By David Hunter
Stage 4 Recap
We returned to Italy for a crazy day! Due to dangerous conditions, the riders decided to neutralise most of the day. We only got racing in the final lap of 8.6km, but we already had received huge news.
Minutes before the race, Marcel Kittel, withdrew through illness. It was expected that he wouldn’t complete the race, but it was surprising to see him withdraw at this stage.
Before the final lap, Nacer Bouhanni, had a mechanical and had to drop a long way back. He only made it back to the bunch at the beginning of the final lap. With 1.5km to go, a crash by an Astana rider nearly hit the Frenchman but he managed to dodge round it. A number of Cannondale riders went down on the same corner. As we emerged there were 4 Giant riders, Nizzolo and Ferrari. In the next corner, we had another crash as the roads began to resemble an ice-rink. The 6 riders had a massive gap on the rest of the chasers but crucially there was Johan Le Bon. He gave his all to bring Bouhanni across to the leading 6 and managed to do so just before the final corner.
Giant now had Veelers leading out Mezgec, but just as he tried to accelerate out of the corner, his chain went! Veelers was left to try a long one, but Bouhanni easily passed him to take a wonderful, first grand tour win. 2nd went to Nizzolo with Veelers 3rd. A spot on prediction by me!
Pink – Matthews, Red – Bouhanni, Blue – Tjallingii, White – Matthews
Stage 5 Taranto – Viggiano 203km
At last we get some hilltop action!
Despite being over 200km in length, nothing will really happen until the end of the stage.
The cat 3 climb is nothing to worry about and then the riders get to tackle the cat 4 climb, up to Viggiano, twice.
The climb doesn’t look much, but the end of it is hard. After a steep descent, the riders begin the final 6km, which is all uphill. It starts with a gentle incline, but hits 4% for around 3km, before a final kilometre at over 6%. The very end of the stage has the steepest slope, finishing with a 200 metre section of nearly 8%.
This is a unique stage because all types of riders believe they can win it! The sprinters think they have enough in the tank to make it up the hill, the strong men think that they can get rid of the sprinters and the climbers think that their explosive kick at the very end can win it for them.
There have been some recent races that indicate what riders can cope with this finish.
In stage 7 of Paris-Nice, Michael Matthews did’t have the legs to cope with the final uphill sprint. He is climbing well and finished 2nd, behind Gilbert, in De Brabantse Pijl. He has been vocal about targeting this stage, but unusually for Orica they are not prepared. It is strange that the team haven’t done the climb before and go into the stage blind. The team have said that they will make the decision on the road, after the first time up the climb. He has won on uphill finishes before, TDU – Stirling, but that isn’t as steep as this. The big question I keep thinking about is can he win a medium mountain stage in a grand tour?
Diego Ulissi is the favourite for the stage, and well deserved. This is exactly the type of profile he loves. Like Matthews, he has won in Stirling but I’m more interested in his win in Coppa Sabatini, at the end of 2013. That race features a final kilometre, quite similar to this. Diego has targeted stage wins in the Giro and when I spoke to him before the race he told me that this was “a beautiful stage.” His form in the Ardennes Classics wasn’t what he’d hoped but he feels strong again.
Joaquim Rodriguez has some time to make up and a bonus of 10 seconds would be handy. His teammate, Dani Moreno, is better suited to this finish but he’ll ride for the Spaniard. Rodriguez has a chance on the final steep ramp, as the sprinters will find it hard to stay with him.
Simon Geschke was 4th in De Brabantse Pijl and strong throughout the Ardennes, but he’ll struggle to get away from the quicker riders.
Mauro Finetto is another rider that has a great chance, as he likes these types of finishes. He was in excellent form in stage 4, finishing a credible 11th. A wet finish would suit his style and there is a 40% chance of this happening. I spoke to Mauro tonight and he confirmed that he will be going all out to take a good result.
I would select him over his teammate Simone Ponzi, I think the steep end to the stage is just outside his reach, although they will both be given the chance to go for the win.
There are many other names that I could mention: Swift, EBH, Battaglin, Pellizotti, Arredondo, Evans, Moser, …
Team Sky have an interesting decision to make as I think the finish suits the skills of Boasson Hagen better than Swift.
I think the teams will make it too hard for the sprinters to cope. They’ll probably still be around at the end but won’t be able to sprint at their normal speeds. This stage should be all about Diego Ulissi. He has the sprint on a 8% slope that the others don’t, even Rodriguez. If the big teams get caught up in tactics, then watch for Mauro Finetto. It should be a great day, but I doubt we’ll see any change on GC.
Related: Giro 2014 general preview:https://bicis.frangandara.net/giro-ditalia-2014-general-preview/
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