Saturday, May 19, 2018

Chris Froome: I'm Going to Keep Racing as Hard All the Way to Rome

Briton's Giro d'Italia fight-back begins with Zoncolan stage victory

Chris Froome (Team Sky) (Getty Images)

Chris Froome dug deep, suffered perhaps like few times before in his career, and fought all the way to the finish line to conquer the Monte Zoncolan and begin a fight back after losing chunks of time in the Giro d'Italia since his crash in Jerusalem.

Team Sky had given Froome the option of going home due to his injuries and pain from the subsequent muscle imbalances but he always refused to throw in the towel despite losing time, hoping that he could and would recover and somehow fight back.

"It never crossed my mind to retire from the race, that's bike racing, things happen that are not always in your control, especially in the Giro which is very unpredictable," Froome said, showing his pride.

"The crash took a fair bit out of me but it was always the plan to keep fighting. We've seen in the past how quickly the maglia rosa can change shoulders in the Giro, and that's always been in the back of my mind. My team has really supported me, my family and friends, too; the motivation has always been there, so to get the victory today is really special."

Froome finished just six seconds ahead of Simon Yates at the top of the Zoncolan after the two Britons contested a climber's pursuit match in the open-air mountain stadium. Froome managed to hold off Yates to win and also picked up a 10-second time bonus and distanced other overall contenders by much more. He moved up to fifth overall, 3:10 down on Yates but only 1:46 behind Tom Dumoulin and even less behind Domenico Pozzovivo and Miguel Angel Lopez.

With another hard mountain stage to Sappada on Sunday and then Tuesday's 34.2km flat time trial to Rovereto on Tuesday, Froome can perhaps 'see' a spot on the podium in Rome. However, at least for now, he played down his chances of overall victory.

"I'm going to keep racing as hard all the way to Rome," Froome said without setting any specific objective but also without limiting his ambitions.

"I have to be realistic, I'm three minutes down on GC, it's going to be a tough fight to come back in terms of fighting for the victory. If I am completely honest, about a week ago, I had pain down my right side, it was very intense. That was one of the hardest moments for me. Since then, I've felt like the body is starting to recover, and the goal was to build toward the last part of the race. Today is proof of that."

"I am really, really happy with the victory. It's a big boost of morale after what's been a tough start for the race for me and the team. But at the same time, we have to be realistic, there are some really strong riders here; Simon's done an amazing ride up to now. Even in the last kilometre today I thought he was going to catch me. He's got more of a kick than me, I thought he was going to come flying around me. It was such a nice feeling to reach those last few hundred meters and not have him on the wheel. This is a special day for us and a memorable victory for me on top of the Zoncolan, one of the most iconic climbs in Italy."

Froome joked that he will not be afraid to ride Tuesday's time trial course but that he will 'ride a little slower' on the corners to avoid a second crash. He knows a good performance against the clock could further revive his overall ambitions and set up a great race in the final mountain stages. He is not ruling it out.

"It will be one of the key moments of this year's race," he warned. It's over 30km and flat. If I've learned anything, it's that you cannot expect anything to turn out the way you planned. I can only focus on what I can do."

Can he win the time trial?

"Who knows. Anything can happen out there. Simon's been incredibly strong, Tom, I expect both of them to give strong performances Tuesday. I'll do best I can do and take it from there."

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Yates in Lead, but Worried About Dumoulin

Tom Dumoulin pursued Simon Yates on the cobbled climb to finish stage 11. Photo: LaPresse - D'Alberto / Ferrari / Paolone / Alpozzi

OSIMO, Italy (VN) — Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) may lead the 2018 Giro d’Italia, but he is worried. The 47-second buffer is insufficient with last year’s winner Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) breathing down his neck and a time trial on the horizon.

Yates does not carry a calculator, but he will be doing the math when he is racing. Dumoulin, the time trial world champion, could put minutes into him next Tuesday when the Giro starts the third week with a 34.2-kilometer time trial to Rovereto

“47 seconds is not enough, but I’m just happy to have gained another two seconds today,” Yates said.

Yates launched a lethal attack in the final two kilometers of stage 11 when the Marche roads pitched to 16% to reach the hilltop town of Osimo. On such a finish, Yates is at his best.

He won his second stage and celebrated his second victory in four days in the pink leader’s jersey. These are good times for the British 25-year-old, twin brother of teammate Adam Yates.

But there is Tom Dumoulin. The Dutchman, the first to win the Giro overall in 2017, charged immediately after Yates Wednesday and closed in as the finish line neared. He underscored his intentions to win a second consecutive Giro.

Other rivals trickled in: Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) at eight seconds with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) at 18, Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) at 21, and Chris Froome (Sky) at 40.

“It’s not just me and Tom,” Yates said. “There are many rivals still and they are close to me, but Tom is the one I’m afraid of because with the TT yet to come it’s going to be difficult to beat him.”

Direct previous time trial comparisons are hard to come by. In recent times, they have not raced a similar distance against each other in a flat time trial.

Dumoulin does not know how much he could gain — or at least he would not make a prediction.

“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” Dumoulin explained.

“I never look at time differences, I just go full-gas until the finish of the time trial and I will see what I get. But first, there’s this weekend.”

This weekend with the stage to Monte Zoncolan and the climb-heavy day to Sappada much could change. One thing is certain, Yates will continue to attack to gain more time on Dumoulin, and other strong time trial rivals like Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) and Chris Froome (Sky).

“It’s not a two-way battle, because there are four to five guys who are still close. Guys like Froome, he was going to take a lot of time out of the time trial and lot of hard stages to come,” Yates said.

“I’m in a position where I need to gain time. Maybe explode but I need the time.”


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Giro d'Italia: Disappointed O'Connor Vows to Bounce Back

Dimension Data's Ben O'Connor lost time to his rivals on Saturday's eighth stage from Praia a Mare to Montevergine di Mercogliano when Chris Froome crashed in front of him with just over 5km to go on the final climb, causing him to unship his chain.

What a difference a day makes. Or two days anyway. Following Thursday's sixth stage from Caltannisseta to Mount Etna, when Louis Meintjes lost time on the famous volcano, and teammate O'Connor stepped into the breach, putting himself almost three minutes ahead of Meintjes in the GC, the roles were reversed again on the road to Montevergine.

Meintjes finished at the back of the main group of favourites, seven seconds behind stage winner Richard Carapaz (Movistar). O'Connor trailed in another 21 seconds back, which leaves him exactly two minutes in arrears of Giro leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), with Meintjes 4:34 down on Yates.

O'Connor experienced the untimely mechanical problem when Team Sky leader Froome's wheel slipped away on a rain-soaked hairpin on the final climb, causing the Briton to crash, and the Australian to lose his chain.

"I had nowhere to go, so I went into a wall," O'Connor explained in a team press release. "My chain came off and got stuck in the frame, and my brake pads were out of alignment, so I lost a fair chunk of time. Ben King and Natnael Berhane were there to help me, and they did as much as they could before I had to go it alone for the last two or three kilometres.

"When I got back to the group, I was pretty cooked, and then they started sprinting to the mountain top, and I just couldn’t sprint after the effort to get back."

O'Connor had been in a good position before the bad luck struck, which gives him all the more determination to make amends on Sunday's mountainous stage 9.

"The guys did a really good job today looking after me, and when it started to rain in the finale I wanted to be near the front, and I was, with Ben King putting me in the top 20 wheels," O'Connor said. "I didn't want to stress about the slippery conditions by being in front, and the climb wasn’t too difficult either.

"With about 5km to go, Alex [Sans Vega, directeur sportif] said there were more hairpins so I wanted to move up to be even closer to the front. I was keen to try something and get that white jersey [for best young rider].

"So what happened was a bit disappointing, but tomorrow is a big day, and if I feel like I did today, I'd like to try to be in the move," he said.

