With just five stages left to race, who wins this Giro d’Italia is still anyone’s guess. This list of probable contenders narrowed a little down to four riders following stage sixteen’s exhausting excursion in the Alps, but there’s still barely anything to choose between that quartet.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) still holds the pink jersey but by an even narrower margin of three seconds over Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), while both João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) remain within one minute. As another big stage in the mountains, there’s a chance the decisive move will be made today.
Ponte di Legno > Lavarone, 168km
This stage is neither as long as the Alpine one preceding it, and nor are the climbs quite so difficult, but it’s still tough enough to possibly establish a new front-runner in the race for the pink jersey. Following the short climb, long downhill and undulating roads that make up the opening 120km, the final third of this stage has the potential to be the most decisive stretch of racing in this entire Giro.
What makes this ending so intriguing is the lack of any valley road in between the two climbs. After descending the Passo del Vetriolo (an 11.8km climb which rises steadily at 7.7 percent), the riders immediately head uphill again towards Menador, a similarly steady and shorter climb, but with a significantly steeper average of 9.9 percent. If someone chooses to ignite the GC tussle on the former climb, there will be no time for the race to settle down from there until the end.
On all of the major mountains of the Giro so far, all of Carapaz, Hindley, Almeida and Landa have been virtually inseparable. All four finished together on the early summit finishes of Mount Etna and Blockhaus, and aside from the 14 seconds given away by Almeida on yesterday’s final climb, and four seconds of bonuses gained by Hindley in a sprint to the line, there were no real gaps between them by the end of yesterday’s Alpine stage either.
Will today be any different? One variable that could come into play is the prospect of thunderstorms. The weather has been generally hot throughout this Giro, but the temperatures appear to have reached breaking point and the heavens are forecasted to open during tomorrow’s stage.
Rainy weather would render the tricky descent of Passo del Vetriolo even more important than it might otherwise have been, as the descending skills of this quarter of riders will be pushed to the limit should the roads be treacherously wet. We’ve already seen Almeida struggle countless times on the descents, but so far he’s gotten away with it and not lost any time as a result. However, in the event of wet roads, he’d likely get distanced further, so could find himself with too much time to claw back on the final climb to prevent him from pulling off yet another of the comebacks he has time and time again produced throughout this race.
The only real victim of a descent so far has been Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux), when he went down in a crash yesterday following the increase in pace from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan). Possibly still hurting from that fall, he was dropped on the next climb and ended up losing almost three minutes, falling back to sixth on GC, and providing a stark warning for how a mistake on a descent can be fatal for a GC bid.
Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) may no longer be a potent threat on GC having slipped back to 3-51 down on GC after being dropped yesterday, but could still use his notorious descend skills to play a big part in the GC race in support of his leader Mikel Landa. Having an expert’s line to follow on a wet downhill could be invaluable, especially for someone like Landa who is not famed for their descending skills.
Nibali offered a brief taster of what he can do on downhills during stage 16, and could unleash his skills to full effect on the descent of Passo del Vetriolo. He might not be climbing as well as Carapaz, Hindley or Landa, but could hold them off with a head-start following the descent, especially if he’s viewed as less of a GC threat now he’s 3-40 down on GC.