Giro d'Italia returns with a short but tough stage that could provide a very entertaining days racing. A tough finale could see a late break take it or we could see a reduced bunch sprint for the win.
Giro d'Italia St 16 - Bressanone to Andalo, 138kms
Back after a rest day, and boy did some of the riders need a rest. The race has been blown to pieces and turned on its head in the last few days, with Kruijswijk taking control on stages 14 and 15. Nibali has had two days to forget and the gains Chaves made on 14 he gave up in the ITT on Sunday.
It see us going in to the final week with large gaps finally between the GC candidates, it had all been pretty close up until now. Kruijswijk looks in control now, he holds a lead of 2'12" over Chaves and nearly 3 minutes over Nibali. And not only does he hold a decent lead, but he also looks the strongest in the race - so calm, so controlled, so powerful.
They start in Bressanone in South Tyrol, just 36kms from the Alpe Di Siusi where the ITT finished on stage 15. It's a very short stage at just 138kms, the shortest road stage of the race. The first 43kms are a descent down the valley and once through the intermediate sprint they start climbing almost straight away, heading up the Cat 2 Mendelpass. The official distance of the climb is 14.8kms at an average of 6.5%, so it's not overly difficult, but hits a max of 10% for a few hundred metres.
Once over the top it's just 68kms to the finish, of which the next 48kms more or less are descending, passing through another intermediate sprint at Cles and after 112kms they start climbing again, this time on the Cat 2 Fai Della Paganella.
From the top they descend for 2.6kms to Bv da Santel where the road starts to rise again, gently at first for 2kms at 1.9%, then 2.5kms at 6.2% as they wind their way through three hairpin bends, hitting a max of 9% with 4kms to go. With 2kms to go the road flattens out, but rises again for the last 500m.
The Giro also finished in Andalo in 1973 when Eddie Merckx took the stage victory.
This is a short stage to kick things off after the rest day, a lot shorter than the last stage after the first rest day, stage 10, which saw them take on a tough course over 219kms. That day the break made it, with Ciccone winning the stage from Rovny and Atapuma.
Alejandro Valverde is the +700 favourite for the stage and he will like this finish for sure - Movistar have a number of cards they can play on this stage, with possibly Gio Visconti going up the road again in search for KOM points again. If Visconti is allowed go then he has a big chance for sure on a stage like this, and that is why he is the 3rd favourite at +1600, despite his team-mate also being favourite.
It's a tricky one to figure out, I give both of them a big chance of winning the stage. Alejandro Valverde showed in the TT that he has recovered well from his jour-sans on stage 14, and he is fired up to finish this race well. Sutherland, Rojas and Herrada will drag him over that last hill and in to a good position hitting the last kilometre and the uphill sprint will suit him well.
Giovanni Visconti did an excellent TT on Sunday, finishing 13th, just 1'21" down on the Russian. He could attack on the Paganella or even on the final ramp to the finish, and if he goes he might just slip away as they watch Valverde and Amador. Even if he gets away with a few similar riders he has a good sprint on him and could take the stage.
Second favourite is Diego Ulissi and the Italian Lampre man is chasing a hat-trick of stage wins after his two superb wins in different styles in stages 4 and 11. With the Points jersey within reach he will be fired up to take points.
Vincenzo Nibali, like Visconti is just +1600, and he'll be desperate to make up for his terrible weekend. I think he's way too short at +1600 though, he won't be just let ride away, and even if he tried, I don't think he's capable, his attacks have been poor and he was struggling in the TT too. And if it comes to a sprint finish, he would be beaten by a number of guys.
Esteban Chaves is +2200 with Paddy Power but as short as +1200 with Will Hill. He has been aggressive and has a stage win under his belt aleady, and he showed in that win that he has an ok sprint on him. He could attack hard again on the Paganella, or even on that 6% ramp that tops out with just 2kms to go. If he can get a gap of 20" or so at the top of that final climb he might hang on. But it will be hard to get away and hang on from the chasers behind.
Steven Kruijswijk is just +2500 but I can't see him being let go on his own in the pink jersey, no matter how strong he is looking. Tim Wellens did an excellent TT on Sunday, he was sitting in the top 10 for quite a while, but ended up 17th as the GC men pushed him down. It shows that he has good legs though and this finish is almost like an Ardennes or Flanders finish, with a 2km stretch at 6% and an uphill sprint finish. I can see him attacking on the final descent off the Paganella and powering up that last climb with a small advantage, he'll be hard to pin back if they play GC cat and mouse behind, he's no threat after all. He's +2500 on the betting odds board and that's worth an each-way bet I think.
And there's lots more guys who could have a chance here - Stefano Pirazzi could be an interesting choice at +3300, Atapuma, Nieve, Formolo, Ciccone, Kangert, Fuglsang all could have a chance. Willier-Southeast's Matteo Busato could have a chance too on a finish like this at a big looking +12500 with Bet365. He finished 8th in that stage won by Ulissi to Prai a Mare, so he clearly can get over lumpy finishes and sprint at the end of them.
Moreno Moser and Enrico Battaglin are two Italians who could also be up for a finish like this, but I think it would be a big surprise to see them win. Or how about Merhawi Kudus for Dimension Data? Why? Well because it's Eritrean Independence Day.. Remember Mandela Day last year in the Tour de France, when Stevo Cummings won, DD like to put on a show on significant days for the team, and he's sure to be up for it today on a stage that might suit him too..
Overall though, it once again is a real puzzle to try to find the winner of this stage. Will it be the break of the day? Will it be a late attack on the Paganella? A late acceleration on the climb in to the town? Or a sprint finish of some sort? All are possible! So I am going to go with Visconti and Wellens for late attacks and a few bigger priced outsiders as well in Kudus and Busato. I will watch the in-play though as if I think Valverde has a chance of it coming to a sprint finish, then I will want to be backing him as one of my Free Picks.
0.5pts each-way on Tim Wellens at +2500 with Paddy Power
0.5pts each-way on Giovanni Visconti at +1600 with Paddy Power
0.25pts each-way on Merhawi Kudus at +6600 with Betfair Sportsbook
0.25pts each-way on Matteo Busato at +12500 with Bet365
Zakarin to beat Majka, Visconti to beat Pirazzi - 3pts on the double at +100 with PP
Kudus to beat Anton - 2pts at -120 with Bet365