The fascinating peaks and troughs of a Grand Tour reveal themselves time and again. Dimension Data, it would appear now, have a legitimate two-pronged leadership in Meintjes and O'Connor to call upon, dependent on each rider's fortunes. Sunday's ninth stage, from Pesco Sannita to the summit finish at Gran Sasso d'Italia, will reveal what happens next.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Froome Happy to ‘Tick Off’ Etna Finish

Fans greeted Chris Froome at the start of the Giro's stage 6 to Mount Etna. Photo: Justin Setterfield | Getty Images

MOUNT ETNA, Italy (VN) — Grand tour star Chris Froome (Sky) is happy just to ride into top shape in the next two weeks of the Giro d’Italia after finishing the Mount Etna stage with the other favorites Thursday.

Froome finished stage 6 with top rival and 2017 champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). New race leader Simon Yates and his Mitchelton-Scott teammate Esteban Chaves, the stage winner, gained time. The four-time Tour de France champion, though, was there with his rivals after 15 kilometers climbing up the famous Mount Etna volcano.

“I think all in all just happy to tick this day off and looking forward to reaching mainland Italy and carrying on with the Giro,” said Froome.

Yates’s time gain saw him move into the famous maglia rosa. Chaves also added time. Froome, however, finished the cold and misty volcanic stage with his rivals.

The day wasn’t worry-free, however. At times on the 15-kilometer ascent, Froome was gapped from the others.

“How is Chris? It was the first summit finish, so it was a question mark, but we knew he was there in the Tour of the Alps with [Domenico] Pozzovivo and [Thibaut] Pinot. We were faithful. We know that he’s growing and improving, so it’s fine,” sports director Dario Cioni explained.

“If he was feeling well and had a chance to attack, but the chance wasn’t there. He knows how to manage it, he knows where the finish line is, so he managed it at his own pace then to follow every attack.”

“I’m very happy. Chris managed his effort very well,” added team boss David Brailsford. “This is what we wanted, Chris finished with the lead guys.

“The crash on day one definitely affected him, you could see it affected him. But we take today’s performance and slowly but surely build on it. Chris has a lot of room for improvement.”

Froome crashed in training ahead of the stage 1 time trial. He lost 37 seconds that day in Jerusalem to Dumoulin and another 17 on stage 4 in Sicily.

“It’s more of a gap than we expected, but then today was an important day not to lose time on the majority of riders, so that was good,” Cioni said.

“The training crash bothered him, yeah. In the time trial you no longer have that confidence in the curves and in a short technical ride like that, you lose time that way.”

Froome is building slowly to the race’s second half with Italy’s famous high passes in the country’s north. The race crosses to the mainland tonight from Sicily and then must travel over the next week to the north.

“I was happy just to be in the main group of favorites with Tom Dumoulin and the other guys,” Froome continued. “My objective is to build through this race and be at my best in the third week, and I’m still on track for that.”

The race’s next summit finish is Saturday to Montevirgine. They continue to work their way north, but the first big climbs will not appear until the following Saturday to Monte Zoncolan. Froome should have time to improve.


Monday, May 7, 2018

How To Train On Your Commute | Fasted Endurance Training

Emma has got another commuter training session for you to help prepare for big sportives like the Maratona dles Dolomites. It's not immediately obvious how to prepare for endurance events when you're short on time. But the use of fasted training sessions can be really effective.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Israel Hopes for Return on Giro Investment

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Often in the news as the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jerusalem will later this week become the backdrop of the start of one of cycling’s biggest races, the Giro d’Italia.

The race’s “Big Start,” which begins Friday, marks the first time any of cycling’s three grand tours will start outside of Europe.

It is a major boon for Israel’s efforts to present itself as a sport and tourism destination despite being the site of a seemingly intractable conflict.

The three-day start will take riders on a spin through the hilly metropolis fraught with religious and political tensions, to modern Mediterranean cities, and finally the desert, passing the world’s largest erosion crater and ending at the Red Sea.

