We are approaching the penultimate climbing stage, if we do not count the time trial.
A very different climbing stage tomorrow. Just 4000 climbing meters. I think the day tomorrow could end up being taking by the breakaway. It is a short stage too, just 161 km.
So, first 28 are flat. If the breakaway goes here, it is going to be filled with rouleurs. If it does not, due to this likely being the last big chance for the breakaway to win, it will go on the climb. The Passo della Crosetta is 13.1 km at 7%. If the gap is small, we could see people trying to bridge the gap.
So now, at this point, the breakaway is gone. Teams need to get their team mates back on. A long build-up-the-tension-phase is now being raced. The breakaway will have the gap increasing here, then when they move closer to the penultimate climb, the pace increases in the peloton. If the breakaway is to win, they need to build up a big gap here. Note this is distance from the finish and not from the start as above.
Now, the finale. Forcella Cibiana and Coi. Here you have the last 35 km.
First up is Forcella Cibiani. I think the race profile saying 9.7 km at 7.7% is a bit wrong. This is the part that matters.
Next up is Coi. A similar climb in length and gradients. It is more irregular, having the middle portion of 2.2 km at 11.9% being the toughest.
This is the run home from the top. The last climb is 2.5 km at 6.9%
Not a long of wind but it will blow from the north meaning a headwind throughout the first 100 km more or less. It will likely rain in the early stages but as the afternoon comes, so will the sun. A small chance of rain in the finale too – merely raindrops.
How will the stage unfold?
INEOS back in pink, down to five riders. How should they approach this? Everyone who is not a threat in the GC, feel free to attack. Simple as that. All about using Puccio and Swift before the last two climbs, then again having De Plus and Arensman being world class domestiques. There is a bit of Les Super Blanche des Belles Filles times two this finale – Thomas can do surprisingly well on shorter, steep inclines.
UAE now the biggest title contender. I’m not afraid to admit I was wrong about Almeida. Well, it is up to them to put INEOS under pressure. It seemed to work well with McNulty and Vine but I would think both of them should have lasted a little longer. Almeida was isolated a bit early. They should look to spare McNulty and Vine for as long as they can, then set up an attack either on Forcella Cibiana and Coi. It is a good day to test Thomas once more.
Roglic as the big loser the other day. He is still hampered by the crash, a real shame for the race. The team has shown great strength and Kuss is the best domestique here. He just has to hope the legs respond better tomorrow, perhaps I overrated him do to his Col de la Loze effort back in 2020. Tomorrow is more up his alley.
As for the rest? They simply don’t seem to have what it takes to challenge for the podium. So who will control the stage? Likely very few until the last 50 km.
Thomas – The biggest issue is he only has four team mates and they need to be used efficiently. More than that, this is the test before tomorrow which is a tougher day – I would argue a fair bit tougher than tomorrow. He will ride defensively as he should but he has to mark two strong climbers. He will hope the breakaway takes the bonus seconds.
Almeida – well, it is up to UAE to control things tomorrow. They need the bonus seconds. Almeida took a stunning win but tomorrows terrain is a little different. I think he should be able to go well again, the stage win will have given him a big boost in morale. He has proved on Lagunas de Neila and Malhao that short and steep gradients suit him very well.
Roglic – now the dark horse for me, who would have thought that. I would leave everything up to UAE for stage 19. That is the big day. He will hope he can outsprint and take a few seconds of Thomas and Almeida tomorrow but I think the card to play right now is “flying under the radar”. With a flat and easy day today, he should only get better day by day.
Dunbar – the small Irishman will likely test Caruso. It all depends on how many riders are left on the steepest section of Coi. Otherwise, it will be a foolish move just to get reeled back in. He will do well among the GC men.
Van Wilder – should be allowed in the breakaway. For Christ sake, get him in it. 6th on Monte Bondone – it will be something similar tomorrow if they do not get him in the breakaway. From there, he can win.
Buitrago – I hope Bahrain let their climber out of the cage soon. Short and steep inclines are very good for him. Is he a threat in the GC? Not at all. I’m unsure what is going on with Caruso – my best guess is post-rest-day legs.
Rubio – well he is just on the edge of being allowed up the road. 5:43 – that means INEOS will need to monitor it. I doubt we will have teams riding to defend top-10 places. From the breakaway, we have already seen he can win. Tomorrow, the climbs suit him even better.
Cepeda – form is good. Does he mind shorter and steeper inclines? I doubt it. He is a lightweight. Perhaps stage 19 suits him even better.
Healy – well, time to see his limits. I think this is manageable for him. It is a big day for the KOM jersey, which could make it a bit harder to win. It also likely means he must be in the breakaway for stage 19.
Pinot – could sneak his way back in top-10 with a good performance tomorrow. Time to stop complaining, time to ride smarter. The small Colombians will always use you as a wind breaker if you let them.
⭐⭐⭐ Healy, Van Wilder
⭐⭐ Cepeda, Pinot, Rubio
⭐ Dunbar, Almeida, Thomas, Roglic
Who will win?
I will take a win for Santiago Buitrago. He has not been using too many matches this race, something that might come in handy.