May 31, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 21 preview

The Piazza Unita d’Italia, Trieste

Here we go, the first Grand Tour of the year draws to a close. One final mostly flat stage, with the last climb of the Giro. Straight into the port of Trieste, with a few laps and a sprint finish outside the Piazza Unita d’Italia, a rather grand finish to a rather grand Tour. Of course, both Arredondo and Quintana (who have essentially unassailable leads) to finish first, first you must finish. Although if you can find anyone who’ll take a bet on either of those things happening, let me know.

So who’ve been the winners and losers? Unquestionably, Movistar have done very well, taking the GC and a few stage wins. But if we’re looking at expectations compared with final product, Bardiani CSF. Three stage wins is a great return for the Italian Pro-Continental team, and goes some way to guarantee them a slot at the race next year. GreenEdge had a fantastic first week, although finishing with just two riders is a little embarrassing, and Nacer Bouhanni has a good chance of finishing the race with 4 stage wins, and a very good chance of that points jersey - he will if he finishes 5th or higher.

The biggest losers have been Team Sky. No stage wins, no riders in the top 10 of GC is definitely a poor return for a team who could have had reasonable ambitions for a GC podium, if it wasn’t for illness. In fact, their last gasp emergency call up, Ben Swift, has been their most successful in terms of stage placings.

Trieste in the 17th Century

Trieste is a lovely city with a long history. Previously part of Rome, the Republic of Venice, the Habsburg’s Austrian Empire, then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, before finally it became part of Italy 97 years ago. It’s a short bus ride from Slovenia and Croatia, and a short, scenic train ride from Venice too. Definitely worth visiting. 

In numbers

  • Length: 172km
  • Total altitude gain: 517m
  • Categorised climbs: one
  1. 4th cat. Passo di Monte Croce, 2.3km at 2.1%

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May 30, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 20 preview

The town of Ovaro, at the foot of Monte Zoncolan.

Here we go, the hardest climb in pro cycling. Well, unless it’s September and I’m writing about the Alto de l’Angliru or the Cuitu Nigru in an edition of the Vuelta a España, or you’re from Colombia and you treat yourself to the Alto de Letras, or you train regularly on Mount Teide, or it’s dead hot and the pace is getting ridiculous on Mont Ventoux.  the point is, lots of climbs are crazy hard due to the gradient, weather, or situation in the race. However, when talking about Monte Zoncolan, we’re talking about the gradient being so significant that gear ratios are actually worth talking about.

Despite being a relatively new climb to the Giro, Zoncolan has already managed to gain legendary status

It’s only been used 4 times before this year (first in 2003), and was even in the Giro Donne before the men’s version in 1997. The thing that makes Monte Zoncolan so horrible to race up (and why Mario Cipollini insisted on switching to a mountain bike at the foot one year) is the relentlessness of the gradient. While other climbs may hit 15% in patches or on the bends, there’s a 4km stretch at 15.4%. The lowest is 9.1% at the bottom, and there are two sections where it hits 20 and 22%.

Of course, while the gradients are big, there’s something perhaps more significant to the spectacle to think of. At these sorts of gradients, it’s power to weight ratios that govern the race. As soon as you drop below 18km/h, the advantage you get sitting on the wheel becomes insignificant. So, the rider with the best power to weight ratio is going to win. That’s probably Nairo Quintana, followed at the moment by Fabio Aru, Rigoberto Uran, Domenico Pozzovivo then Pierre Rolland.

Before that happens though, we’ve got the 1st cat. Paso del Pura followed by the 2nd cat. Sella Di Razzo. If anyone wants to make any significant gains in the GC, they’re going to have to go here, if not earlier. Quintana has 3 minutes on everyone, and it’s hard to see him losing any time on Monte Zoncolan itself.

Eurosport have coverage scheduled for 12h30 GMT (as long as there isn’t any good tennis on) so do sit back and enjoy. But spare a thought for the riders who will almost certainly finish outside the time limit on this most brutal of stages so close to the end of the race.

