A sprint stage with a 2,000m mountain in the way… weather and rider vote permitting.
Un Crans en dessous: the stage was shortened to 75km. The Grand Saint Bernard pass was skipped, the UCI’s Extreme Weather Protocol (EWP) was applied but the weather awaiting the riders was wet and cold at the start: grim but arguably nothing extreme. Some riders were more worried about the Croix de Coeur climb, others fed up and worn down by accumulated effects of the bad weather endured so far, and plenty felt both when they voted online on the eve of the stage to skip the Croix de Coeur climb. The compromise reached the next morning was to miss the first long climb of the day, the Grand Saint Bernard, not what the riders voted for but agreeable to riders and race organisers alike, although it still meant tackling the Croix de Coeur descent in the rain. The Giro’s visit to Switzerland was in part built, and probably part-financed, on the premise of showing off the “new” Croix de Coeur climb so skipping this was too much for organisers RCS. In the instant this was a communications fiasco without a clear explanation of what was happening, talk of adverse weather didn’t match reports on the ground. But it’s a more fundamental issue regarding the Extreme Weather Protocol’s use and the mood of the peloton. If the EWP is evoked but the underlying cause is a rider strike we ought to say so.
As soon as the race started there was no more time for polemiche as the new start was at the foot of the Croix de Coeur and there were attacks from the start. Thibaut Pinot went in one move with others including Hugh Carthy but Ineos couldn’t let the man who puts lanky in Lancastrian go, then another went clear with Pinot it it again and he was a driving force, crossing the Croix de Coeur climb first. The breakaway kept its advantage on the Rhone valley floor and Pinot attacked again as soon as the final climb to Crans Montana started and only Derek Gee, Einer Rubio and Jefferson Cepeda could follow. Gee would soon crack as Pinot launched a flurry of attacks, uncharacteristic for a rider whose style is often to soak up the moves early on a climb before going on the attack later.
Pinot kept attacking – seven times – with Cepeda jumping onto his back wheel, then Rubio slowly bridging his way across. Was Rubio in trouble? He never seemed to panic and with hindsight this tactic paid off as while Cepeda started to attack Pinot towards the top of the climb, the two ended up marking each other out. Rubio was always within in range and then had the energy to take the uphill sprint.
Behind Hugh Carthy attacked the GC group as did Damiano Caruso but Caruso and later Eddie Dunbar but the latter two were swept up, a headwind on the final climb dampened things and Carthy only took six seconds. The sole change to the top-10 was Pinot climbing into 10th place, and the Frenchman also takes a lead in the mountains competition. Ineos led the pace but Jumbo-Visma had numbers on the final climb, worth noting.
The Route: 196km from Switzerland and back to Italy, via the Simplon pass (if you’ve spotted 194km on the profile there’s a small detour later in Italy because of a landslide). It’s along the Rhone valley and into the German speaking part with a small climb when the road turns away from the valley floor and then past Visp and its big DSM factory before Brig and the start of the mighty Simplon pass, il Sempione in Italian.
There’s a rail tunnel under the pass that takes drive-on trucks and cars and so a Plan B option. But big vehicles can and do take go over the pass and on an ordinary day it’s one of those climbs that aren’t the best for cycling as it’s busy with cars, light trucks and motorbikes. Presumably the motorists complain about the cyclists. Anyway it’s a well-engineered giant of a pass, a wide road that lasts for 20km. 14%? Maybe on the inside of a hairpin bend but the feel is how steady this climb is, hard but no surprises. The descent is the same but with fewer views as it dives into a smaller, narrower valley but there’s 120km from Iselle to the finish.
Then comes a long ride down to Verbania and Lake Maggiore, these Filippo Ganna’s training roads (and Elisa Longo Borghini’s among others too). Look closely at the profile and you can see some lumps at the end but there’s nothing tough, a few undulations and on busier roads past industrial estates and the Alpine wilderness already a distant memory.
The Finish: a right turn onto the finishing straight, then under the flamme rouge and a drag of 2-3% uphill all the way to the line.
The Contenders: the Simplon – if ridden – is a launchpad for the day’s breakaway but there’s a long time to bring the break back. Only Trek-Segafredo won’t chase as Mads Pedersen has gone home so who will? Several teams still have an interest in setting up the sprint.
The uphill run to the line – and the vertical gain of today’s stage is good for Michael Matthews (Jayco-Al Ula) so there’s an extra team to chase and they even have an incentive to make the Simplon harder.
Pascal Ackermann (UAE) can manage a climb or two. Both Mark Cavendish (Astana) and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain) will find the finishing straight harder but it’s 2-3% and not 5-6%.
Breakaway picks could be Alberto Bettiol (EF), Simon Clarke (Israel), Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo) and Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché).
Cort, Ackermann, Milan, Cavendish, Gaviria
Weather: more rain and cold. It might rain at the start but it’ll be 16°C but the top of the Simplon will see rain and 4°C… worse conditions than above Aosta yesterday. Once back down off the pass it’ll be warmer again at 16°C but still raining.
TV: KM0 is at 12.05 and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST.