Monday, 6 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 4: Croce Ferrata

If stage 3 was interesting because the GC contenders started to size each other up so early on with Ryder Hesjedal putting in attacks left, right and centre then stage 4 is likely to see all out war as riders tackle the Croce Ferrata (The "Iron Cross" - just visible in the foreground) before descending the final 6 kilometres into the finish. It might only be a 'mid-mountain' stage, but the Croce Ferrata isn't easy...

If Ryder Hesjedal is mindful to attack on a category three climb 25 kilometres from the finish so early on in this three week race then it sets a marker for the other favourites - It say's "this isn't going to be an easy ride" and though they all wound up together at the finish (less Michele Scarponi who crashed on the descent) it could have presented an opportunity for Vincenzo Nibali to attack on the descent but he didn't, perhaps he's waiting for the descent from the Croce Ferrata, a mere 6km from the finish to try and grab a few seconds?
Before Nibali gets his chance to have a dig on the descent there is of course the small issue of getting to the top in the front group. Remarkably It's only a category 2 climb mainly due to it's 5.5% average gradient but if this slope had featured in a single day race or week-long stage race earlier in the year it would likely have been categorised higher.
It's 12.7 kilometres in length - it's a proper climb and the pace is likely to be quite high thanks to it's shallow average but if Sky or Astana turn the hurt on along the way then we could see a number of riders find themselves in difficulty. Not only that but this climb comes not long after the category 3 Viba Valentia and at 229km into the stage, in fact this is the longest stage of the whole Giro at 246 kilometres in length.  
The worst of the climb comes in the first 6km where the gradient average 6.3% but slowly rises from 6% through to a 10% section that could provide the springboard for some of the better climbers to try and get away. Thereafter the climb levels out to around 4.6% for the final 5 kilometres. It will be important that whoever manages to get over the top first can put in a good descent or gain as much time on the climb as possible to compensate.
Today Ryder Hesjedal looked eager to attack and he might look to do the same again, especially if he's feeling as good but stage 3 will have taken a lot out of some of the riders and there's no let up with such a mile-heavy stage tomorrow. This climb certainly won't announce the winner but though it's a cliche it is likely to show us those unlikely to contest the general classification in the remaining two weeks or so and maybe narrow the selection of favourites down a little. There are likely to be some big attacks from the stage-hunters and grimpeurs which will play into Sky's hands as they mop up the bonus seconds at the finish without really effecting the overall classification while Astana, Garmin and others will be looking to chase any break down to secure the bonus seconds for their team-leaders looking to gain time on Wiggins ahead of the Time Trial where he's likely to gain an advantage.
It will be an interesting stage tomorrow as it gives an early glimpse into just how the race will pan out in the coming weeks and show who's feeling strong and who isn't (though be wary - anyone not looking their best here can find form in time for the final week). Already there are rumblings in the GC and stage 4 is likely to see more but even if the favourites stay together and don't go all out attack other riders will try hard to pick up a stage victory. With a climb of this length it will be interesting to see who does the work - whether Sky will put the train on the front and use their Tour-Familiar tactic or whether they sit back and make Astana do the legwork - after all it is not Sky who need the bonus seconds the most. Whatever happens It's an unmissable stage so early on in a Grand Tour. 

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