In numbers:

  • Length: 167km
  • Total altitude gained: 2993m
  • Categorised climbs: 3
  1. 1st cat. Paso del Pura, 11.25km at 7.7% average, max 23%
  2. 2nd cat. Sella Di Razzo, 15.85km at 5.2% average, max 15%
  3. 1st cat. Monte Zoncolan, 10.1km at 11.9% average, max 22%

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May 30, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 19 preview

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The wooden bridge at Bassano del Grappa. It’s been rebuilt several times since first built in 1569, and has the Grappa shop in it.

If the Giro d’Italia has any traditions nowadays, it’s the Mountain Time Trial. It’s the only grand tour fond of having them regularly nowadays - including this one, it’s had one at this stage of the race four out of the last 5 years.

Balancing the flat bit at the beginning against the bit where they go uphill in terms of equipment can be a difficult one, but today that bit is about 7km long, so I don’t think many would benefit from using a TT bike and switching to a standard road bike at the foot of the climb, the only likely concession will probably be clip on aero bars and adjustable stems or a slightly smaller frame to get a position a little closer to that TT crouch. The climb itself comes in 3 chunks of steep with two little breaks in between, firstly around 7.4%, then 2-3%, then 10% with a bit of 14% then finishing around 9%.

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 Alberto Contador in the MTT, on his way to winning* the 2011 Giro d’Italia

There’s only one testing road stage after this, up Mt Zoncolan. We’ve done 90% of the climbing, and 89% of the length, so there aren’t many tests left. We’re going from Bassano del Grappa, where the aperitif that tastes like sick comes from. Okay, maybe that’s a little unkind - lots of people like it, so there must be some reason to like this drink made from the bits of grape vines you thought it not possible to make drinks out of (stalks, pips, stems), I just don’t know what it is. Do I need to drink more of it? Who knows. 

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Nardini Grappa is has been made here since 1779. 25% of the world’s Grappa still is, apparently.

This is probably the best chance Uran has of clawing back a little time on Quintana, but whatever he does gain (and I’m not sure either way) Quintana will probably gain back on Zoncolan. If or when Quintana does win the Giro, he has the strength of his team over Uran’s to thank for that - without them he would’ve lost a lot more time in that first week where he had the bruising on one leg. The GC is a pretty fair representation of how everyone’s been going uphill (save Hesjedal and Arredondo) so I can’t imagine things changing a fat lot or working out very much differently.

 

In numbers

  • Length: 26.8km
  • Total Altitude Gain: 1589m
  • Categorised climbs: one
  1. 1st cat. Cima Grappa. 8% over 19.2km, slopes up to 14%

 

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May 28, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 18 preview

The view down the Sugana valley, which we finish at the top of today.

The second toughest day in terms of the climbing - get through this and Nairo Quintana will have taken a significant step towards winning the whole thing. There’s the mountain time trial on stage 19, and the final summit finish the day after that, and then we’re in Trieste for a nice, mostly flat stage.

We’re setting off from Belluno, and last time we were setting off from here, it was the Mountain Time Trial in 2011. Notably (not) won by Alberto Contador, I had a dig through my photos and here’s the only one I can find that is both (a) in focus and (b) the rider hasn’t abandoned yet. Przemyslaw Niemiec everybody!

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Przemyslaw Niemiec, Belluno 2011

We’re heading up to the ski station of Rifugio Panarotta, which like most Italian ski stations, has a webcam at the top. Aces. It looks quite nice. 8% over 16.2km with a few slopes over 10% - there’s one right at the end. It’s only the second time the Giro has been here, since, you guessed it, Andy Hampsten, 1988 and all that.

The first climb of the day is the Passo San Pellegrino, followed by the Passo del Redebus. There’s a good 30km from the top of the Passo del Redebus to the start of Monte Panarotta, so there’s plenty of time for it all to come back together. Can anyone beat Quintana? After stage 16, part of me hopes so, but the form he’s in, I doubt it.

He’s in a class of his own, and everyone else is just fighting to hang on to as much of his coat tails for as long as possible. Which Pierre Rolland seems to have done quite successfully so far - he’s but a sniff away from a podium, and would be the first frenchman to do so since John Gadret in 2011. And lo, here is Gadret, doing the Giro in 2011.

