Will Dumoulin reclaim pink on the time trial?
Arguably the most talked about stage of this year’s Giro is the stage 16 time trial. Barely a day has gone by in which it has not been referenced as a potential game changer in the GC, and we will likely have a much clearer picture of who will win the Giro once it has been completed.
The reason for that is the significant disparity in ability against the clock between the two riders now firmly established as contenders for the pink jersey, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).
Yates is a lightweight climber whose main aim in time trials is to avoid losing too much time, while Dumoulin is world champion in the discipline whose race strategy depends upon using them to gain heaps of time.
To reclaim the maglia rosa, Dumoulin needs to put 2-11 into Yates, an amount that historical performances might suggest he has about a 50 per cent chance of gaining. But Yates is in the form of his life, and his seventh place finish in the opening day time trial suggests he has improved against the clock too.
Even if Dumoulin does end tomorrow in the pink jersey, to be confident of retaining it during the final mountain stages to come he will want to have a lead of more than just a handful of seconds. Still, a handover of overall leadership with just five stages left to ride would set up a tense finale.
Will Yates falter?
Simon Yates has been imperious throughout the Giro, and showed no signs of tiring yesterday when he romped to his most significant stage win yet.
His lack of Grand Tour experience means that doubts remain about how he will perform in the final week, however. Will he pay for the aggressive way he has approached this Giro? Stages 19 and 20 are so difficult that even a slight dip in form could be enough for him to lose the race.
For an example of a rider unused to challenging for GC faltering at the end, we need only look back to the 2016 Giro d’Italia. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) had similarly established himself as the strongest rider in the race and held an even firmer grip on the pink jersey, only to fall off the podium altogether after crashing with just three days to go.
Yates remains the man most likely, and even his closest rival Dumoulin said that ‘something crazy has to happen’ for him to win this race. But a final week collapse is still a possibility, and would dramatically open up the race for the maglia rosa.
The battle for podium placings
The way Yates was able to ride away on stage 15 while his rivals mostly worried about each other was a clear sign that some were switching their focus towards striving for a podium finish rather than overall victory.
Currently Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) holds the coveted third place spot, for whom finishing on the podium would be a huge deal having never finished higher than fifth in his previous eleven Giro appearances.
A podium finish for his closest rival Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) – who is just nine seconds adrift – would not be quite so long-awaited, but would see the Frenchman at last match his breakthrough third-place finish at the 2014 Tour de France.
A top three finish also remains a possibility for Chris Froome (Sky), if he can make the most of Tuesday’s time trial, and can rediscover the form that saw him win on the Zoncolan.
The South American duo of Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Richard Carapaz (Movistar) both have outside chances, currently lying at 1-59 and 2-19 behind Pozzovivo respectively, but may be more focussed on winning the young riders classification against each other.
Breakaways to succeed
Two weeks into the race and breakaways continue to have an unusually low success rate.
Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) remains the only rider to win a stage from a break to get away at the start of the day, although Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) was successful from an attack 40km from the finish on stage 10.
The third week should provide some better opportunities for early breaks to succeed, however.
Stage 17 looks perfect for a breakaway, starting as it does with 10km of uphill and continuing to undulate for much of the rest of the day. This looks the best chance for any underdogs to give themselves a shot at glory by getting into the break.
And now there are so many talented climbers far enough down on GC to be given freedom to get up the road, the Colle delle Finestre on stage 19 (the Cima Coppi, i.e. highest summit of the race) and the two category one climbs that precede the summit finish to Cervinia on stage 20, look like perfect launchpads for stage winning attacks from early escapees.
Viviani and Bennett go head-to-head for the maglia ciclamino
The final week will mostly be all about climbing, with summit finishes awaiting the riders of stages 18, 19 and 20, but there is still time for Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) to challenge Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) for victory in the points classification.
Viviani’s current lead of 40 points is enough to that he may well need only finish somewhere near the front on the one remaining guaranteed sprint stage in Rome on the final day of the race.
However, there’s also a chance to win points on stage 17, which could potentially culminate in a bunch sprint – perhaps from a reduced group. The parcours is similar to stage 12, when Bennett took maximum points by winning the sprint, and Viviani earned nothing having been dropped.
If Bora-Hansgrohe can pull off something similar, by putting Viviani under pressure on the rolling terrain and making sure the break does not succeed, and thus giving Bennett a chance to bring his Italian rival back to within touching distance in the competition, then the final stage to Rome could be a thrilling showdown for the jersey.