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Thunderstorms add extra twist to mountainous Giro d'Italia third week - Preview

A wet day in the mountains on Stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia in 2021
A wet day in the mountains on Stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia in 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Giro d’Italia heads into the high mountains in the third and final week of the race, with thunderstorms and a dramatic change in weather expected to add an extra test to the battle for the maglia rosa.

Flashes of lightning could already be seen in the mountains north of Lake Garda on Monday night. The oppressive heat created by the ‘Hannibal’ anticyclone over southern Europe has so-far stopped the cold and rain from crossing the Alps but the Giro d’Italia will head north to Aprica on Tuesday, meeting its destiny out on the road and in the mountains during the third week of the race.

The riders have enjoyed 15 Giro d'Italia stages without rain, conditions more like the Tour de France in July or even the Vuelta a Espana in August. However they will pay for their days in the sun in the Alps, with rain and a significant drop in temperatures expected.

Saturday’s stage around Turin was raced at a blistering pace under scorching temperatures of 34°C (over 100°F). It was cooler in Cogne on Sunday but riders opted for ice-creams and ice-baths on the rest day as they tried to recover for the final mountain stages and the GC battle.

Once the Hannibal anticyclone cracks and the rain starts, it is likely to fall on the race for much of the week. The Verona time trial is due to be contested under warm sunny skies and temperatures of 23°C (73°F) but the riders will perhaps have to battle through thunderstorms and rain showers in some stages to get there, meaning there is a potential for wet descents and extra challenges.

The overall winner of the 2022 Corsa Rosa could be the best bike handler, the biggest risk taker or the best at carefully calibrating the risks and their efforts.

In week two the peloton crossed from Jesi on the central Adriatic coast to Genoa on the Tyrrhenian coast and then climbed the steep hills overlooking Turin and into the Alps of the Val d’Aosta. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) dethroned  Juan Pedro López (Trek Segafredo) to take the maglia rosa after the attacks near Turin, but the battle for final victory in Verona could go any way.

The 2019 winner leads 2020 runner-up Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) by just seven seconds. João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) rounds out the provisional podium 30 seconds back, with Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) at 59 seconds. Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) is fifth at 1:01, with fellow Italian Highlander Nibali eighth at 2:58. The overall classification has not been so close before stage 16 since back in 1981.

Logic says Carapaz and Ineos Grenadiers will prevail yet again but the limited amount of time trial kilometres in this year’s race – less than 27 in total – have reduced the time differences, leaving this year’s Giro on a knife-edge, with even Nibali a threat as the tifosi inspire him to greatness in his final ever Giro d’Italia. There is so much to look forward to in the last six days of racing.    

Four mountain stages in just five days pack the third and final week. The first two come straight after the rest day and are followed by a flat stage to Treviso on Thursday, offering an interlude before the uphill finish in Castelmonte on Friday and the final mountain finish atop the mighty Marmolada on Saturday.

Most Grand Tours wind down for a parade stage but this year’s Giro d’Italia will be a battle right to the final line outside the Roman Arena. Like in Milan in 2020, when Tao Geoghegan Hart took the maglia rosa when it mattered most, the final time trial could offer someone a chance to snatch victory and every second gained or lost in the mountains could make a difference in crowning the overall winner for 2022 late on Sunday.

MILANO ITALY OCTOBER 25 Jai Hindley of Australia and Team Sunweb Pink Leader Jersey Disappointment during the 103rd Giro dItalia 2020 Stage 21 a 157km Individual time trial from Cernusco sul Naviglio to Milano ITT girodiitalia Giro on October 25 2020 in Milano Italy Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

The final time trial in 2020, Jai Hindley's first and last day in pink as Tao Geoghegan Hart used the race against the clock to secure the overall (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The final week in the mountains begins with what is arguably the queen stage from Salò on the edge of Lake Garda, up to Aprica via the 19.9km Goletto di Cadino, the easier side of the Mortirolo. Then it is a white-knuckle descent down the steep side, with the Valico di Santa Cristina topping out just six kilometres from the finish in Aprica. The 202km stage includes 5,250m of climbing, therefore heaps of pain and potential for time gaps.

Marco Pantani emerged for the first time in his career back in 1994 over the Santa Cristina, when he cracked Evgeni Berzin and Miguel Indurain for a second consecutive day and almost snatched overall victory. The Valico di Santa Cristina has been designated the ‘Montagna Pantani’ but that is a very different story, discussed by Barry Ryan in a separate feature.

The risk of thunderstorms and all the climbing could shake-up the Giro d’Italia in just one day. But on Wednesday the riders face stage 17 from Ponte di Legno to Lavarone. The stage profile shows a long descent from the Alps to Trento but the final 47km include the Passo del Vetriolo and then the Monterovere climb to the finish.

The Vetriolo is 12km long and climbs at 7 percent. The Monterovere is locally known as the Menador and is 10km long at a much harder 9.9%. The final two kilometres are at 11.2%.

Stage 18 is a flat 156km from Borgo Valsugana to Treviso but the climbs return on Friday and Saturday. The 178km 19th stage in the little-known Friuli region, with a dip into Slovenia, seems easier on paper but the twisting Kolovrat climb after 125km has a five-kilometre sector at 10.4% and then another at 9.2%. The ascent to the finish is 7.1km long at 7.8% making the stage far more than a hilly day out.

Of course the ‘Gran Finale’ comes on Saturday’s 20th stage between Belluno and the Marmolada. The 168km stage includes the 18.5km Passo San Pellegrino and the Passo Pordoi, which takes the riders up to 2,239 metres in the stunning Dolomites and, as the highest mountain of the race, that is where the Cima Coppi prize will be awarded. The last 14km of the race then runs up the Passo Fedaia to the finish near the artificial lake at the foot of the Marmolada glacier.

It will be a race to win the stage and a battle to gain time on the better time triallists before Sunday 17.4km loop around Verona. Yet there’s no time to make calculations as the 2022 Giro d’Italia will be a battle to the very end.

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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.