By Gregor Brown
The Giro d'Italia races through the flat Po Valley west to Novi Ligure on Wednesday, the last sprint stage before a mountainous ride to the finish next weekend in Verona. For many sprinters, stage 11 signals the end of their Giro, but could the organiser plan a better route to convince them to stay?
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) are leaving the Giro d'Italia after stage 11's finish. Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) are due to stay, but the former crashed and his injuries may force an early exit. The only light at the end of a dark tunnel is stage 18, next Thursday, but that seems too little and too far for many.
"I think it's a really hard Giro for a sprinter to arrive in Verona," Viviani said.
"The Giro does what they think is best, I think now it's very difficult after today because there are some really dangerous stages for the sprinters to stay within the time limit or try to stay with the gruppetto. And the short stage  with a lot of climbs, that's a bad one. You need big motivation."
The Giro this year offered plenty of sprints in the first week and a half, which were won by a wide range of riders. The race enters the mountains on stage 12 and races to its first high-mountain summit finish on Friday at Lago Serrù.
"It's good the way it is because you get a lot of good sprinters coming for the first part because a lot of the sprinters want to do the Tour de France as well," said Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal).
"They can't really do both Grand Tours so it's actually perfect the way they do it. If they want to get top sprinters to come here with the field like they have this year then they should keep it the way it is.
"I'm not in contention for the sprint jersey. There's no point in me staying and riding up mountains, so now I think it's just going to be full focus on the Tour."
The ciclamino points jersey could be won by a non-sprinter given wide-range of sprint winners so far and that those at the top of the classification may go home.
"It's a big risk," said Viviani. "With the rules of the last few years, it's always a sprinter winning because there are much more points in the flat stages, but you see that on the flat stages one time one sprinter wins and one time another, so it's not one sprinter going really high with the points."
From stage 11 to the finish in Verona, only stage 18 to Santa Maria di Sala remains a possibility for the sprinters. And unlike the Tour de France, often the Giro d'Italia ends with a time trial. This year is no different, closing outside the Verona Arena with a 17km time trail.
"We have a sprint in the very last week, last year, we won the same stage in the Tour with Arnold," said Démare's lead-out man Jacopo Guarnieri (Groupama-FDJ). "We will try to survive. It'll be hard, but we are fighting for the ciclamino jersey."
Guarnieri rode through his home town in Fiorenzuola on Wednesday. He remarked on his "strange country", the famous boot shape with a spine of mountains and the Alps at its head.
"Italy's a pretty strange country with the geography, so they are obligated to design the Giro this way," he added. "Well it could be more likeable for the sprinters with a sprint on the last stage instead of a time trial but for sure, every organiser has his own needs."
"It's just the approach that the Giro organiser wants," Mark Cavendish's long-time lead-out man, Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) said.
"I'd like to see some sprints in the third week but to be honest, it's nicely laid out this year. I think how they've done it this year it's made it possible for a lot of sprinters to come, if they tried to back end with the sprints, I don't think they'd get many guys here. It's a good way of getting top sprinters here and in the Tour de France."
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