The final mountain stage of the Giro d'Italia, the final chance to change the GC is set for this Saturday and we preview the route, the odds worth grabbing and the most valuable free pick.
Giro d'Italia St 20 - Guillestre to Sant'Anna di Vinadio, 134kms
The final mountain stage, the final chance to change the GC. And what a final stage this should be - over 4,300m of climbing and descending with three Cat 1 climbs and a Cat 3 climb to finish. It's a short stage though at just 134kms, so we should see fireworks from the very start.
It's a stage that could be over in three hours if they ride it at the same pace as the wild stage 16 which saw the race blown apart from the first climb of the day and the Grupetto riding full gas all day long just to make the very tight time cut. It's the last chance for the GC men to move up a place or more, it's the final chance for the climbers to take a stage victory in the race with the final stage being one for the sprinters.
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Right from the start this is going to be a battle - the climbing starts right from kilometre zero as they head south-east out of Guillestre and up to the Col De Var. It's a two-step climb with the first 7kms pretty steep at 8.3%, then flattens out for 4kms before rising again for the last 7kms at 6.1%. It's a tough opening 19kms to the stage and there are sure to be attacks all over the climb. I'm not sure the GC men will kick off this early, but it's possible, Movistar and Astana might look to strip SK of all his support as quick as they can. They spend almost the whole day in France, only dipping back in to Italy for the finish with 10kms to go.
A 22kms descent takes them to Jausiers and the foot of the next climb which they start climbing straight away. Next up is the Col De La Bonette and this is a monster climb that averages 6.9% for 21kms before easing off a little at the top. From the top they descend for 40kms to Isola and, again, there is no flat road in between the climbs, they just start climbing again straight away on the Colle Della Lombarda, another monster climb at 20.6kms. The first 7kms are steep at 8.7%, then it's 6.3% for the next 7.5kms, then the last 4.5kms averages 7,6%, with the last few kilometres over 8%.
As they cross over the top of the climb they enter in to Italy again and descend very quickly for 8kms. With just over 4kms to go, the road becomes very twisty and there could be some who will look to take out an advantage over the weaker descenders before the final 2.3km climb to the finish.
The last 2kms averages 9.7% and is a real test after a really tough day, it hits 11% in parts. The roads for almost all the stage are wide and with good road surfaces, but it does get a bit narrow and tricky coming off the descent of the Lombarda. The final stretch of road is quite narrow, with a few hairpins. The last few hundred metres of the route run among the Sanctuary's buildings, with short uphill stretches and tight bends.
This stage is going to be awesome. I had half written this preview ahead of tonight, but literally have had to go back to the drawing board after what happened today. The race was blown apart and now Nibali, who was +7500 on Betfair this morning, is now joint even money favourite with Estaban Chaves who was +900 this morning. The -400 betting odds favourite in the morning, Kruijswijk is now +2000.. Zakarin is out, Kruijswijk might wake up tomorrow very stiff and sore and it could be that we just see a head to head showdown on the final climb between Nibali and Chaves.
Will Astana be willing to go full gas from the start with Kruijswijk probably out of it now? It might be that they wait until the Col De La Bonette to start pushing it, and if so then another big break might be able to get away and build up a healthy lead this time. And from the break I'm going to go with the same candidates again for the same reasons as yesterday. Roche, Dombrowski and Atapuma.
Mikel Nieve has a stage win to his name and a good 2nd place today, so Frosty is probably pretty pleased that Landa went hom earlier in this race, he may not have had the opportunity to go for it otherwise. He has a real strong shout of taking the KOM jersey too - he has been climbing far better than Cunego lately and could well seal the deal by leading over the first two climbs, something I wouldn't be surprised with. And if he lasts out front all day, he could attack on the Lombarda to shed his rivals or even go to the last 2km uphill section, he will like that finish.
Can Rigo Uran save his Giro on the very last chance? He improved today to finish in 7th with Valverde and Majka, could he save his Giro with a big ride tomorrow? I don't think so..
I think the break has a chance, it may be that the break goes and the GC men prod and probe a little, but might save themselves for a big attack on the Lombarda, but by that stage the break might be too far ahead.
But of course, we now have seen several days where we thought the break would make it, only for the GC teams to blow the race apart long before the even the half-way points in the stages. Chaves can just sit on the wheels tomorrow and follow, he doesn't need to do anything else. This could mean that when they come to the final, steep uphill pull to the finish, Chaves could be perfectly placed to explode away and take the stage. He did look pretty tired today though and he has history of fading towards the end of the Grand Tours he has ridden. He is +450 across most bookies, and that's not screaming out at me to back.
Nibali is only +162.5, but as short as +125. Two days ago you'd have laughed your head off at a price like that, but after yesterday, you'd have to say it could well be his Nibs again tomorrow. He has to go on the attack, he has to win the stage by 35 seconds to take the Giro (if Chaves is outside the top 3) so he has to go for it hard on the Lombarda, not just on the way up, but also on the way down. Chaves is a good descender so it will be hard to shake him off, but if he shows any sign of weakness again, the Shark will bite.. Can Kruikswijk pull off a miracle and wrestle the jersey back off Chaves at the last moment? I don't know about that.
It's a nightmare trying to guess this one, the bookies make Nibs favourite for the stage, but they're not sure he'll pull back enough time to win the race overall, it's basically a coin toss between Nibs and Chaves in the overall betting, both are more or less even money. Nibali went deep today, can he go as deep again tomorrow?
One of the big powerhouses in SK could be out of action and Valverde and Majka don't look like they can blow a front group apart. So it might come down to a duel up and down the Lombarda and on to the final climb. As for my Sport Picks I think Nibali has the edge there and also just the old, wise, experienced head can make the difference over the new kid on the block. But I have a feeling he will not take enough time and Chaves takes the race overall - Uran has even come out tonight and said he will help Chaves win the race for Colombia, maybe the likes of Atapuma will do so too.
2pts win on Vincenzo Nibali at +162.5 with Paddy Power or Betfair
0.4pts each-way on Joe Dombrowski at +2500 with PP
0.3pts each-way on Nicolas Roche at +8000 with Corals
0.3pts each-way on Darwin Atapuma at +2500 with Ladbrokes
2pts win on Nieve to take the KOM prize overall at +125 with various sportsbooks
Nibali to beat Chaves and Roche to beat Lopez - 2.5pts at +137.5 with PP
Dombrowski to beat Formolo, Ulissi to beat Preidler, Majka to beat Uran - 2pts at +225 with Bet365