After two relatively flat stages, the Giro d'Italia moves back into the mountains for stage 8 with a day that is likely to test the strength of race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) just at a point where he is already suffering with his shoulder injury.
Running through the Abruzzo mountains, Saturday's 186-kilometre stage from Fiuggi to the race's second summit finish in four days at Campitello Matese features two classified climbs, a second category Forca d'Acerto, and the final ascent, classified first category.
Neither climb is - on paper - excessively difficult, rather the key challenge is that they are both extremely long. Coming mid-way through the stage, the Forca d'Acero extends for approximately 30 kilometres, albeit with an average gradient of just four per cent. Campitello Matese is much shorter - just 16 kilometres, but has an average gradient of almost double that, at seven per cent.
Last visited by the Giro d'Italia in 2002, the Campitello Matese begins with a false flat on a broad well-surfaced road as it slowly hauls itself out of a shallow, wide valley. From 13 kilometres to go, however, the route steepens notably to a steady seven per cent grind, moving through a series of treelined switchbacks on its middle section to bring the peloton - or what is left of it - to more than 1,100 metres above sea level.
The hardest 'ramp' of the entire climb, a stretch of about 100 metres at 12 per cent, then follows, about five kilometres from the finish just before the road enters a slightly straighter section. Although the team buses will be parked on the side of the road at this point, the riders still have more climbing to tackle before they can turn round and head towards a well-earned rest in their team vehicles: another steepish section of eight per cent in the closing kilometres awaits before a final slight descent brings the race to the finish.
Overall, albeit a little shorter than the first summit finish of the 2015 Giro d'Italia at Abetone on stage 5, Campitello Matese represents a much more difficult challenge. Although on better surfaced roads, it is steeper throughout and lacks any downhill sections at all, which would give riders some kind of respite.
Following his stage 6 injury and a draining day's racing on Friday's stage 7, Contador says his plans might have been to attack on stage 8, he will now have to race more conservatively - particularly with another mountain stage, albeit slightly easier, on the Sunday.
"Tomorrow [Saturday] is going to be a complicated day for me," Contador said. "What was a day that could have been a good opportunity for me to attack is now one where I will have be more cautious and take things more gently."
Last visited in 2002, with a victory for double Giro d'Italia champion Gilberto Simoni, in 1994 Campitello Matese represented a key step forward towards final success for the outright winner, Russian's Evgeni Berzin. As top riders like Claudio Chiappucci lost time, Berzin not only won the stage after attacking from the pack nine kilometres from the line but took the race lead. The Russian held the maglia rosa all the way to the finish, fending off no less a star than Miguel Indurain, the winner in 1992 and 1993, for more than two weeks.
Campitello Matese was also where another top Spaniard, Pedro Delgado lost any chance of taking the overall lead of the Giro d'Italia when the climb was used in stage 6 in 1988.
How Alberto Contador fares on Saturday though, remains to be seen.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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