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John Gadret, Belluno 2011

In numbers:

  • Length: 171km
  • Total altitude gain: 3575m
  • Categorised climbs: 3
  1. 1st cat. Passo San Pellegrino. 18.5km. 6.2% average, ramps up to 15%
  2. 2nd cat. Passo del Redebus. 4.6km. 8.7% average, ramps up to 15%
  3. 1st cat. Rifugio Panarotta. 16.2km. 8% average, ramps up to 10.2%
  • Distance in tunnels: 3.4km

 

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May 27, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 17 preview

Vittorio Visentini, somewhere down there

So, who could have predicted that the most selective feature of stage 16 would be the flags? RIgoberto Uran for some reason lost two minutes somewhere near the top of the Stelvio and that was it, Nairo Quintana. Anyway, in altitude gained, the Giro is now 71% done. All downhill from here. Except that most of it is uphill. But hey, who’s counting (I am, I am counting)? There are 11 categorised climbs left, and tomorrow is a flat stage, meaning it has three of them. They’re only 4th category and the last one is 20km.

 With a stage like this, the calculation is hard to make. The only people really that bothered about winning will be Nacer Bouhanni, Team Sky (who’ve won nothing), and whoever gets in the break. After the Gavia, Stelvio and Val Martello, everyone else just wants to go to bed. If someone from Team Sky gets in the break and it’s got a few strong riders in, it’s hard to see a bunch winning.

 Renato Longo. He did cyclocross.

We’re setting off from Sarnonico, where the great (Giro ‘96 winner and Michele Ferrari client) Pavel Tonkov won a stage in 2004, and we’re finishing in Vittorio Veneto, the home town of Italy’s greatest Cyclocross rider, Renato Longo - 5 times World Champion. Only Erik de Vlaemink won more (7). It’s hosted the Giro on 8 occasions, (although the 1988 Giro had a split stage there, so it’s 7 really), and the rider wearing the Maglia Rosa in this town has won the overall in 5 of those races, although as a stat that generally means it’s only really been towards the end of the race.

The last time we finished here was famously the 1988 Giro, where Andy Hampsten won riding the Gavia in all of the snow that there ever was, uphill in both directions, and every day when he got home he would have to pay the mill owner for permission to work there and his father would kill him and dance on his grave or something. Of course, you tell these riders that nowadays, and they won’t believe you.

No idea who’s going to win, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. the most likely is Bouhanni, he finished 5 minutes clear of the cut off, but Ben Swift finished in 25th, just behind Ivan Basso, so we’ll have to see who really is feeling good.

 

In numbers:

  • Length: 208km
  • Total Altitude Gained: 856m
  • Categorised climbs: 3
  1. 4th cat Le Scale di Primlano, 3km at 3.9%
  2. 4th cat Valdobbiadene, 6.4km at 3%
  3. 4th cat Muro di Ca del Poggio, 1.1km at 12%, max 18%
  • Distance in tunnels: 2.3km 

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May 26, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 16 preview


Today’s finish at Val Martello, in the Stelvio National Park.

It’s the Queen stage of the Giro, if ever there was one: it’s got just over one eighth of the entire race’s climbing, 4387 in total. If the climbing was steady across the whole stage, it’d have a gradient of 3%. We’re going over the Gavia, the Passo dello Stelvio and then the final climb of the day is the climb out of Val Martello. There might still be some snow there (see this webcam of the Gavia Pass) , but in the coldest of winter there’s a waterfall that freezes you can climb up. Swish, no?

The Passo Dello Stelvio is the Cima Coppi, the highest point in altitude of the Giro (there’s a cash prize for the first person over the top); it’s the 9th time it has been since 1965. To give you some appreciation of the first climb of the day, the Passo di Gavia has been the Cima Coppi 7 times in it’s own right. (The climb that’s most often been the Cima Coppi is the Passo Pordoi, used 15 times, although twice in one race on two occasions). It was set up 5 years after the great Fausto Coppi died,  there’s a monument to him at the top of the Passo Pordoi to that effect.

Stages this brutal make tactics very difficult - there’s nowhere to hide, so it’ll generally be the strongest rider on the day that wins. Sunday, it looked like Fabio Aru, but could’ve been Nairo Quintana. Domenico Pozzovivo simply had a bad day, and while he didn’t look great, Rigoberto Uran somehow managed to extend his lead. That last ramp is 10.1% for a good few kms, with a 14% ramp thrown in there.

