Giro d'Italia stage 20 preview - a punishing day on Monte Grappa

A double ascent of Monte Grappa is going to cause some fireworks on the Giro's penultimate stage

Date: Saturday May 25, 2024
Distance: 184km
Start location: Alpago
Finish location: Bassano del Grappa
Start time: 11:40 CET
Finish time (approx): 17:15 CET

In both of the last two editions of the Giro d’Italia, the fate of the maglia rosa has changed dramatically on the very last mountain of the race. Last year, Primož Roglič took the glory by usurping Geraint Thomas at the top of the classification during a penultimate day mountain time trial up Monte Lussari, defeating him by just 14 seconds despite almost coming undone by a mechanical. And the year before Jai Hindley used the mountain top finish at Marmolada to attack Richard Carapaz, dropping him 3.5km from the summit and gaining the time he needed to prise the pink jersey from his shoulders at the very last hurdle.

It looks unlikely today's stage to Monte Grappa will produce a similar result given the lead of Tadej Pogačar, but it’s certainly hard enough to potentially have an effect further down the GC, being both longer and steeper than both Monte Lussari and the Marmolada. In fact, it’s possibly the hardest climb of this whole Giro. While the riders have had to take on mountains of similar length to its 18.1km duration, none featured comparably sustained gradients of such severity. The first half of the climb rises relentlessly at over 8%, with no gentle sections for the riders to recover. The average of the second half is a little lower, but a lot more uneven, with brief plateaus counter-balanced with viscous harpins and horrible ramps up to well over 10%. Having climbed for so long already to get to these steepest sections, there is potential for serious carnage. 

Recent history suggests the time gaps on Monte Grappa can be huge. Even when used as a mountain time trial at the 2014 Giro, the riders were all spread far apart from each other, with only Fabio Aru finishing within 1:26 of the time set by stage and overall winner Nairo Quintana, and only six others within four minutes. And despite being the day’s one and only climb during a stage here in 2010, it was still selective enough for only four riders to be left in the group of favourites by the top, with multiple of their top GC rivals, including Richie Porte in the pink jersey, dropped. Even the long descent to the finish was not enough to bring about any kind of regrouping, with the next rider to finish behind the leading quartet (from which Vincenzo Nibali took the victory) a whole 1:34 back. 

What’s more, today’s stage will be doubly hard as that occasion, as the organisers have had the fiendish idea of sending the riders up the Grappa not once, but twice. From the moment they arrive at its foothills the first time 96km from the finish, they will spend the rest of the stage either ascending or descending the mighty mountain. Considering the technical nature of the descent, which helped master-descender Nibali to win here in 2010, and the lack of any valley roads in-between, it is feasible that the GC riders could start attacking each other from the very first ascent. Any rider who struggles with steep gradients, downhills, or fatigue this deep into a Grand Tour could be vulnerable, and therefore many last-minute twists in the narrative of this Giro are possible.

giro d'italia stage 20 profileStage profile sourced via the Giro d'Italia website


Contenders

It is pretty much a done deal that Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) has secured his first Giro d’Italia title with a lead of almost eight minutes. He has been in stellar form throughout the past three weeks, winning five mountain stages with absolute ease. But when you are Pogačar, you can never have too many stage wins wearing the maglia rosa, and this gruelling stage has his name all over it, so we don’t expect him to sit back and let those underneath him on the GC fight for the remaining podium places – we are more likely to see him make it six stage wins. 

But it is underneath him that we expect fireworks with all the GC contenders fighting for a podium spot. Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe) currently sits in second place and in order to make sure he remains in second, he has got to keep his eye on Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) as there is only 22 seconds between the two of them. Over the course of the race, the two GC rivals have swapped in positions, but a bad day for Thomas on stage 16 saw him fall back into third. Both have strong teams around them, so it’ll come down to who has the best legs on Monte Grappa, and it'll be questioned whether Thomas will be at his best after a late crash on stage 19. 

Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) will try his best to get himself onto the final podium, but he hasn’t shown the best form in the mountains in the final week due to sickness. He’s almost two minutes behind Thomas so it will be a big ask, so if he wants a place on the podium, he’ll have to make a bold move. 

Team DSM-Fermenich PostNL will hope that they can take something away from this Giro d’Italia with Romain Bardet taking a stage win. The Dutch team showed determination on stage 17 and will be heading into this stage with the same hunger. The same could be said for Movistar and Einer Rubio, who is currently eighth place. He’s a good climber and has shown good form in the mountains this past week. 

Also in the top 10, is Filippo Zana (Jayco Alula) and Jan Hirt (Soudal–Quick-Step) who will be hoping to remain in their position. But lurking outside the top 10 is Lorenzo Fortunato (Astana Qazaqstan) and Michael Storer (Tudor Pro Cycling), both of whom are strong climbers.

Prediction

It is hard to look beyond Tadej Pogačar for the stage. He has been on another level in comparison to the other riders and the gradients of Monte Grappa will not deter this Slovenian powerhouse. 

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