The 10-kilometer Jerusalem time trial on Friday will see riders sprint through the western sector of the contested city, steering away from mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied more than 50 years ago and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.

That day’s stage will finish a short distance from Jerusalem’s Old City, the location of some of the holiest sites in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Saturday’s 167km stage 2 will begin in the northern coastal city of Haifa in striking hillside gardens built to commemorate the Bahai faith, which believes in “the oneness of humanity.”

Riders will head further north to the ancient city of Acre before the route circles back south, parallel to the Mediterranean to Israel’s financial and cultural centre Tel Aviv.

Stage 3 will begin in Beersheba in southern Israel, pass through the Ramon Crater, and will end at the Red Sea resort of Eilat 226km later.

The 21-stage race ends in Rome on May 27.

‘A crazy idea’

Amir Halevy, director general of Israel’s tourism ministry, said hosting the race was “a huge accomplishment for tourism.”

“Hundreds of millions of Europeans and people from around the world watching the Giro’s start in Israel will be able to see our amazing views, religious sites, beaches, and desert,” he said.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which seeks to pressure Israel over its occupation of the West Bank, had unsuccessfully called for organizers to relocate the race’s start.

Israel has reportedly paid some 10 million euros ($12 million) to host the event. Officials have declined to comment on the amount except to say that it is in line with what other nations have paid for previous Giro starts.

Sylvan Adams, a businessman-turned-philanthropist and cycling enthusiast, was the driving force behind bringing the Italian race to the Holy Land.

Adams, a real estate developer whose business was based in his native Canada, took up competitive amateur cycling 20 years ago at the age of 41 and has since won a list of races.

A few years ago, prior to his immigration to Israel in 2016, he was approached by Ran Margaliot, a former professional Israeli rider, who got Adams to become a board member and eventual co-owner of the biking team he had founded, the Israel Cycling Academy.

“Ran had the idea — and it was a crazy idea — to approach the Giro and bring the ‘Big Start’ to Israel,” Adams said.

“It sounded ridiculous — a grand tour has never raced outside Europe.”

But after Margaliot managed to convince Giro director Mauro Vegni to visit Israel, the project suddenly became feasible to the Italians.

Adams said he then took over negotiations “and we made a deal.” The idea of expanding the event to a new region appealed to the Italian organizers, he added.

“They saw a big advantage to building their brand by going further afield than any bike race had ever done before and doing something that was totally out of the box,” Adams said.

Adams said bringing the Giro to Israel was a “particularly enjoyable project,” since it combines his love of his adopted country and his “passionate hobby” of cycling.

He also believes the event will boost cycling in Israel and will cause parents to push their children toward the sport.

‘Something really special’

Retired professional riders said the Israeli terrain shouldn’t pose a problem to the Giro riders, who train and compete around the world — including in deserts.

Andrea Taffi, a retired Italian national cycling champion who recently visited Israel to promote the race, said the Giro’s Jerusalem start bore special significance.

“I’m Catholic, and it’s something really special for me,” he said.

For former world road cycling champion Maurizio Fondriest, the most interesting part will be the desert, but the most significant one is Jerusalem.

“You can imagine the riders that can wear for the first time the maglia rosa in Jerusalem, it’s a historic day for everyone,” he said.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Giro d'Italia 2018: The Essential Guide

There is no ignoring from the elephant in the room ahead of the 2018 Giro d'Italia. This will not be an ordinary edition of the race, but rather one set to be conditioned by the presence of Chris Froome, whose efforts and results may ultimately count for nothing if the Team Sky rider is sanctioned for his adverse analytical finding for salbutamol during last year's Vuelta a España.The contenders

Sometimes, you should be careful what you wish for. RCS Sport and the local organising committee for the Israeli Grande Partenza courted Froome heavily last Autumn, and the Briton – after reportedly agreeing an appearance fee rumoured to be in the region of €2 million – eventually confirmed his intention to ride the Giro in a pre-recorded message at last November's presentation. Two weeks later, news of Froome's salbutamol case broke, and, all of a sudden, his participation in the race became rather more problematic.

