Start location: Oderzo
Finish location: Val di Zoldo
Start time: 12:20 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:15 CEST
Is there a landscape more emblematic of the Giro d’Italia than the Dolomites? Unlike other areas of the Alps that feature in both the Giro and the Tour de France, and the Pyrenees that play such a crucial role in both the Tour and the Vuelta a España, the Dolomites are exclusive to Italy and this one Grand Tour, and have witnessed many epic battles for the pink jersey since first visited at the 1937 edition.
A ‘dolomite’ is a sedimentary carbonate rock, named after Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu, a mineralogist working during the time of the French revolution, for his role in distinguishing the rock from limestone. These rocks form the geological phenomena that is the Dolomites Mountain range, which are stunning behold with their unique physical appearance characterised by jagged peaks, angular shapes and startling pink glow.
Stage 18 profile sourced on the Giro d'Italia website
Stage 18 might not feature the most famous and hard mountains of the Dolomites (many of those are saved until tomorrow), but still has enough climbing to make the first of three back-to-back mountainous stages a real GC showdown.
The first two-thirds of the stage doesn’t include too much to fear. Aside from the category one La Crosetta, which ascends steadily at around 7% for 11.6km, the only other climb within the first 100-or-so kilometres is the mild category four climb of Pieve d’Alpago. But from the foot of the category one Forcella Cibiana to the finish atop Zoldo Alto about 35km later, there’s barely any respite between the climbing.
Although listed as two separate category two climbs, the Coi and Zoldo Alto effectively form one long mountain top finish, with just a 2.5km downhill separating the top of the former to the foot of the latter. Zoldo Alto last featured in the Giro in 2005, when Paolo Savoldelli outsprinted Ivan Basso in a two-up sprint after the pair had ridden away from their rivals including Danil Di Luca in the pink jersey and defending champion Damiano Cunego. Basso took the pink jersey, and was widely expected to go on to win it outright, but his race fell apart just two days later when illness struck; Savoldelli ended up winning instead.
Basso and Savoldelli ended up putting a minute into their rivals that day, but this time the summit is climbed from a different direction, via the Coi. Nevertheless, it still has the potential to cause just as much damage, as the 5.8km ascent of Coi is a very steep climb with an average gradient of just under 10%, including a ramp of 19%. If meaningful time gaps are to be made, it’s on these slopes that the GC riders will have to make their move.
The first of three back-to-back days in the mountains, featuring over 3,000 metres of elevation, we expect to see the GC riders coming into their own and working hard for the pink jersey. But stage 18 could also play into the hands of the breakaway, especially with two hard days to follow for the GC.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) are the three GC riders who everyone will be watching intensely during the third week. After a cautious start to this year’s Giro d’Italia, we finally saw some action on stage 16 on the Monte Bondone climb. Thomas and Almeida had better legs on that day, leaving Roglič to fight his own way to the top. Although Almeida won the stage, moving up to second-place, 18 seconds behind the Welshman, Thomas also looked to be in brilliant form as he went back into pink. They’ll all be looking to make up some time and put distance between themselves and their rivals, but the Coi and the summit finish to Zoldo Alto will decide if someone new is in the maglia rosa.
Eddie Dunbar (Jayco-Alula) is having an excellent Giro so far this year, putting in the ride of his life. He’s had four top-10 finishes so far and moved up to fifth place in the GC after stage 16, where he came fourth. If he can get in the breakaway, he’ll be a rider that the leading three will need to keep on a leash, being only 3-03 behind Thomas. Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) and Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) will also be looking to make up some time, aiming to move up the GC rankings.
Another rider who’ll be hunting down a stage win is Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) after a heartbreaking near-win for him on stage 13 to Crans-Montana where he was beaten by Einer Rubio of Movistar (another contender for today’s stage). The French rider plans to retire at the end of this Giro, and with only a handful of stages left, can he get the stage win he’s longing for?
Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech) has been going all in to this Giro, whether that be on the sprint or mountain stages, even coming fourth on the category one climb, Crans-Montana. If he can get in the breakaway, he’ll be in with the chance of taking the victory… finally. Toms Skujinš (Trek-Segafredo) and Davide Bais (EOLO-Kometa) may be other riders to watch after proving they can pack a punch on the climbs. We can also expect to see Ben Healy of EF Education-EasyPost in the thick of the action today, he'll be hoping to add more points to his tally in the mountains classification and get a stage win if the opportunity arises.
We are expecting the GC riders to save energy for final two mountain days in this stage. While, the final climb may be hard, the finish is not situated at the summit, which is likely to make the GC riders reluctant to attack, giving the chance to the breakaway. We're betting on Thibaut Pinot to right his wrongs from stage 13 and go for victory today.