Friday sees the riders crest the Cima Coppi – the highest peak in the race – before a first-category summit finish, while the penultimate stage on Saturday features a further three first-category climbs. However, the Spaniard warns that Tuesday – with two second-category ascents and a short final climb – and Thursday – with a solitary late second-category climb – could be decisive, too.
The main reason is that Valverde has checked out the climbs and reckons their difficulty has been understated by their classification in the race’s roadbook.
“There are two climbs [on stage 16] that are listed as second-category but I’ve seen them and I don’t know how they’re second-category,” he said on the third rest day in a Movistar video.
“For me they’re clearly first-category. The first one is nearly 16km at an average of almost seven per cent; that’s a true first-category climb. And the second one is 10km at an average of nearly eight per cent. Those second-category climbs are first-category, or more than that even.
“It’s going to be a really tough stage. It’s a short stage but it comes after a rest day, and prior to that we had three really demanding stages."
Giro d'Italia stage 16 profile
The classification of the sole climb on Thursday’s stage 18 was also described as “nonsense” by Valverde, though he was under the impression it was listed as fourth-categeory when it is in fact second.
“I don’t know how they’ve put that one as fourth-category either. Four kilometres at almost 11 per cent; that’s not fourth-category anywhere – not in Italy, not in Spain, not in France. It’s nonsense," he said.
“After such a hard Giro, at 240km long that stage could really make a difference. We’re not going to see huge gaps but we could see some important seconds won and lost, because over four kilometres at that gradient, you can lose 30 or 40 seconds – even a minute.”
As for the two concluding stages before the procession to Turin, Valverde describes Saturday as an “etapón”, using the augmentive Spanish suffix to emphasise the difficulty and importance of the stage (etapa), while on Friday he said he might attack on the Colle dell’Agnello rather than waiting for the final climb.
After struggling with the altitude of Saturday’s expedition through the Dolomites, Valverde rescued his Giro d’Italia 24 hours later with a strong third place in the uphill time trial and heads into the final week with renewed confidence.
“Those who know me well know I never give in. I recover quickly from setbacks, like I showed in the time trial," he said. "We’re still up there in the fight. At the moment we’re really close to the podium, and also closing in on a stage win.”
Valverde on his rivals
Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNLJumbo), race leader
"From what we’ve seen so far in this race, which is a lot, he is the strongest."
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
"The one with the most fire in his belly, the most willing to attack."
Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge)
“I think he’s very strong, but it seems to me that he’s happy with the position he has."
Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)
"He may attack but, again, I see him trying to maintain his position."
Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha)
"You can’t let him go at any point. He’s a rider like Nibali – attacking, doesn’t fear anything, and he can surprise you at any point."