The 2013 Giro d’Italia is into its final week, and the remaining stages could totally upset the General Classification.
With a sprint stage followed by an uphill time trial and two devastating days in the Dolomite mountains, there is time enough left for winners to lose and outside contenders to move to the forefront. One bad day could end dreams while one good day could fulfill them. No one is safe, and none of the top ten are out of contention.
Stage 17 will be a rest day for most of the peloton. This flat, 214-km cruise from Caravaggio to Vicenza has a Cat Four climb 20 km from the finish to test the will of the sprinters, but it is almost certainly going to be won by Mark Cavendish.
Astana won’t chase the inevitable breakaway; they will leave that to Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quickstep squad. Astana might step up in the final few kilometers if a GC threat attacks on the climb, but with Nibali’s descending abilities and the few flat kilometers before the finish, Nibali will feel secure.
Cannondale might chase, working for Elia Viviani; Bardiani has lost Battaglin but still has Sacha Modolo. RadioShack still has Giacomo Nizzolo and Orica’s Matt Goss is still in the race, but none of these are likely to beat Cavendish, particularly as this is about the last chance he will have; who knows if he will make it through the mountains?
Stage Eighteen could reshuffle GC: this 20.6-km uphill time trial could catch out some riders.
Pace and form will be paramount. Riders will need to balance pushing and conserving to not lose time on the route and also not burn out before the finish. But riders will also need to be on top form. Anyone who might have worked too hard the day before, or not gotten a good night’s sleep, or just has a bad day, could see the race ruined.
All of the top ten GC riders are good climbers, but how many of them are also good in the test? Nibali has been working hard on his TT skills, and Cadel Evans has some talent. If either misjudges the effort though, either could be on top or at the bottom after this stage.
What makes this stage even more critical is that it is followed by a pair of truly treacherous days in the Dolomites.
Stage Nineteen and Twenty both feature killing climbs and summit finishes. There are so many ways the race could go wrong for a rider in these two stages, no one is safe entering either.
Stage 19, Ponte di Legno to Val Martello, is short at 139 km, but it starts with the Cat One Passo Gavia, immediately ascends the Hors Categorie Passo dello Stelvio the highest point of the Giro,) and after a few flat kilometers heads up the Cat One ascent to Val Martello.
These are all hard climbs, and both team leaders and support riders will need to be on form to get through the stage. Here Astana might have the edge over BMC, but here is where Sky might be better than either. Rigoberto Uran has a good chance to make up time on the final climb if he uses his team mates to drive the pace on the previous climbs, the usual Sky tactic.
Cadel Evans generally doesn’t like sudden sharp attacks, and Vincenzo Nibali is similar. If Sky can isolate these two, Uran, if he is on form, could dig repeatedly to crack them, and possibly win the stage and even the maglia rosa.
Stage 20 is the Tappa de la Rienna, the Queen stage: 203 km from Silandro to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, it contains three Cat two climbs and two Cat Ones, including the summit finish. After three weeks of racing and the previous two days of climbing, who will have the legs for this stage?
The stage starts with a gentle descent and a few dozen level kilometers before heading up the Cat Two Passo Costalunga, followed immediately by Passo di San Pellegrino, the Cat One Passo Giau, Cat Two Passo Tres Croci and the final Cat One climb to the finish.
Once the climbing starts, it doesn’t stop except for the fast descents to the start of the next climb. With nothing ahead but the podium or failure, riders will go all out on these climbs, and any one of them could crack on any of the ascents.
The winner of this stage will be the one who wants it most. Whether that will be one of the top GC contenders depends on how far back they are entering the stage and how well the riders ahead are doing. The GC winner could be established or merely cemented on this stage. Every other position will likely by e up for grabs and many riders will be looking to move up in GC on the final climb.
The final stage, 197 km from Riese Pio X to Brescia, is a pan-flat parade route. The only action will come near the end when whichever sprinters are still in the race will contest the final finish. If Mark Cavendish has not withdrawn or been caught by the cut-off times, this will likely be his stage as well, though that could depend on how many competitors have also made it through, and how many of their team mates are fit to ride a leadout.
In any case, this will go down as an epic Giro, with so many retirements, including the two favorites, so many rainy stages, and two stages altered because of snow and intense cold. Even without the Battles yet to unfold in the closing stages, this has been a noteworthy Giro—and likely the best is yet to come.