For RCS Sport, it is, as Yogi Berra would have put it, a case of déjà vu all over again. In 2011, Alberto Contador raced – and won – the Giro despite a positive test for clenbuterol at the previous year's Tour de France. In 2012, the Spaniard was sanctioned and stripped of his results, including that Giro, which was later awarded to Michele Scarponi.

With no resolution in sight in the Froome case, and with RCS Sport unable to bar him from riding, race director Mauro Vegni has stated his desire for the Briton's results from this Giro to stand regardless of whether he is later sanctioned. The problem for Vegni, however, is that such a decision is not in his gift.

Froome could, of course, avoid at least some of the furore by recusing himself from competition until his case is resolved, but despite claiming in December that he took his “leadership position in the sport very seriously”, the Sky rider has firmly placed his own interests ahead of those of the sport by continuing to race, and he will line out in Israel on May 4. So it goes.

For better or for worse, then, the Giro will be the site of a duel between Froome and defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), the man felt by many to be the rider most likely to break Team Sky’s dominance at the Tour de France.

Not that this will simply be a two-way tussle. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), always an inspired performer on Italian roads, was fourth last year and will be buoyed by his recent Tour of the Alps win. Italian champion Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) returns to the Giro after a three-year absence. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) lines out for his debut in a race that might well prove to his liking. Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves provide a two-pronged Mitchelton-Scott challenge.

As ever, the Giro will provide a myriad of subplots. The marketing line about the Giro being the world’s toughest race in the world’s most beautiful place may be frayed from overuse by this point, but that doesn’t mean there isn't a solid ring of truth about it.

The Giro has always been a special race, with a character all of its own. In the WorldTour era, it has grown into an increasingly international event, and in that time it has been, without question, the most consistently exciting of the Grand Tours. Twists and suspense deep into the third week are the norm on the Giro – not an exception. That seems likely to continue this time around – not least because the result in Rome on May 27 might not be the result that endures in the record books.

The route


RCS Sport's headaches ahead of this Giro have not, of course, been limited to the Froome saga, as the decision to award the start to Israel – the first Grand Tour start outside of Europe – has brought problems of its own. When the route was unveiled in November, for instance, RCS Sport's official maps listed the site of the opening time trial as West Jerusalem, seemingly on advice from the Italian ministry for foreign affairs. This in turn saw the Israeli government threaten to withdraw all government support for the Giro unless the wording was changed and the start referred to simply as 'Jerusalem'.

That insistence from the Israeli government laid bare the politically charged nature of this Grande Partenza, and only strengthened calls from groups such as the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine for a total boycott of the Giro in Israel, with the ECCP citing the "grave and escalating violations of international law and Palestinians' human rights" in the Occupied Territories.

No teams have opted to boycott the Giro as a result of the Israeli start, however, nor have any absent riders cited it as a reason for not participating. Dumoulin, meanwhile, succinctly downplayed security concerns. "I can't say that I'm more afraid than riding on the Champs Elysées. Enough has happened in Paris in recent years," he said.

The Giro begins on Friday, May 4 with a 9.7km individual time trial on a rolling, technical course in the western area of Jerusalem that should provoke greater time gaps than a traditional city centre prologue. Dumoulin will, of course, be expected to shine, and Froome will look to lay down a marker, though Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) are also among those with a firm chance of claiming the first maglia rosa of the 2018 Giro.

The sprinters ought to have two opportunities to shine on the two road stages in Israel, with flat finishes in Tel Aviv and Eilat, though there is the prospect of crosswinds on the run through the rugged and exposed Negev desert on stage 3. As ever on the Giro's early foreign expeditions, the GC contenders would doubtless settle beforehand simply to make it back to the Bel Paese level pegging with their rivals.

