The Giro’s eighth stage climbs 17.1 kilometres to finish on Montevirgine di Mercogliano. The back-to-back summit finish weekend sees the riders climbing to 2135 metres at Gran Sasso on Sunday.
“True climbers will be suited to Grand Sasso,” Astana team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told Cycling Weekly. “Domenico Pozzovivo. Thibaut Pinot looks good, but Simon Yates is for sure the strongest now. He has good form and a great team behind him. Yates is for sure the strongest on the climbs.”
“A fast punchy guy could do well on either day,” Sky sports director, Dario Cioni said. “Yates could win again on Montevirgine and Gran Sasso. You need that acceleration for the final, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if one of the wins come from a breakaway.”
Esteban Chaves rode in the day’s breakaway to Mount Etna and stayed clear. His Mitchelton-Scott team-mate Simon Yates followed several smaller attacks in the favourites’ group and then blasted clear on the volcanic climb to join Chaves. Yates, explained the team, decided that Chaves could go for the win because he was taking the jersey.
His pink jersey lead will be tested on both Saturday and Sunday, with the latter’s climb coming in two parts: 20 kilometres on open roads and a harder final nine kilometres.
“Our team won there in 1999 with Marco Pantani,” Martinelli added. “You arrive above 2000 metres, so you always pay more at that level.
“Montevirgine di Mercogliano on Saturday is not a big climb. We’ve been there two to three times lately, but you get big groups with the favourites all together. Damiano Cunego won there in 2004. Then Danilo Di Luca.”
“Sunday’s stage is clearly harder, and plus there are the climbs ahead of the final climb,” Bahrain-Merida sports director Alberto Volpi said. “I don ‘think you’ll win the Giro d’Italia in these two stages, but they will be important because 20 or 30 seconds add up in the end.
“Gran Sasso is a very ridable climb. They are not the true climbs but at high speeds, they hurt. Montevirgine di Mercogliano is the same, a little less harder given the profile and the stage distance. The climbs suit [Tom] Dumoulin, both Saturday and Sunday.
In 2011, Bart De Clercq won the Montevirgine di Mercogliano climb. The last time up Gran Sasso was in 1999, when Marco Pantani won.
“They are not hard climbs like Etna was,” UAE Team Emirates sports director Paolo Tiralongo said. “The climbs suit Yates, an attacker. Yates is showing so well. Then there is Pozzovivo and Pinot. Froome now is under the radar, but you shouldn’t write him off. Expect something in the last week.”
“Gran Sasso has steep gradients, it’s much longer, it’s a real mountain, a demanding one and you can’t hide on that climb. It’s for the GC fight,” Fabrizio Guidi, EF Education sports director said.
“GC guys should be going well, look for the two Mitchelton riders, Chaves and Yates. But these are different than the final week’s stages because they are demanding but with no real climbs beforehand.”
The Giro is still winding its way from the south to the north. Not until next weekend will the race reach the famous high peaks like Monte Zoncolan. Then, starting the third week, the organiser has planned a 34.2-kilometre time trial that should swing the race in favour of Chris Froome (Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).
The lesser-known climbs in the south, however, could be just as important when the final times are calculated in Rome on May 27.
“They will be important days,” Luca Guercilena, Trek-Segafredo general manager explained. “We have seen who’s in shape on Etna. Now you can see 10 riders within a certain time to win.
“I expect a lot of good attacks. On Gran Sasso for sure, we will have a hard stage and the gaps can made.
“It’s quite clear that many riders are able to attacks deep into the day. If you have doubts for the time trial coming up, you will want to get out and gain as much time you can.
“Yates, Pinot, Chaves, Pozzovivo are the favourites. Dumoulin should try to chase them. Gran Sasso should give us a GC stage, high tempo and at the same time, big attacks. Given what we saw on Etna, Yates is the favourite. At the same time, Dumoulin looks strong.”