What a day that was, eh? Who'd have thought the Stelvio would liven things up? *looks to camera*
It was a stage that not only provided plenty of action but generated a whole lot of debate. Was it fair dinkum for Jai Hindley to sprint full bore for the stage win after playing passenger all the way up to Laghi di Cancano? (Yes) Ought the Australian have dropped back to support his team-mate Wilco Kelderman after the Dutch rider was dropped? (Probably not, but that one's not so cut and dried.)
Either way, the stage went to Hindley, the maglia rosa went to Kelderman and the top three on GC are now separated by less than twenty seconds. Whether or not this has been the most excited Grand Tour in memory, there have been few as close as this going into the final three stages.
Not that we're the sorts to murder with words but we'd like to draw your attention to the Cycling Mole's evaluation of one of our picks for stage 18.
Ian is also on the naughty step after picking Bilbao. He’s decided to pick a rider who’s clearly showing signs of fatigue and in danger of losing big time.
That would be the same Pello Bilbao who finished 3rd, 45 seconds behind the top two, and now finds himself just over a minute from the maglia rosa, would it? Interesting. #JustSayin
Stage 19 brings a bit of respite before what promises to be a dramatic weekend, including a final day time trial instead of the usual processional run-in. What will the sprinters' legs be like after all those mountains this week? They may not have gone hard, but they still had to get over them, after all...
Morbegno to Asti
Arnaud Démare - Groupama-FDJ
Could this race go to the break? It could. By which I mean, it is physically possible, not that I think it's really any more likely to than any other of a similar profile. Ultimately, I do not envy the riders who draw the straw of having to hang themselves out to dry for 200+ kilometres of its 258. Rouleur blogger Jacopo Guarnieri has shown the world what we already knew, which is that he's the best lead-out man in the business, and he's nailed on to tee his man up for a fifth win from four stages.
Matthias Brändle - Israel Start-Up Nation
Just a nice little 258km breather for the knackered peloton. There’ll be some muttered oaths towards the Giro organisation. It’s flat, but there’s too many other teams with a win to race for, and Groupama-FDJ will be too knackered and too satisfied with their impressive haul to try to control everything for Démare. I predict a riotous fight for the break and a solo winner.
Arnaud Démare - Groupama FDJ
Sprint stages after huge climbing stages can throw up some surprises, especially deep into a grand tour with weakened teams and tired legs. Sagan likely has a much better chance against Démare in a flat-out sprint like today’s than he had earlier in the race. But Démare is a real pro as well and I am pretty sure he will have managed his efforts over this past week to be able to take this final sprint stage. I’d like to write more, but what more is there to say?
Peter Sagan - Bora Hansgrohe
With a knack for getting over the lumpy bits like a true Rouleur, I'm doubling down and hoping King Peter comes good for a second predict win. Easily as coveted at a Giri win.
Diego Ulissi - UAE-Team Emirates
Well, yesterday was quite the stage, wasn’t it? Hindley drops his skipper, Tao’s on fire, my pick Bilbao is right back in the game and flapping rain jackets now have their own Twitter accounts. Probably. Today’s shortened stage is wet and wild. When it comes to pure speed, Demare has the rest licked, no doubt about it. But Ulissi is a wily fox with two stages in his musette already. I’m going for an Italian.
The Cycling Mole says...
Tao was close, but none of us had Hindley. We push on, stage 19 is close to 260km long, which is bloody ridiculous at this point in a grand tour. No one wants the chase to join the break lasting 50km, the GC teams will block the road once we get a break of three with riders from Androni, Bardiani and Vini Zabù. The weather looks horrible, it should be raining all day long. Despite the break likely to be weak, it will actually stand a chance of winning the stage, I expect lots of looking around in the peloton.
Andy’s the only one brave enough to go for the break, and I like his pick of Brändle, as he has the size of engine required for a long day in the saddle. Miles is on Sagan, which seems pretty bizarre to me given what we’ve seen in the previous sprints. No surprises to see Nick and Olivia on Démare, he has to start as the massive favourite.
As much as I would love to see a breakaway win from Androni, everything points to an Arnaud Démare win.