Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) knows that it will be difficult to topple Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) in the final mountain stages of the Giro d’Italia but he remains hopeful that he can do it. Valverde currently sitting in third place in the in the overall standings at 3:23 has just two more chances to overhaul the gap to Kruijswijk.
After enjoying a good start to the Giro d’Italia, Valverde was quickly becoming an overwhelming favourite for the title but his capitulation on the road to Corvara on stage 14 dealt his ambitions a near-fatal blow as he slipped outside the top three. Since winning stage 16 following the rest day, Valverde’s confidence has picked up and sees a small glimmer of hope, although he will have Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) to consider.
“Anything can happen today, and the day after too. They are two really hard days” Valverde said.
Friday’s stage brings the riders from Pinerolo, into France to the summit finish in Risoul. The peloton will also have to tackle this year’s Cima Coppi, the Colle dell’Agnello, a climb that peaks out at over 2,700 metres. The final mountain stage from Guillestre to Sant’Anna di Vinadio has a sawblade-like profile with three first category climbs and a third category ascent to the finish.
“Tomorrow's stage is a key one and we must try to keep the front, not to lose anything against the podium rivals and gain something, if it's possible. Just like Saturday, it will be a decisive stage, though I think Saturday's will be the hardest as the wear and tear from Friday will play a massive impact. It will be difficult to get to pink jersey, but that's been our task from the very start of this Giro.”
Valverde has already made several attempts at cracking Kruijswijk but the Dutchman has so far withstood the Spaniard’s advances. Kruijswijk went into the Giro d’Italia as an outsider in the general classification but has looked comfortable since taking up the role of race leader, despite often being left isolated on the climbs. Valverde has been impressed with both Kruijswijk and his team.
"Lotto-Jumbo has a superb team for the flat, and they protected Kruijswijk well on the Pramartino climb,” said Valverde. “We knew there weren't going to be many gaps today [Thursday] either. Kruijswijk again proved he is really strong, as did Chaves, Nibali and myself. There might be some changes between the first five overall, but I don't think there will be much.
“I don't feel the Giro is over, though; anything could happen in this final weekend. [The] legs felt quite good today and I hope they continue this way for the remainder of the race."