After a first week of skirmishes, crashes and surprises, the Giro d'Italia heads into the mountains today for the first real showdown between the overall contenders.
The Alps and Dolomites come later in this year's race. First up are the far lesser known but potentially just as testing, Carnic and Julian Alps in the very north of the Friuli region close to Austria, with a stage to Altopiano del Montasio today and then stage 11 from Tarvisio to Vajont on Wednesday.
The Friuli region is home to the Zoncolan and the Crostis - the climb that the riders and teams refused to tackle in 2011 due to the dangers of the narrow twisting descent.
The Zoncolan is considered one of the toughest climbs in Europe but charismatic local organiser Enzo Cainero is saving a finish there for 2014. However the climb up to the Altopiano del Montasio is almost as tough, while the descent of the earlier Passo Cason di Lanza is apparently as testing as that of the Crostis.
Fortunately for Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and any other riders doubtful about their descending ability, the weather forecast promises dry roads and the sun was out for the start in Cordenons. However coming after the rest day, the first mountain finish always provides a surprise.
The stage is only 167km long but include the 1,555m high Passo Cason di Lanza, the long, twisting and often technical descent and then the 10km climb up the finish, all packed into the last 50km.
The climb up to the Altopiano del Montasio begins in the village of Pian della Sega. The road has been resurfaced but climbs constantly at 7.8% for 6.5km riding up through the Val Raccolana.
Things get nasty at Sella Nevea after a series of tight hairpins. The gradient kicks up to an average of 12% for two kilometres with one section at 20%.
Fortunately the gradient eases back to 6% in the final two kilometres but that will only help the strongest riders pen the gaps on the struggles. Time bonuses of 20, 12, and 8 seconds will also spark late attacks and accelerations, meaning that this finish could see yet more major changes in the overall classification.
Stage 10 profile
Fight for pink
In the battle for the maglia rosa, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) holds a 29 second lead over Cadel Evans (BMC), with Robert Gesink in third at 1:15 and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) a further second in arrears.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre), who won the Giro in 2011, is at 1:24 with a clutch of climbers following on his coattails.
It should make for another tense and engrossing stage with no quarter given on the final climb as the pure climbers seek to push home their advantage against Wiggins.
Sky has promised they’ll go on the offensive though and with Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao in form, the likes of Nibali and Evans will be tested both physically and mentally as they pick out the correct dangers.
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