Have we all had a good rest? Then we'll begin.
Tay-o, Tayyyyyy-o. Although Hackney's Geoghegan Hart won the final stage before the final week, none of our panel called it correctly because none of them called it at all, apparently. (Except Olivia who, although the only panelist to submit her prediction in time, would probably prefer I didn't tell you that she'd gone for Geoffrey Bouchard. Who came in 62nd.)
Anyway, it feels only appropriate that, as a very worthwhile Twitter follow put it, in 2020 Ineos should be the ones winning stages for fun, while Quick Step defend leaders' jerseys.
And defend them they do. João Almeida fought like a... [looks up famous Portugese things] man-o-war to make it to Piancavallo and retain the maglia rosa by a full fifteen seconds.
With the writing on the wall for the debutant, there are some who have suggested the Giro is Wilco Kelderman's to lose at this point. That might turn out to be true, but we have a lot of climbing to come in the five days of racing before Milan. Both the young stage winner and Kelderman's even younger team-mate Jai Hindley shot up seven places in the standings as seasoned veterans Pello Bilbao, Vincenzo Nibali and Domenico Pozzovivo all saw their title hopes take a big hit.
For the sake of our game, however, it's not the overall race that matters, anyway. No, we're taking it day by day. What will tomorrow bring? Breakaway, surely? But who?
Thomas De Gendt - Lotto-Soudal
There are a bunch of riders that this stage suits but I have a feeling that early category 2 climb will prove too tempting for our Thomas to resist. It might be the case that this is too nostalgic a pick, and De Gendt's days as the best stage hunter in the business are behind him, but until I know that for sure, he's going to continue to be the first name on my teamsheet.
João Almeida - Deceuninck Quick Step
I love this part of Italy where the white wines in particular are so good. As is the cycling of course! It’s a long stage with a couple pretty tough climbs to kick off, then a classics-style circuit near the end, and a rollercoaster final 2km to finish it off. I won’t choose Ulissi since I know he's the cycling mole's favorite pick. The Giro racebook indicates that the stage takes place mostly on wide roads with long straights, which won’t play into the hands of an early break, but that will again be more a question of how hard DQS and Sunweb want to ride. I’m thinking DQS will want to keep the break close to give Almeida one more shot at a stage win. With nothing but major mountain stages on the horizon, this could well be the youngster’s last shot at glory in pink.
Ben Swift - Ineos Grenadiers
Can I just start by saying Tao Geoghegan-Hart was my pick for a stage win. Unfortunately, it was stage 5 though, not stage 14, and as Moley pointed out, the lad from Hackney was too close on GC to be allowed in a break earlier in the race. Well, he’s even closer now. Good work, TGH. And poor puntership by yours truly. Now, I’m not playing the patriotic card here, honest, but the British champion is on top form, has already come close on two stages and possesses all the prerequisite skills to win from a break. The only potential spanner in the works is if he gets called back for team duties to aid TGH’s podium aspirations. Hopefully not.
Larry Warbasse - Ag2r La Mondiale
He’s a newly-minted Rouleur writer, making his column debut in the next issue - so whatever happens in Italy, this month has been a success for our contributor. He’s got a hunger about him at this race and I liked the looks of him in the break last week. Plus it feels like the Giro of feelgood Anglophone wins after Dowsett and Tao.
The Cycling Mole says...
Stage 16 and it looks like another day for the breakaway, as long as we don’t get any cheeky GC attacks on the first climb. This is a cat 2 climb, but it’s around 10km at 7.5%, it should really be a cat 1. This comes just 20km into the stage, which means the break will be full of gifted climbers who are down on GC. Back in the bunch, it is likely we’ll see the GC teams take it relatively easy, they have three massive mountain stages this week.
Olivia is the only one going for a GC day. Her pick of Almeida is a good one, he packs a fine uphill sprint. She mentions that the roadbook says the stage takes place on wide roads, which is total BS. Take a look at the stage and you’ll see the climbs and descents are on narrow roads, this is perfect for the breakers.
The rest of the team are on point, but only one of them has picked someone with a decent chance. Nick is the one who wins the prize, De Gendt is looking in fine form, he’ll win a stage this week. Ian is going with Swift, but as Geoghegan Hart(try spelling that first time) is high on GC, Ineos will be back in their normal position and not chasing breakaways. The pick of Larry “Hollywood” Warbasse is a stinker.
We are 90% certain of a breakaway win, I just don’t see anyone chasing, not even NTT! You might think I’ll go with my old pal Ulissi, but I won’t. I’ll share a little secret with you, the QuickStep boys are not big fans of the Italian, which will make it hard for him to make the break. Instead, I’ll go with Ruben Guerreiro, he seems to have fantastic legs just now.