May 21, 2014

The Giro Really Begins Now

Yes, there have been some skirmishes thus far, but the design of the course means the Giro d'Italia really begins with the Stage 12 time trial. That would be today (unless you, like me, live in the Pacific timezone in which case this will post when the time trial is still tomorrow).

So today we look at the stage left that will decide the Giro d'Italia. Also as a reminder, US tv coverage is on Bein Sport and there is the usual array of pirated links from various places in Europe at steephill.tv or cyclingfans.com.

Stage 12
What is it? 41.9 km time trial
Why does it matter? Time trials are a chance to gain huge time. Given that many in the top 10 are no better than average at the discipline and GC leader Cadel Evans was a very good time trialer in his younger years but has struggled recently, this stage is anybody's guess. In addition, there is a total lack of time trial specialists in the race at all at this point, meaning there could be a surprise winner.
Possible time gaps: If Evans really is in as good a form as he has shown, he could gain 1-2 minutes on most of the rest of the GC men and even more on some of the bad time trialers. Beyond Evans, 7th place Wilco Kelderman is very good against the clock, having won last year's Tour of Denmark entirely because of his time trial abilities. There is a decent chance Kelderman will be in the top 3 after this stage.

Stage 14
What is it? Mountains. 3 of them with a summit finish. While none are extraordinarily difficult, having them all back to back to back will hurt.
Why does it matter? This is the first true mountain test. The big mountain stage last weekend was nice, but it was also the easier category 1 climb in the entire race with many of the category 2 climbs being more difficult.
Possible time gaps: Don't expect large time gaps here. Everyone in the favorites group will mark each other. Still, expect someone to lose the Giro on this day, either by crash on a descent, lack of legs, hunger bonk or tactical error. There will be one man who loses 15 minutes on this day from the GC contenders.

Stage 15
What is it? A long drag before one giant climb. This stage looks a lot like the Mont Ventoux stage of last year's Tour de France that had nothing until the massive Ventoux at the end.
Why does it matter? It is a major chance to gain back time or put the race away. The climb to Montecampione is difficult. 19 kms at 7.6% will put the hurt on the peloton no doubt.
Possible time gaps: 30 seconds to a minute are easy possibilities here. Depending on the status of the race that could be huge.

Stage 16
A list of the cat 1-2 climbs according to difficulty and sorted by stage.
What is it? The queen stage (hardest stage of the race) with two mythical high mountain passes and a new climb to Val Martello at the end of it.
Why does it matter? It is the hardest stage and the climbing starts early enough that hostilities will begin very early. Additionally, the Cima Coppi for highest point in the race will be crossed on this day when the peloton goes over the Stelvio climb.
Possible time gaps: Anything is possible here. The stage is short and climbing almost from the word go. A large GC staring match would be no shock, nor would a multiple minute demolition from somebody be a surprise either. Everything is on the table here.

Stage 18
What is it? Another day with three big mountains (seemingly the limit nowadays in the Giro after the Circle of Death that was stage 15 in 2011) and another mountaintop finish.
Why does it matter? An enterprising attacker is likely going to be able to take some time on this day with a mountain time trial coming the next day and the need to save energy for that. That said, the risk of attacking here and having nothing for the time trial is also great, making this a tension filled stage.
Possible time gaps: My guess is someone will make 30-45 seconds in a bid to reach the podium while everyone else will wait until the final km while attempting to save as much energy as possible for the next day.

Stage 19
What is it? The Giro's annual mountain time trial.
Why does it matter? Time trials are a great place to gain time and mountain time trials moreso. Add that the climb is much more difficult this year than the mountain time trials of the last 3 years and big time gaps are expected. I expect the Giro to be decided here, not on Stage 20 atop the Zoncolan.
Possible time gaps: A fading rider could lose 3-4 minutes here. With the difficulty of this climb, this stage will be a battle as soon as the first GC guys set out on the course.

Stage 20
What is it? A final mountain day ending in the most feared climb the Giro can offer: the Zoncolan.
Why does it matter? The Zoncolan is one of the hardest climbs in the entire sport and many expect it to decide the Giro (despite its difficulty, it has only played that role once with Ivan Basso dropping Cadel Evans to seal his victory in 2010).
Possible time gaps: Enormous. Especially with no time on flat ground once the Passo del Pura begins at the midway point of the stage. Still, expect the leader to be mostly determined and for whoever that is to be playing defense all day here.

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