Stage 16 was set to be the queen stage of the Giro d’Italia 2021. However, on the morning of the stage, the route was shortened, removing the Passo Fedaia and the Passo Pordoi. Still, the stage will be crucial for the GC contenders with multiple first category ascents and a long, technical descent to the finish in Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Stage 15 dipped into Slovenia and was a breakaway stage from the start. Finishing in biblical weather conditions, Victor Campenaerts finally won his first Grand Tour stage — the third victory for Qhubeka Assos since the first rest day.
It was a bad day for Bora-Hansgrohe. Emanuel Buchmann crashed moments into the stage and the German was forced to abandon. Buchmann was 6th in the GC and looked to be riding into strong form. Jos van Emden, Natnael Berhane and Ruben Guerreiro also withdrew.
Giro d'Italia Stage 16 shortened profile
The original route was set to feature an astonishing 5,600 metres of climbing across 212 kilometres. However, the route has been shortened to 153km, removing the iconic Passo Fedaia and Passo Pordoi. Nonetheless, the stage will be a gruelling test with biblical rain adding to the challenge.
Soon after the flag drops, the riders head onto La Crosetta, a climb 11.6km in length which averages just over 7%. All the riders looking to join the breakaway will need to attack here and the Ineos Grenadiers must carefully monitor who joins the group to avoid any key favourites venturing too far up the road.
The descent will take the riders to kilometre 50. Across the following 70kms, the road drags uphill on strenuous false flat terrain. The bonus seconds sprint in Caprile occurs at kilometre 120 and immediately leads onto the Passo Giau. At 9.8 kilometres, it’s the shortest of the two climbs but by far the steepest. The climb averages 9.3% and although the steepest pitch is at the very foot of the climb, it doesn’t ease much until the top.
Passo Giau profile
Once the Passo Giau is crested there are 17.5km left which take place almost exclusively downhill to the finish line in Cortina d’Ampezzo — the host resort of the Alpine Ski World Championships in February earlier this year.
A plethora of king of the mountain points remain available across the day. For the riders eyeing the maglia azzurra, joining the breakaway is crucial.
Egan Bernal climbing Monte Zoncolan in the maglia rosa (Image credit: Marco Alpozzi/Getty Images)
Egan Bernal has been unstoppable over all 15 stages, but his job is far from complete. None of his GC rivals have been able to prevent him from increasing his lead in the maglia rosa since he claimed the jersey on stage nine. Now, his lead at the front is 1:33 over Simon Yates.
Although they won't have the help of Pavel Sivakov, the Ineos Grenadiers have the power to control the race and put Bernal in the position to take more time on his rivals. A former mountain-biker, the Colombian has superb descending skills which will be pivotal here. From what we’ve seen so far, Bernal will have no trouble entering the second rest day in pink. The question is: by how much? Dani Martínez is still in the top 10 and was one of the best finishers from the peloton on Monte Zoncolan. He could play another key role for Ineos.
Simon Yates finally burst into life on Monte Zoncolan. The Brit has been quiet over the first two weeks and finds himself in second place overall. Yates looks to be riding into peak form for the final week, and with a rest day to follow, perhaps BikeExchange will light up the race and send Yates on the attack early. They have a strong mountain team too, where Mikel Nieve, Tanel Kangert and particularly Nick Schultz are riding well. If BikeExchange send any of these riders up the road early, they can act as satellite riders to drop back and help Yates late in the stage.
Astana Premier-Tech were the brave team that took the challenge to the Ineos Grenadiers on the Zoncolan, but the move backfired. Alex Vlasov dropped from second to fourth and is now almost two minutes behind Bernal. However, Astana are always one of the most aggressive teams and this mindset is unlikely to change. Further, they are one of, if not the best descending team in the world. This was on show prior to the Monte Zoncolan when they split the peloton in a technical descent. With multiple long descents to choose from this could be their best card.
Hugh Carthy and Damiano Caruso are the other two GC contenders in the top five. Carthy is a poor descender and 4,500 metres downhill could worry the Brit, particularly if Astana or another team press on. The loss of Ruben Guerreiro on stage 15 could be costly too, he has been Carthy’s primary lieutenant in the mountains. A day limiting his losses would leave Carthy satisfied over the final rest day. Since Caruso took on the reins at Bahrain-Victorious he has always been among the best in the mountains. However, Bahrain-Victorious only have five riders left in the race and could feel their numerical disadvantage here.
Trek-Segafredo could be on the offensive again on terrain which suits the team. Bauke Mollema has been hunting stages from the breakaway, but their GC leader Giulio Ciccone could take the spotlight. He is now the out-and-out team leader and has been one of the very best on the pure climbing stages. Ciccone is now three minutes down in the overall classification and needs to make up time before the time trial in Milan. If any of the GC contenders are courageous enough to attempt an early attack, Ciccone could be the man.
As per usual, Remco Evenepoel will be closely monitored by his rivals even though he is almost four minutes behind Bernal. Evenepoel is entering his first third week at a Grand Tour and his challenge for pink is fading. This comes as no surprise considering his preparation.
With this in mind, it is only a matter of time before Deceuninck-Quick-Step switch to stage hunting mode. After the Monte Zoncolan, Evenepoel said, "I'm still in the top 10, but if my teammates like João want to go in a break that's fine." If João Almeida or even James Knox join the breakaway they have a strong chance.
Pello Bilbao, Davide Formolo, Matteo Fabbro, Felix Großschartner, Koen Bouwman, Michael Storer, Gianluca Brambilla, Antonio Pedrero and Geoffrey Bouchard are other riders that could have their eyes on victory in Cortina d'Ampezzo from the breakaway.
João Almeida (middle). Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
João Almeida started the Giro d'Italia poorly, losing his personal GC hopes on stage 4 to Sestola. Since, Almeida has been tied to Remco Evenepoel and has been called back to assist his Belgian team leader on multiple occasions. With Evenepoel tumbling down the standings, Deceuninck need a stage win to save their Giro.
Entering stage 16, Almeida is eight minutes down in the GC and 13th overall. Ineos may be hesitant to allow a rider of Almeida's quality up the road even though he doesn't pose an immediate threat to Bernal. Nonetheless, Deceuninck must be aggressive now and João Almeida is our pick to win stage 16 in Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Cover image: Tim de Waele/Getty Images