giro d’italia stage 15 preview
As if it’s not been damp enough, an autumnal feel today with a course borrows, or rather copies the Tour of Lombardy, including the lively finish through Bergamo’s citadel… but there’s a good chance the sun’s out today.
Simplon-Varese Express: a transition stage, they say they don’t exist any more but after the race’s passage to Verbier and Crans Montana the Giro had to return to Italy in a day and so the Simplon pass was awaiting and transit they did. Only via a 2,000m pass in the rain and through the clouds. A maxi-breakaway of 30 riders formed by the start of the Simplon pass and with so many riders clear even the sprinters’ teams had irons in the fire in the front group. They built up a big lead over the pass in the pouring rain and with low single-digit temperatures. Once down on the plains the riders tried to warm up and the attacks started to go. A quartet of Laurenz Rex, Toms Skujiņš, Davide Ballerini and Stefano Oldani looked like they were going to sprint for the stage win but Rex was dropped in the finale and the trio’s lead began to shrink. Caught by the chasers, Alberto Bettiol came surging past but his jump proved to be a leadout for Nico Denz who sprinted for the line and sat up to celebrate as a surging Derek Gee almost pipped him on the line.
Among the others in the breakaway was Bruno Armirail who’d been on the attack with Pinot the previous day and was fifth in the Cesena TT stage and rode into the maglia rosa. Can he keep it? Certainly not to Rome of course but just starting today is a bonus. Armirail started out in mountain biking but found it expensive given the wear and tear on bikes and moved to the road and finished second at the French U23 TT champs aged 19 and still very much an amateur in a technical discipline. He joined the Armée de Terre cycling team, taking on the status of soldier, and has been a stalwart of Groupama-FDJ for several years, to the point of being furious after missing out on selection for the Tour de France last summer.
The Route: 195km, 3600m of vertical gain and a mini Giro di Lombardia with the climbs of Valcava, Selvino, Roncola before a finish in Bergamo, all familiar haunts for the end of season race.
The Valcava is the first climb and quickly lifts riders away from the plains and then gets steeper still towards the top. It’s a regular for locals and the Il Lombardia race alike and one characteristic of today’s course is you can look at the evenly spaced climbs and think that’s it, three regular climbs. But they twist and turn and the descents are irregular and narrow too.
The profile of the Selvino is very level but this doesn’t show the series of hairpin bends, you might remember Fausto Masnada and Tadej Pogačar duelling on this descent from the 2021 Lombardia but today it’s up. At the top there’s an extra climb that’s been added since the route was announced last year, the San Salvatore. Then it’s down into Bergamo and to cross the finish line with a 3-2-1 second time bonus before a loop back into the hills.
The road up to Roncola is the last major climb of the day and a tough one with a steep start after the Ponte Barlino and then a hard 8% slope for the rest of the way.
The Finish: almost the same Lombardia finish via Bergamo alta, the old hilltop part of the town. There’s the run uphill over the cobbles and then the same sweeping descent, only the final part is different with the finish on the main road and straight, there’s not the right turn with 250m to go. But it’s not unusual as it’s the same finish from 2017 won by Bob Jungels.
The Contenders: a good day for the breakaway but who goes up the road, will we see some big names in the mix? We’ll see if Ineos can spare Thymen Arensman or Laurens De Plus for a move today to make Jumbo-Visma react. Primož Roglič in person can always try, although it was on the roads of Lombardia that his 2019 Giro bid came unstuck. If the GC riders do fight for the win Geraint Thomas is a safe pick, a win here would show he’s in great shape. Today’s stage might tempt some of the GC riders to move, they’ll be fresher after yesterday and tomorrow is a rest day and the awkward climbs and tricky descents are good terrain to exploit… but the flat sections in between aren’t so easy, these suit Ineos trying to contain and constrain.
Past Lombardia winner Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is in form and can take some points for the mountains jersey today but winning in Bergamo is harder. Ben Healy (EF Education-Easypost) ought to be suited to this course but even more than Pinot he’ll be wary of a sprint and he’s been ill of late, team mate Magnus Cort can clean up in a sprint but can he get over the climbs? Italian champion Filippo Zana (Jayco-Al Ula) can make a name for himself if his team can spare him from shepherding Dunbar for the day. Bora-hansgrohe still have GC ambitions but are happy to send riders up the road stage hunting, so Patrick Konrad comes to mind. Otherwise it’s wide open to plenty of riders, Diego Ulissi (UAE) has eight stage wins to his name already but might lack the jump needed for the finish through Bergamo
Pinot, Konrad, Roglič, Arensman
Thomas, Healy, Zana, Cort, Van Wilder, Buitrago, McNulty
Weather: rain clearing and then 23°C and sunny… quite promising but the Giro might not be done with the rain for today, there’s a heightened chance of rain for the higher parts of the course.
TV: KM0 is at 11.55am and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST.