Giro d’Italia stage 5 preview: Contador, Aru and Porte set for battle on first summit finish to Abetone

To say Abetone is linked to some of the biggest names in cycling and the Giro d'Italia is no understatement. On Wednesday, stage 5 of this year's Italian Grand Tour will embark on its first summit finish on the history-laden ascent and it could well be where the top contenders come to the fore.

Seventy five years ago, on May 29, 1940, Abetone was where Fausto Coppi began forging his first-ever Giro d’Italia victory with a defeat of longstanding rival Gino Bartali. Eddy Merckx, too, has taken a triumph in the 1969 Giro at Montecatini Terme after leading the race across the climb.

Although classified second category, Abetone is a punishingly long ascent - 17 kilometres. And coming after two very hard fought stages through the mountains of Liguria, a steady ascent like Abetone could well reveal any vulnerabilities amongst the top contenders.

“It’s not the hardest climb, but it’s the first summit finish of the race and that always lends it a bit more interest,” Sky’s sports director Dario Cioni tells Cyclingnews.

“People are nervous because they don’t know where they are compared to their rivals condition.”

Cioni says he is not expecting an all out war between the favourites, “unless” - and this becomes more relevant after Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-QuickStep) and some other contenders did not have a good day on stage 4 - “somebody is struggling.”

Coming at the end of a 152-kilometre stage, which starts on the Italian coast in the port of La Spezia where stage 4 finished and which climbs to 1,386 metres above sea level, Abetone is 17.3 kilometres long. But after heading inland through rolling terrain for the first two thirds of the stage, the Giro route will in fact start rising, albeit unevenly, towards its first summit finish from kilometre 110 onwards at the town of Fornoli, when the road is just 109 metres above sea level. In other words, in the final 42 kilometres of stage 5 the peloton face over 1,200 metres of vertical climbing.

With an early segment averaging at just 2.8 per cent, the Abetone’s middle 10 kilometres, with an average of 7.2 per cent are the hardest, before the gradient eases out again to 4.7 per cent as it approaches the summit. That said, one short ramp just after two kilometres to go of nine per cent could well act as a launch pad for the final attacks.

Although the weather is forecast to stay dry, on such a long ascent, the wind can play a major factor in whittling down riders’ endurance, but it is most likely in the early part of the Abetone where its effect would be most felt.

“The climb starts in a valley, so there’ll likely be a tailwind that makes it fast or a headwind which will make it more tactical,” Cioni predicts. “Towards the end, it’s in a wood, so it’s more sheltered and the wind won’t affect things so much.”

When the Giro d’Italia last tackled the climb in 2000, with a win for retired rider Francesco Casagrande, it was on a different, harder, road up the ascent. But as Casagrande told local paper La Stampa last week, he is sure that “this is where the real action starts. It’ll be fun to watch.”

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.