The final time trial stage at Tirreno-Adriatico is expected to crown Nairo Quintana as the final overall winner of the 2017 Race of the Two Seas after his dominant ride on the queen stage to Terminillo. However the battle for the other podium places alongside the Colombian will be a fight for every second, with a huge shake up of the top ten overall possible.
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Rohan Dennis (BMC), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac), Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Simon Spilak (Katusha) are all fighting for the final places in the top ten of the overall classification, precious UCI WorldTour ranking points as important as bragging rights just seven weeks from the start of the Giro d'Italia.
The out and back time trial on the San Benedetto seafront will be a real race of truth, with riders expected to cover the 10km course in around twelve minutes or faster.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) leads Pinot by 50 seconds, with Dennis third overall at 1:06. The next six riders are squeezed into a 31-second window, with their variety of time trial skills and form making it impossible to predict who will rise and who will fall in the top ten.
In 2015 Quintana lead the race by 39 seconds before the final time trial. He finished 51st and lost 55 seconds to stage winner Fabian Cancellara but did enough to win overall, 18 seconds ahead of Mollema, 31 seconds ahead of Uran and 35 seconds ahead of Pinot. Pinot pulled back 22 seconds on Quintana in the time trial and two years ago so is unlikely to do it this time.
Quintana tried to stay confidence after a quiet sixth stage in the peloton on Monday but he must be scared of a puncture or complex mechanical problem wrecking the hard work he and Movistar have done this week.
"I've got a few seconds and they're reassuring but it'll be an important stage for sure," Quintana said in his post-stage press conference.
Dennis hoping to close the gap on Pinot
Pinot will start the time trial at 3:56 pm local time, two minutes before Quintana. He will have to scrutinise clock as he finishes and check to see how Dennis performs two minutes ahead of him. The 26 year-old Australia has emerged as BMC leader this week, eclipsing Tejay van Garderen with a determined ride. He fought for every second on the Terminillo mountain finish to keep his overall hopes alive and also dug deep to ensure he finished with the lead group after the testing ‘Muri' stage to Fermo on Sunday.
Pinot gained six bonus seconds on Dennis thanks to finishing behind stage winner Peter Sagan in Fermo but Dennis is convinced he can make up the difference in Tuesday's time trial and move past the Frenchman and finish second overall.
Dennis' ability against the clock is world class. His experience of winning the opening time trial at the 2015 Tour de France and targeting the Hour Record on the track should play hugely in his favour. Second overall for the talented Australian would be an excellent result and also boost his confidence in view of the Giro d'Italia. If van Garderen's form remains an enigma, BMC could be tempted to give him a bigger leadership role at the Giro d'Italia. With so much on line at BMC, it will be equally as fascinating to see how van Garderen performs in the time trial.
"It's all down the time trial, to try to move up as much as possible. First is perhaps out of reach but I'm trying to move up from third to second for sure," Dennis said.
"There's a good chance I should have a good ride. I'm aiming for the best possible result. I'll first go for the stage win and then worry about hopefully moving up on the GC".
Pinot has improved in time trials in recent times and finished 19th in 2015. He was 33 slower than Cancellara and could lose a similar amount of time to Dennis. He risks losing his post on the final podium to Roglic, Dumoulin or even Thomas. It would be tragic for the passionate Frenchman but especially well deserved for Thomas. The Welshman kept his head during a difficult week for Team Sky on and off the bike. He lost 1:20 to Quintana after three strange front wheel failures hit Team Sky in the opening team time trial. He bounced back to win stage 2 and proved to be the strongest behind Quintana on the climb of Terminillo.
Roglic was the surprise winner of the Giro d'Italia time trial in 2016 and surprised again by winning the recent Volta ao Algarve ahead of Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky). He could surprise again if he can produce a similar performance on Tuesday afternoon.
Dumoulin's performances have been erratic this week but a podium spot is not beyond the tall Dutchman and would confirm that his power and aggression can be effective on Italian climbs and Italian roads.
For Mollema, Spilak and Castroviejo, the time trial will be about coming away from Tirreno-Adriatico with confidence for the Giro d'Italia.
The final time trial stage really will be the race of truth after a week of intense racing between the Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic.