Stage 8 is completely different. It's a stage that has a 10km climb on the dirt road of the Alto di Poti, the top of which comes less than 20kms from the finish. Cycling picks inside.
After a day for the sprinters, stage 8 is a different matter entirely with a stage that is all about the 10km climb on the dirt road of the Alto di Poti, the top of which comes less than 20kms from the finish. They arrive in to the beautiful city of Arezzo with 32kms to go and pass the finish line before embarking on a loop that takes in the climb of the Alto di Poti.
A great 1-2 for yesterday's preview with Greipel winning and Nizzolo taking 2nd, and Nizzolo also winning the matchbet over Modolo for a clean sweep.
This could be a fantastic finish to this stage, with the dirt roads familiar to fans of the Strade Bianche race making an appearance for 6kms towards the end of the stage. The roads are difficult and dangerous when dry, they are treacherous and messy when wet - and the forecast is pretty bad for Saturday, with rain forecast for the whole day. This is the 12th time of a Giro arrival in to Arezzo, the last time was in 2003 when Mario Cipollini won a great sprint.
Contenders and Favourites
I think a good place to start when looking at the possible winners of a quirky stage like this is in the result of this year's Strade Bianche. Ok, it is only 6kms of the dirt roads here and not the 50kms or so that are in SB, but the conditions can be difficult to adapt to and experience will help greatly. Also, it's not just that they are dirt roads, but they are on roads with gradients of over 9% for nearly 4kms, hitting a max of 14%.
Looking at the top placers of riders who are here, Fabian Cancellara (1st), Gianluca Brambilla (3rd), Diego Ulissi (7th) and Alejandro Valverde (10th) all should have good chances here, but it is also worth remembering of course that the finish in SB is very different to this one, but they do both feature an uphill finish, this one being 5% for the last kilometre. Jacob Fuglsang, Giovanni Visconti, Bob Jungels and Vincenzo Nibali also finished in the top 20.
It's likely we will see Etixx quite prominent as they approach the finale, they will be looking to get Jungels and Brambilla on the climb near the very front. Bob Jungels finished 15th in SB, but was over 2' back on Cancellara, so he should be able to cope with one blast of the dirt roads. Brambilla rode brilliantly in SB and notched an excellent 3rd place, just after his team-mate Stybar. I think he has had his eye on this stage and is one I really like the chances of. If he goes on the attack near the top of the climb, the GC men might let him go in favour of keeping an eye on Jungels. Brambilla was 25/1 when the bookies opened, I took that with Bet365, but he is now 28/1 with Ladbrokes and that's worth an e/w shot.
Tom Dumoulin showed on stage 6 that on gradients of around 6-7% he can go really well for a short burst, he opened up a huge gap on Landa and Nibali in no time at all. He has done SB twice, finishing 12th in 2014 and 17th in 2013, so it looks like the dirt roads aren't too much of a problem for him. He actually said today after the stage "I did Strade Bianche two times and I really liked it. I'm looking forward to it"
He is showing that he has a lot of power at the moment and is not lacking in confidence inwardly, even if outwardly he is still trying to portray that he isn't here to win the GC.
Alejandro Valverde and Diego Ulissi are both sitting 41" down on Dumoulin and will be looking to put pressure on him and move up. Valverde though disappointed as favourite for stage 6, coming in in 10th, but maybe he knew that the battle for 1st was lost and he wasn't that interested in busting a gut with the TT to come. He did say afterwards thought that he wasn't happy with how he felt, that he wasn't going as well as he's have liked. I don't think he'll be winning but will be close to a top 10 again like in SB, I think he's a poor favourite at just 6/1.
Tim Wellens will like this sort of parcours and the wet and mud won't bother him. He showed how strong he is with his breakaway win on stage 5, he should be there or thereabouts near the top and may try a flyer on the descent. Vincenzo Nibali is too short, he won't be winning I think, but Jacob Fuglsang is one who could have a big chance, if he's allowed go away again, Nibali may not let him show him up again after stage 6.
Fabian Cancellara looked really good to me today, he looks like he has gotten his strength back with a powerful ride near the finish to look after Nizzolo and help him to his 2nd place finish. He won Strade Bianche of course in style this year and came to this Giro with the opening TT in his sights, but his sickness knocked him out for most of the first week, but he looked back to full strength today, at 33/1 he might be worth a small bet.
It is a very hard stage to make a cycling pick on, but I think a reduced group of some 10-20 riders might get away, some GC men will not be in it, but chasing hard from behind and we might see a small sprint or a late attack out of that group take the stage. I don't think the break will make it, but if the peloton, and especially the GC men decide that they want to take it easy with the TT the next day, then the break might have a chance. I like Brambilla and Cancellara, but I think that Etixx could also have another chance here with Matteo Trentin - he was right up there at the front today, sprinting to 6th, beating the likes of Démare. He also finished 19th in Strade Bianche so can handle the hilly stony roads, and at 100/1 on the cycling odds he's worth a small each-way.
Brambilla to beat Jungels - 3pts at 13/8 (this looks a huge price, think Brambilla will be challenging for the stage)
Wellens to beat Cunego - 2pts at 5/6 (can't understand how this is a pick-em bet, I can't have Cunego over Wellens)