It’s clearly odd that such a set piece stage is on a Tuesday instead of a weekend. It does illustrate how back loaded this Giro is - out of the 6 stages remaining after this one, 4 finish going uphill, one  a Mountain Time Trial.

In numbers:

  • Length: 139km
  • Total altitude gained: 4387
  • Categorised climbs: 3
  • 1st. cat Passo di Gavia
  • Cima Coppi Passo dello Stelvio
  • 1st cat. Val Martello

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May 25, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 15 preview

Montecampione

Today is a relatively simple rolling stage, right until 20 km to go, when it launches itself up a huge great climb, up to the ski station of Plan di Montecampione, from 203m above sea level right up to 1665m above, which is a lot in 19.3km. That’s an average of 7.6%, if you were wondering. So leave it till 3 o’clock to tune in and you won’t miss out. Probably. It’s here because Marco Pantani won the 19th stage of the 81st Giro (1998) here, on his way to overall victory. (Hands up who’s a bit sick of all the Pantani talk now?)

The nice flat run in means we should have our GC teams working hard to have the break brought back near the foot of the climb. Rigoberto Uran was isolated pretty quickly, and  Nairo Quintana came into his own on stage 14, and I’d expect more of the same on stage 15. Domenico Pozzovivo is the only one who can seemingly match him, but he’s already got something of a gap on GC to Don Nairo, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

It’s something of an anomaly that we pass through so many provinces today - 10 borders in all, finishing at Brescia, which is a good excuse to put this video in of The Wave Pictures.

Straightforward then. There’s even a nice cool tunnel halfway up the climb to break it up a little (it’s only 3.8%, and nice and chilled). Of course, that means that average is a bit deceptive - neither bits of the climb either side really drop below 8%, and have ramps up to 12%. And of course, the steeper it gets, the happier 49kg Domenico Pozzovivo is.

In numbers:

  • length: 225km
  • Total altitude gained: 1807m
  • Categorised climbs: one
  • 1st cat. Plan di Montecampeoni. 19.1km at 7.6% average
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May 23, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 14 Preview

Today’s finish town Oropa, in 1953. Situated in Biella, the “Manchester” of Italy. No joke. Il cielo sa che sono miserabile momento.

The numbers don’t lie: today is the 3rd hardest stage of the whole Giro. And what a way to start the decisive week. So far the Giro has lacked the compelling narrative of a few key riders, a la the 2012 Vuelta (Froome, Contador, Rodriguez, Valverde) or that year’s Giro (Hesjedal, Basso, Rodriguez, Scarponi); instead we’ve been treated to a drip drip of riders losing distance.

At the moment though, we might have something like our final top 5 in one way or another - Evans, Uran, Pozzovivo, Majka and Kelderman are all performing well. Quintana isn’t much further back, but illness and/or lack of a coherent plan for the season up to now might be hampering him.

It’s tempting to draw that imaginary boundary a little higher - The gap from Uran in 1st to Evans is 37s, with Majka a further 1m15s back. But that would mean ruling out Pozzovivo, and he’s going to come into his own as the climbs get bigger.

The town we set off from, Agliè, is one of the many places the Dukes of Savoy used to stay in.

Today is going to be a nervous GC slug fest. I’d expect Pozzovivo to take the win, given the comparative ease he took 30s out of the other GC contenders a few days ago. Evans may well take some bonus seconds if a break doesn’t take the win, but the people I would be least surprised to lose out are Kelderman and Majka. They haven’t had too much pressure or expectation on them until now compared with Uran, Evans and Quintana, and there aren’t many places to hide today.

4 climbs, two 1st category climbs, one 2nd category, one 3rd (so expect an early attack from Arredondo to contribute towards that mountains jersey). At this stage, there shouldn’t be too many wild plays for the line over two or three mountains, so the final descent and climb is where all the real action will happen.

The 2nd category climb has an average gradient of 5.8% over 12.1km, with a following descent. From the top to the finish, it’s 41.6km to the finish, with just under 30km to the start of the next climb, and that 30km is almost all descending. The last climb has a slightly more testing 6.2% over 11.7km but, like all good stage finishing climbs, it gets steeper towards the end. There’s a ramp of 11% with 2km to go, and it doesn’t go under 7.4% between there and the line. If Pozzovivo doesn’t attack there, I’ll, well, I’ll do nothing (but feel smug)

And the whole lot is on the telly: Coverage starts on Eurosport at 10h45.

