Bonjour, the race starts in Piemonte but heads to Italy’s Aosta valley where French is a second language and then crosses into francophone Switzerland for two more climbs.
The First Denz: a maxi-breakaway of 30 riders went clear in among the dolcetto and nebbiolo vineyards of Barolo and Alba. At first sight these big groups appear menacing, ready to turn the race upside down with so many attackers trying to defy the peloton. Only it usually turns out that many riders miss turns or soft-pedal, each wants to win the stage let the others do the hard work and as soon as one rider eases, nobody else wants to work. This time the group split thanks to the weather, a downpour prompted some to go back to the cars for rain jackets and five riders pressed on in Samuele Battistella, Toms Skujiņš, Nico Denz, Sebastian Berwick and Alessandro Tonelli and soon the rest of the group was stuck, a stand off in the chase. The quintet became quartet when Battistella fell ill, then became a trio on the climb of the day, the Colle Braida but as much as Skujiņš drove the pace, he dropped Tonelli but the bulky Denz couldn’t be dropped. Into Rivoli and Skujiņš launched the sprint and Denz came past for his biggest win.
The Route: 199km and 5,000m of vertical gain. A start at the mouth of the Aosta valley and then up the valley on a road regularly used by the Giro to Aosta, an uphill slog which barely registers on the profile but harder than it seems.
Then comes the Gran San Bernando pass, not quite easier than it seems but a long climb rather than a steep one, this is climb to soften up the legs for later and also a big points bonanza for the mountains competition and it’s rarely steep but it’s sustained as it climbs past the early south-facing vineyards. This time it’s up to the tunnel and not to the pass, not for the first time as the Giro went through in 2006.. It robs the stage of 500m of vertical gain but probably won’t change the result. The tunnel offers some shelter but an odd moment, it warms up inside meaning a lull in the racing and presumably little TV as the race rides inside the mountain. Then comes a long descent, the kind trucks can negotiate but enough to get cold on.
The Croix de Coeur is a climb of two parts, first the hairpin ski station road to Verbier which is a hard climb and used in 2009 when Alberto Contador sped away for the win and Bradley Wiggins made a name for his climbing performances. But today the race goes beyond this and via a small backroad above the resort, a service road for ski lifts that’s also a “new” climb for cyclists and with 10% slopes, this is hard. When the cleared the snow off the top of the Croix de Coeur earlier this week they discovered the tarmac underneath had some winter damage but it seems they’ve made temporary repairs in time for the race. Too early to attack? The ensuing descent does reward the bold but anyone who takes time has over 20km along the Rhone valley to deal with before tackling the final climb.
The Finish: a ski station summit finish, however it’s not the main road up used by coachloads of tourists but the side road via Lens although it’s still a regular climb, a chalet access road if you like. At 13km it’s a long climb and selective as it rises quickly above the Rhone valley.
Once in Crans things level out for a run across turn before a left turn and a final drag up to the line of 7%.
The Contenders: breakaway or GC contenders? Let’s think of the GC riders where Ineos wants to defend even if Geraint Thomas has a two second lead overall, at least in the hope others fall away. Similarly Jumbo-Visma want Primož Roglič to win but they probably won’t work all day and boss the race for it. So the breakaway has a great chance. Jay Vine (UAE) seems good but could be on team duty, likewise Brandon McNulty. Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa), Ben Healy (EF Education-Easypost) and Einer Rubio (Movistar) can ride for themselves.
Among the GC contenders, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is the obvious pick but before backing him this is just a fitness test, can he handle the stage after crashes and questions over his form. Geraint Thomas (Ineos) too gets a test.
Healy, Buitrago, Fortunato
Roglič, Thomas, Almeida, Rubio, McNulty, Vine, Mollema
Weather: more tough conditions, no more than 12°C in the Aosta valley and the warmest part of the stage will be the tunnel thanks to geothermic heat. It could rain on the Croix de Coeur but this threat is receding.
TV: KM0 is at 11.05 and the start of the Croix de Coeur is 2.20pm and the final climb begins around 4.20pm with the finish is forecast for 5.00pm CEST.