The steep slopes of the Zoncolan to decide the Giro d'Italia podium
With Nairo Quintana (Movistar) strengthening his grip on the maglia rosa after winning the Cima Grappa time trial in the Giro d'Italia, Saturday's final mountain stage on the steep slopes of Monte Zoncolan will host final showdown for the fight for the other places on the podium alongside the Colombian.
As expected, the 26.8km time trial shook out the top ten of the general classification far more than any of the road race stages. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) did enough in the time trial to hold onto his second place but must be worried that talented young Italian Fabio Aru (Astana) will try to move past him on the climb to the finish at Monte Zoncolan, the last climb and the last decisive stage of this year's Giro d'Italia.
Uran is 3:07 down on his compatriot Quintana but Aru is now only 41 behind the Colombian. Aru may be scared of risking his third place to target second overall but has a comfortable margin to play with. His impressive time trial has left him 1:38 ahead of Pierre Rolland (Europcar), with Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) a further 50 seconds back. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) slumped to sixth, 3:11 behind Uran after being hit by stomach problems.
Aru seems on fire and has the strength and motivation to go on the attack. The Zoncolan could be perfect for him to put Uran on the ropes and take back time. It is considered one of the hardest climbs in Europe and comes after the riders have climbed the steep Passo del Pura (11.3km at 7.7%) and the easier but longer Sella Razzo (15.9km at 5.2%) during the 167km stage.
This year the riders climb from Ovaro, rather than the easier Priola or Sutrio sides, marking the fifth time the Zoncolan has been conquered by the Giro d'Italia riders. Gilberto Simoni was the first ever winner in 2003 and won again in 2007, while Ivan Basso also went on to win the Giro d'Italia when he won in front of the huge crowds in 2010. Igor Antón was the last winner in 2011.
The climb to the finish line is 'only' 10.1km long but has a double-digit average of 11.9%. If that wasn't bad enough, the middle section, from eight to four kilometres to go, has an average of 15.3% and two corners at 20%.
Riders are forced to use extra low gears, testing the capacity of their racing components by using 3 or 34 front chain rings, with 28 or even 30 rear sprockets.
The gradient makes it difficult to attack but the strongest can carve out a gap thanks to their power and a better strength to weight ratio.
Aru could go on the attack to move past Uran and take second overall, while the other riders will be fighting to defend or move up themselves in the top ten.
Second and third overall score 130 and 100 UCI WorldTour points which are vital for 2015 WorldTour teams. Fourth is worth 90 points with each lower placing down to seventh worth ten points less.
Every second and every pedal stroke on the last climb of the Giro d'Italia is important.