Stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia has been haunting every rider’s mind since the race departed from Turin, with the revered Monte Zoncolan looming large on the horizon.
After a long day in the breakaway for Simon Pellaud, Umberto Marengo and Samuele Rivi, the anticipated stage 13 sprint took place in Verona. Finally, after 11 runner-up placings at the Giro d'Italia, it was Giacomo Nizzolo who claimed his first victory at a Grand Tour.
Stage 14, with its 14km 8.1% ascent of the Zoncolan, will certainly not be a day for the sprinters, though.
Giro d'Italia stage 14 profile
Although the stage is all about the finale on the Monte Zoncolan, the first 190km are not entirely straightforward. After leaving Cittadella, the first 65km are completely flat. A breakaway may escape fairly easily on this section of the stage.
The Castello di Caneva is a fourth category climb which is 3.4km in length, peaking at kilometre 78. The next noteworthy spot is the intermediate sprint in Meduno, which occurs with 85km remaining. With this in mind, we may see Peter Sagan, Fernando Gaviria, Giacomo Nizzolo or Davide Cimolai move up the road to earn maglia ciclamino points.
Next comes the Forcella Monte Rest, which is the prelude for the Zoncolan. At 10.5km and over 5.9% average, it is emphatically dwarfed by Zoncolan’s ramps. However, this climb will sap the legs of any contenders on a bad day. Such is the difficulty of the following Zoncolan, we can expect to see a cautious game being played here.
Following the descent, a largely flat road carries the riders to Arta Terme, where a bonus seconds sprint is found. Even if the breakaway has been caught, exerting excess energy for the three, two or one bonus seconds on offer may be unnecessary with minutes to be won or lost on the Zoncolan which swiftly follows.
With 14km remaining, the riders will start the treacherous ascent up the now infamous climb. Chris Froome, Michael Rogers and Ivan Basso are former winners at the top of the ascent and a new rider will soon add their name to the list.
Monte Zoncolan profile
Monte Zoncolan averages 8.5% over its 14.1 kilometres. However, the mountain features various steeper sections which can create minutes between the best climbers in the world. The first 10 kilometers average around 7.5%, though the first and final kilometres are much shallower. However, it’s the final section which makes the Zoncolan so feared by those about to take it on. The concluding 3km average an eye-watering 13%, with some ramps reaching an absurd 27%.
The climb gets more challenging as it goes on, which will likely mean a waiting game until the final 3km. Tactics almost go out the window here, each and every rider must set their own tempo to ensure they don’t blow up. At 25% gradients, even the pros aren’t going quick enough to benefit from drafting...
If any of the GC candidates are not at their very best, their dreams of the maglia rosa will be crushed by the Zoncolan.
Photo credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Stage 14 isn’t filled with opportunities for the breakaway to gain a lead and acquire a stage-winning advantage. The Ineos Grenadiers have more than enough strength to control the tempo until the Zoncolan and if they aren’t willing to keep the breakaway in sight, it’s possible that Astana, BikeExchange. EF or Bora will. With that in mind, we think stage victory will come from the favourites group rather than the early breakaway.
Egan Bernal — where else could we start? The Colombian is in exceptional form which has fired him into the maglia rosa. Question marks surrounded Bernal after he suffered at the Tour de France last year with back issues which have lingered over him since the Giro began — will he end up suffering in a similar vein? To this point, though, there have been no signs of his back playing up and he has blown away his GC rivals at almost every opportunity. For the most part, Bernal’s gains have come on short, punchy finishes or on the gravelled roads to Montalcino. Will that form now translate to the Zoncolan?
No one was talking about Emanuel Buchmann over the first rest day. The German slowly leaked time on the numerous uphill finishes across the first 10 days leaving him 15th overall. However, he fired himself straight back into the conversation when attacking on the Passo del Lume Spento, gaining time on all but Bernal. Buchmann is a lightweight, pure climber who should be among the riders that are best suited to Zoncolan’s absurd percentages.
Alex Vlasov has enjoyed a fairly quiet, yet highly effective Giro d’Italia thus far. He is only in his second WorldTour season, but is the only rider within one minute of Egan Bernal in the general classification. This uphill drag to the line fits the Russian’s skill set nicely and with the likes of Luis León Sánchez, Harold Tejada and Gorka Izagirre working as domestiques, Astana won’t be afraid to light up the race early to pile the pressure on Ineos. Could the Zonoclan be the spectacular scene for Vlasov’s first victory at a Grand Tour?