Sicily and the South

After a long and logistically complex transfer from the Red Sea to Italy on the first of three rest days, the Giro hits Italian roads with three stages in Sicily, though to RCS Sport's undoubted disappointment, the lure of home roads wasn't enough to convince two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) to return to the race this year. A combination of a relative dearth of sprinters in the field and rolling terrain could present escapees with an opportunity to upset the fast men en route to Caltagirone and Santa Ninfa.

Stage 6, meanwhile, is set to be the first major rendezvous for the general classification contenders, as the Giro returns to the slopes of Mount Etna for a second year in succession. Last year's wind-blasted summit finish proved something of a damp squib, but this time around, the race tackles the volcano by way of a new and steeper approach from Ragalna. The 15km climb includes a long, 14 per cent ramp inside the final six kilometres, which might provide the springboard for somebody to place an important deposit on final victory – as Contador did at Etna in the opening week in 2011. History repeats itself, and all that.

The Giro reaches the mainland on stage 7, where the finish in Praia a Mare offers a chance for the finisseurs to unseat the sprinters, as Diego Ulissi did two years ago. Stage 8 sees the second summit finish of the race, though the category 2 haul to Montevergine should not be stiff enough to provide much separation among the contenders for the maglia rosa.

The opening phase of the Giro ends the following day on a rather more demanding note, however, with the tough, two-part haul to the category 1 summit finish on the Gran Sasso d’Italia. The final 50 kilometres are almost all uphill, with only a short plateau separating the 14.8km haul from the steady but inexorable 26km climb to the finish. Much like the Blockhaus finale a year ago, it won’t be decisive, but it is sure to provide some important pointers as to the rest of this Giro.

Towards the Zoncolan

On the face of it, the second week of the Giro looks set to be a slow-burning one, although the race can adhere to a logic all of its own regardless of terrain –witness, for example, Astana’s decision to wage an almost daily offensive on Contador in 2015, partly in a (successful) bid to wear him out ahead of the Tour. Froome, Dumoulin and Pinot – all set to line combine the Giro and Tour – can surely expect similar treatment here.

It certainly will be difficult – though not impossible – for any one team to control the peloton on the rolling stages to Gualdo Tadino and Osimo, with particular vigilance required on the finale to the latter, which includes a climb through Filottrano in honour of the late Michele Scarponi.

Stage 12 sees the Giro return to the Imola race circuit where Ilnur Zakarin soloed to a rain-soaked victory in 2015, while the following day's flat, fast run to Nervesa della Battaglia should provide the sprinters with their last obvious opportunity before the grand finale in Rome. Rather helpfully for those inclined to forgo the delights of the high mountains, Venice airport is a stone's throw from the finish line.

In keeping with tradition, the third weekend of the Giro sees two grandstand mountain stages, starting with a summit finish atop the mighty Zoncolan, whose difficulty is only accentuated by the fact that it is preceded by the stiff ascents of the Passo Duran and Sella Valcalda. The Zoncolan's raw numbers speak for themselves – 10.1km at an average of 11.9 per cent – but such extreme gradients can sometimes place an upper limit on the time gained and lost among the favourites. On sustained pitches of 20 per cent, gaps tend to develop in inches rather than simply yawn open, but the Kaiser always makes for a compelling afternoon's racing.

The following day’s stage to Sappada is an evocative one, given that it is the Giro's first visit to the town since Stephen Roche dramatically wrested the pink jersey from his Carrera teammate Roberto Visentini in 1987, and though the famous descent of the Monte Rest is not on the agenda, the sinuous route by way the Passo Tre Croci, Passo di Sant’Antonio and Costalissoio has all the appearances of ambush country.

Alpine finale

Perhaps wisely, considering Dumoulin's dominance against the watch achieved a year ago, the organisers have reduced the overall time trialling mileage in this year's Giro and positioned the long time trial later in the race. The final week of the Giro begins with a 34.2km test from Trento to Rovereto that presents little by way of technical difficulty and should – in theory – provoke smaller gaps than last year's stage to Montefalco, where Dumoulin placed such a hefty deposit on final overall victory. The world time trial champion will be the obvious favourite here, particularly given his crushing defeat of Froome to win that crown in Bergen last September, but the third week of a Grand Tour is, of course, very different to a one-off event.

