up to double digit gradients for the entire rest of the climb that things get really difficult. These are the kind of gradients where minutes can be haemorrhaged in a short space of time, and hopes and dreams either sealed or lost.
The damage this climb will make will be exacerbated by the accumulated fatigue of what is a merciless day of climbing all-round. The mountain before it, the Passo Pordoi, has been designated the Cima Coppi as the highest point of the race, while the first climb, Passo San Pellegrino, lasts an agonising 18.5km and gets steeper the closer the riders get to the summit. Be sure to watch this one from the start if you can: it has the potential to be a classic.
The unique test posed by climbing at high altitudes is often the undoing of a GC contender; as are the mountain stages that come towards the end of the third week, when riders are reaching breaking point.
But all three of Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) have in the past proven resilient to such ordeals.
Carapaz was born almost 3,000 metres above sea level, and is unsurprisingly something of a specialist riding at high altitude, and hasn’t been dropped during the final mountain stage of any of the previous Grand Tour he has competed for GC at.
Whenever Landa has made it this deep into a Grand Tour, he has excelled in the late high mountain stages; such as at the 2019 Giro, when he placed second on the final mountain stage of the race while riding for Movistar as a domestique for, of all people, Richard Carapaz.
The only other time Hindley has ridden for GC was at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, where his best days came in the final high altitude stages — even if he did endure a frustrating few hundred metres towards the top of the Stelvio where he was unable to get his gillet on in the freezing cold conditions.
In terms of the stage win, there will be plenty of climbers desperate to take this last chance to win a stage. Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Easypost) has been especially active in getting into breakaways during the mountain stages, and his team badly need something from a Giro that has not gone to plan for them. Jan Hirt (Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux) has enough appetite to get into another break the very next day after sealing his stage win in Aprica, so could try once again, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) still claimed the stage that he came here to win.
Now that Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) has dropped down the general classification, might he attempt to get up the road and win the stage that was denied him by Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) was back on Mount Etna? And UAE Team Emirates are left desperately needing to salvage something from the race following the abandonment of João Almeida, so the onus will be on climbers like Rui Costa and Davide Formolo to try and deliver one today.
It’s surely written in the stars for Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) to win today. Although he’s almost certainly lost too much time to stage a dramatic bid for the pink jersey, he is climbing well enough to win the stage, and triumphing on an epic day in the Dolomites like this would be the send-off the retiring Italian merits.