Damiano Caruso is one of the most experienced men in the field. Now competing in his 14th Grand Tour, it may be Caruso’s best performance yet. Caruso has raced largely as a domestique in the past, but he was catapulted into the Bahrain-Victorious leadership position after Mikel Landa unfortunately crashed out. Caruso has only grown into the role, and after a solid performance to Montalcino he is now third in the GC. Bahrain are now down to the bare bones though with Gino Mäder and Matej Mohorič joining Landa on the sidelines. Caruso is continuously surprising, but if he can perform well on the Zoncolan he should be considered among the leading GC contenders.
Another rider that has generally gone under the radar is Simon Yates. The Brit entered the Giro as one of the prime protagonists for pink after he won the Tour of the Alps, but has ridden an almost silent race so far. However, he is positioned well overall and is only 1:22 down on Bernal. So much was made of Yates’ attacking style, which perhaps cost him the race three years ago. He has seemingly adapted his style entirely, and although he is still well in touch, Yates will need to attack sooner or later if he is to get his hands on the maglia rosa. Unlike many, he has the benefit of experience on the Zoncolan — he finished second to Chris Froome three years ago. Is this the day Simon Yates increases his aggression to begin his assault on the maglia rosa?
We have somehow made it this far into the preview without discussing Remco Evenepoel. The Belgian starlet suffered his first big time losses on stage 11, something he’s far from accustomed to. It was therefore not a great surprise to see him displaying his emotions when pulling the earpiece before his teammate João Almeida dropped back to assist him. Gravel and technical descents are not Evenepoel’s terrain, but that won’t be an issue here. In the most testing mountain-top finish yet, it will be intriguing to see if Evenepoel can stay with the race leaders. Now two weeks into his first Grand Tour and with no other racing in the legs in 2021, if Remco can hold the wheel of the leaders it would be an exceptional performance.
Romain Bardet, Remco Evenepoel and João Almeida finish in Montalcino (Image credit: CorVos/SWpix)
Trek-Segafredo have been one of the most aggressive teams at the Giro thus far. This was on display days ago, when both Vincenzo Nibali and Giulio Ciccone launched a late attack, with ‘Lo Squalo’ ultimately gaining minor time in the general classification. Ciccone had a sublime first ten days, but fell to eighth in the standings after cracking on his way to Montalcino.
After the first rest day, Ciccone said, “I’m waiting until the Zoncolan to understand things better. After the Zoncolan, I can understand what the situation really is and in what direction I can go.” Stage 11 may have knocked Ciccone’s confidence, but if he can relocate the form which saw him rise the standings in the first week, he has a genuine chance of winning atop the Zoncolan.
Britain’s Hugh Carthy claimed his first Grand Tour podium at the Vuelta a España last season where notably, he won on the Angliru. The Angliru is strikingly similar to the Zoncolan — the final 6km average over 13%. Clearly, Carthy is more than capable on the steepest of climbs and this could be the perfect opportunity for him to make his move.
Other riders that may be able to challenge include Romain Bardet, Dan Martin, Jai Hindley, Pello Bilbao, George Bennett and Attila Valter. These riders are further back in the GC so could be given the space to play their card.
Emanuel Buchmann (left) is a hot favourite. Photo credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Egan Bernal starts the stage as the big favourite. He has been untouchable when the road has gone uphill so far, although none of those have been on climbs as punishing as the Zoncolan. Dave Brailsford has stated he’s given the Grenadiers more freedom to attack — will we see Bernal ride off the front again or follow the wheels to defend his jersey?
However, after a supreme performance on stage 11 which showed he is more than back in the fight for pink, we are backing Emanuel Buchmann to win atop the Monte Zoncolan. A pure climber who demonstrated his GC prowess when finishing fourth at the Tour de France two years ago, Buchmann is growing into the race and discovering his form at the perfect moment. Alex Vlasov, Hugh Carthy and Simon Yates could all have a great chance too, but we think Bora will pick up their second stage triumph of the race.
Cover image: CorVos/SWpix.com