The Giro's by-now traditional wine-themed leg follows on stage 17, with a transitional outing through Franciacorta country to Iseo serving as an aperitivo to three hefty courses of mountains in the high Alps. The antipasto comes with a category 1 summit finish at Pratonevoso, which has featured just twice on the Giro route, with Pavel Tonkov (1996) and Stefano Garzelli (2000) claiming stage honours en route to final overall victory.

Stage 19 to Bardonecchia is perhaps the tappone, or queen stage, of the entire Giro, with four mountain passes across its 184km. First up is the relatively gentle Colle del Lys, followed by the rather more demanding Colle delle Finestre (18km at 9 per cent), the last nine kilometres of which are on gravel roads. At an altitude of 2,178 metres, it is the Cima Coppi, the highest point of the Giro, and on its last appearance in 2015, it almost cost Contador overall victory. The category 2 ascent to Sestriere is next on the agenda, before the short but viciously steep haul up the Jaffereau (7.5km at 9.1 per cent with stretches at 14 per cent) to the finish.

The penultimate stage to Cervinia is no easier, with three category 1 climbs in its 214km – the Col Tsecore, the St Pantaléon and the long haul to the finish. There is a remarkable 4,000 metres of total climbing on the stage, almost all of it crammed into the final 90 kilometres of the stage. Coming on the final weekend of a demanding Giro, it seems likely to be race of attrition. Three weeks of work could be undone in one interminable afternoon. The one consolation is that the finish of the Giro – a flat circuit race in Rome's historic centre – is (metaphorically) visible from the summit.

The contenders

The aforementioned Froome and Dumoulin are the favourites to carry the pink jersey to Rome, though both men have been relatively subdued thus far in 2018 – understandably, perhaps, given that they each plan to line out at the Tour in July. Dumoulin’s early season was blighted by mechanical problems, illness and crashes, but after a long block of altitude training in Sierra Nevada, he looked very sharp indeed at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Froome’s last Giro appearance came in 2010, when he was excluded from the race for taking a tow from a motorbike on the Mortirolo, and Sky’s record in the Giro – a race that seems to throw up more variables than the Tour – is underwhelming. It remains to be seen, too, how Froome handles the ruminations over his salbutamol case, though he has won four Tours in a usually pressurised environment.

Pinot was happily flying at his preferred altitude – well under the radar – in early 2018, but victory at the Tour of the Alps confirmed the reports about the Frenchman’s fine condition. The weight of expectation at the Tour has never been to his liking, but the italophile Pinot enjoyed his experience at last year’s Giro, and he will set out from Israel with genuine and justified designs on final overall victory – just so long as his time trialling holds up on stage 16.

Aru’s relative travails in the first part of the season might be overstated given that the Sardinian has never recorded much by way of results ahead of the Giro, where he has twice finished on the podium. He is not to be underrated. Miguel Angel Lopez’s first tilt at the race is sure to provide excitement, and while time trialling and a tendency towards the occasional giornata no might limit his ambitions to a podium place, he is backed by an impressively strong Astana line-up.

Mitchelton-Scott’s tandem of Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves presents them with options in the high mountains, while Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) impressed in the Alps and the Ardennes last week. The progress of Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) will be worth tracking, as will the efforts of youngster Sam Oomen (Sunweb), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), Alexandre Geniez (AG2R La Mondiale) and Rohan Dennis (BMC).

The most notable sprinter in the field is Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), who will look to replicate teammate Fernando Gaviria’s four-stage haul of a year ago. Sacha Modolo (EF-Drapac), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Triestina) seem best placed to challenge him. Puncheurs like Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) also have the terrain on which to shine, provided team duties allow it. The Giro, as is its wont, has something for everyone.

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