In numbers:

  • Length: 164km
  • Total Altitude gained: 3089m
  • Categorised climbs: 4
  1. Cat 3. La Serra, 4.9% over 6.8km, 133.5km remaining
  2. Cat 1. Alpe Noveis, 9% over 6.1km, 69km remaining
  3. Cat 2. Bielmonte, 5.8% over 12.1km, 41.6km remaining
  • Cat 1. Oropa, 6.2% over 11.7km, summit finish
  • Distance in tunnels: 300m 

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May 23, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 13 preview

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They’re really excited in Rivarolo Canavese

So far we’ve had 41% of the climbing of the Giro d’Italia, having run 59% of the length,. That gives you an idea of how far the GC race has to go. A few days ago you could be forgiven for thinking it was Cadel Evans’s to lose, but you know what? he went and lost it. Similarly, Rigoberto Uran quite easily could be outclimbed over the remaining 9 stages by Domenico Pozzovivo - you might say he represents the most distinctive threat as things stand - the likes of Rafal Majka, Wilko Keldermann and Cadel Evans aren’t thought of as necessarily better climbers than Uran.

So what are we dealing with today? One for the sprinters Bouhanni, with just the one 4th category climb in Rivara that is almost completely indistinct, and far enough out for it to not even matter. it’s also only a 4th category climb, so no-one’s even going to want to desperately get over it first for the KOM points.

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 Rivarolo Canavese at night. Very nice.

But yes, the race today finishes in Rivarolo Canavese. By all accounts quite a nice place, but the most notable point about it, is that the former mayor Fabrizio Bertot left office  after it emerged he had lunch with some “potential voters” from a “Calibrian family” who turned out to be part of the Mafia-like organisation, the ‘Ndrangheta. Of course, he says he’s completely clean, and he’s now become an MEP.

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Fabrizio Bertot. It was just lunch, I’m a nice guy!

The big fun begins on saturday. Both Saturday and Sunday finish with uphill finishes on 1st category climbs,s o let’s hope they can keep it rubber side down and make it as exciting as they can then.

In numbers:

  • Length: 157km
  • Total altitude gianed: 540m
  • Categorised climbs: one
  • 4th cat. Salita di Rivara
  • Number of level crossings: two

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May 21, 2014
Giro d’Italia 2014: Stage 12 preview


Falletti Castle, where the Barolo wine museum is.

So, here it is: the big one. The biggest, most important time trial in the Giro. I’m only half making this up. This is the biggest marker of Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran’s form compared with Cadel Evans. We know Domenico Pozzovivo is going to have the time trial of an empty crisp packet on Blackpool prom, but Quintana and definitely Uran aren’t going to go as badly as it’s thought. I would only be half surprised if Uran beat Evans, and Quintana lost less than a minute.

We’re going from Barolo to Barbaresco, two famous Italian wine making regions. Both are pretty similar, but if you want to show off while hosting a dinner party, (or on your lunch break to disinterested colleagues, like me) the soil in Barolo is richer, so the wines tend to have more tannins, and as a result, spend an extra year maturing.

To complement the two winemaking centres at either end, the hill in the middle is famed for it’s goat’s cheese.

The course has a 4th category climb in it, so it’s nowhere near as flat as comparable time trials. If we look at last year’s results - at the Giro, Uran was 1m38 behind Bradley Wiggins on a flatter course. While Evans is a competent time trialist, he’s not in the same league any more as Wiggins. So, if Uran does well here, he could be on the podium by the end of the day. If Evans does well, he’ll be sitting a minute and a half clear, maybe two minutes further up.

So what is the course? Reasonably long (the Tour’s TT last year was 10km shorter), with a lump in the first third, a long descent and a reasonably technical finale - the last 3km has a steep descent on a narrow road, and then it kicks up at 4% over the last km. There’s not much to speak of, and Alex Dowsett reckons Adriano Malori is going to win.

In numbers:

  • Length: 41.9km
  • Total altitude gained: 621m
  • Categorised climbs: one
  1. 4th cat. Boscasso, 5% over 3.1km

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