A brutal stage which contains the Cima Coppi at the top of Colle Dell'Angelo. It's the first of 2 crucial stages, that could reshuffle the entire top 10 again - can they finally crack Kruijswijk?
Giro d'Italia St 19 - Pinerolo to Risoul, 162kms
In to the Alps and a brutally hard stage which contains the Cima Coppi at the top of the massive Colle Dell'Angelo. It's the first of two crucial stages in the high mountains, two days that could reshuffle the entire top ten again - can they finally crack Kruijswijk?
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They start in the finish town of stage 18 in Pinerolo and head south for 45kms on more or less flat roads to Piasco, then turn right and the road starts rising straight away on the way to the Colle Dell'Angelo. They are actually climbing for over 67kms by the time they reach the top of the Angelo, but the official distance of the classified part of the climb is 21.3kms. The road gets steeper as they head towards the top and the last 7kms are particularly hard, averaging over 9% and hitting a max of 15% in a number of places.
The top of the climb is 2,744m high, the highest point in the race, with the first rider over the top winning the Cima Coppi prize. The descent from the top takes them in to France, descending for 45kms to Guillestre, passing through some tunnels on the way. They pass through the town of Risoul with 150kms gone and start the climb up to the ski station finish. It's another Cat 1 climb that is just over 11kms long at an average of 6.9%, but the last 3.3kms averages over 8% as it winds its way up the hill. There are something like 15 hairpin bends in the last 10kms as it twists and turns its way up the mountain.
This is another shortish stage at just 162kms and if it's anything like stage 16 after the rest day it's going to be wild. That day the GC men caught everyone off guard, including most of us who had expected nothing to happen until the last climb. Will we see the same thing again here? Will the GC guys look to blow the race apart again on the first climb? It's highly likely that we see them try to attack Kruijswijk again on the first climb in an effort to shed all his team-mates like on stage 16.
Last time around, Ilnur Zakarin kicked things off on the first climb of the day and set in motion an explosion amongst the GC men. He is looking stronger as the race goes on and you can only wonder where he'd sit in the GC if he hadn't had all those problems in the 2nd TT. He is only 7" behind Nibali though and senses blood I think, if they can attack Nibali again, they will, he looks there for the taking at the moment. Zakarin sacrificed his stage win chances on stage 16 in order to put as much time between himself and Nibali as possible, and it worked, as he took nearly 2 minutes out of him. It meant though at the finish he had nothing left and actually gave away 8" to Kruijswijk and Valverde. This time around, if they get a gap of a minute or more on Nibali on the final climb, you might see him sit in a little more and maybe try to go for the stage win.
Vincenzo Nibali as I said had looked particularly vulnerable and he could well slip down the GC even further tomorrow. But he looked a bit stronger today, or at least put on a show of defiance on a short little hill. Could we see him stage a remarkable recovery? It's certainly possible, I wouldn't put it past Astana, but I don't think so.
Alejandro Valverde has been getting stronger as the race has gone on too and this finish will suit him really well. He is only 23" behind Chaves and if he is on a good day, and Chaves struggles a little like he did on stage 16, he could well move in to 2nd place. I think he will do what he can to chip away at Chaves' lead and the time bonuses at the finish would of course help with that.
Speaking of Esteban Chaves, he had a really strange stage on stage 16, he seemed to come out of the rest day a bit sluggish. He missed the first real decisive GC move of the day, and although he pulled the gap between the two groups back to around 15" at one point, he was not able to make the junction. He said that it was just a lack of concentration at the wrong moment that cost him the time and that he had good legs,it's hard to know, as he did seem to go really well in parts when driving at the front, especially on the steeper parts.
So which Chaves will we see tomorrow? Well, if it was just a loss of focus, then I'm sure he won't let it happen again (or team director Matty White certainly won't!). I think he was a bit unlucky on 16 though as the guys out front went full gas all day and he was unable to make the bridge, they just never let up at the front. Judging by how well he went in parts when pushing it, I think he'd probably have been fine if he'd managed to stay with the lead group. But can he win this stage? Yes,it's possible. Will he win the stage? That's a different question! And at just 4/1, I think I would be a layer than a backer at that price.
Steven Kruijswijk is 4/1 joint favourite with Esteban Chaves, and he has looked the strongest rider for the whole of the race and has been able to cover moves with such ease that he has made it look easy. 4/1 though? With a stage that could be blown apart early on and a good chance that the break can make it, I am not backing him at that price.
I have been waiting to back Joe Dombrowski for the whole of the Giro, as I know he has been waiting for these two stages. BUT - he has said that the stage he is targeting the most is stage 20, but he also has his eye on 19 too.
"I happen to know stage 20 because it's not so far from where I'm based in Nice. A number of us will train at altitude at Imola 2000 which is on the French side, because it's super roads for riding and it's only 90 minutes from Nice. I know the roads around there super well. Additionally, my family and some friends will be in Nice at that time and they'll be there to watch stages 19 and 20. I'm really looking forward to that."
He's betting odds are at 50/1 with Corals and I'd suggest you take that as soon as possible as he is being backed everywhere else - he opened at 40/1 with Paddy Power, but is now just 22/1. He has been riding really well lately and pushing out some big power numbers, he just needs to get in the right break and make sure he doesn't get dropped on the descent off the first climb so that he can tackle the last climb and just go flat out for the last 12kms.
I give the break a good chance of staying away again today, and this time I'd like to give Nico Roche another try – or even if it comes to a GC battle on the final climb, Roche might be able to attack away near the finish if there’s any lull. I think this is a good stage for him and he has been riding better and better as the race has gone on. He was in the favourites group again today and that final climb's steady gradient will suit him better than steeper, irregular climbs. He's 66/1 for tomorrow, compared to the non-sensical price he was today of 18/1, on a stage I think that suits him better! He also should know the roads around here well as his dad has the hotel in Nice and he lives in Monaco.
If Nibali struggles tomorrow it might free up Jacob Fuglsang to have a go on the final climb, but at 25/1 I think it's a bit short. Igor Anton has been riding better lately, he could go on the attack, as could Alessandro De Marchi, although he has been riding so poorly I couldn't trust him at 66/1 and definitely not at the stupidly short 25/1 with PP. He did win a stage of the Criterium Du Dauphiné in 2013 to Risoul though, holding off Chris Froome.
Darwin Atapuma is another though I'd like to keep onside for this stage, he too seems to be in good form and will like this steady, not-so-steep finishing climb. He came home with the little group with Visconti, just 16" behind the Valverde group today. 28/1 is not a great price, but if your looking to place one of your Sport Picks here, he is a good candidate for the break and might be worth backing on Betfair for a trading bet at a bigger price.
At bigger prices, Ruben Plaza at 125/1, Matteo Montaguti at 150/1 and Stefan Denifl at 125/1 could be breakaway candidates too. If it does come down to a GC finish, it's hard to pick who can win it - Zakarin has a chance, Chaves has a chance, Valverde has a chance, Nibali, if he's recovered, has a chance. It's hard to split them, but with Nibali struggling and Valverde possibly going to struggle at altitude, I might just rule them out. And that leaves Chaves and Kruijswijk and I am not interested in backing them at just 4/1 or so, I think they will probably still be around the same price starting the last climb if the break looks catchable.
0.5pts each-way on Nico Roche at 66/1 with various
0.3pts each-way on Joe Dombrowski at 50/1 with Corals
0.25pts each-way on Darwin Atapuma at 28/1 with Ladbrokes
0.2pts each-way on Ruben Plaza at 125/1 with Paddy Power