Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step) has warned that the finish of stage 2 in Fucecchio on Sunday could well prove to be a tougher finale than some might expect. In fact, the Italian the has predicted it may well leave some fast-men trailing and out of touch on what will nevertheless likely be the first bunch sprint of this 2019 Giro d'Italia.
Quite apart from the weather – set to be very wet and rainy – Viviani said the incursion into hilly terrain in the last hour of racing, prior to a flatter finish, could cause problems for the out-and-out sprinters.
"There could well be a bunch sprint, but we'll have to work for it," Vivivani warned in La Gazzetta dello Sport earlier this week.
The Italian road race champion was so concerned about the possible challenges of stage 2 that he revealed that he'd done a reconnaissance of the route – which is something fairly unusual for 'flat' days of a Grand Tour.
The stage 2 finale features two classified climbs, with the 6.2km category 3 Montalbino-il Castra after 157km – averaging 6.8 per cent, with a mid-section ramp of 13 per cent – and the category 4 San Baronto, which is tackled immediately after the descent of the Montalbino, 178km into the stage and 27 kilometres from the finish in Fucecchio.
Mitchelton-Scott's manager Matt White has already pointed out the technical, fast nature of both descents off both of the climbs to Cyclingnews. There's then a hefty chunk of unclassified uphill terrain through the Apennines in the first 50 kilometres of the stage to contend with, as well as a shorter, unclassified ascent with 14 kilometres to go preceding a flat run-in to the finish of around 10 kilometres.
If that didn't make the finish to stage two sound tricky enough, there's also an intermediate time bonus of three, two and one seconds at Empoli after 146km, just before the hills start, which could already shake up the peloton as riders jostle for position.
"The Castra climb is a really tough one," Viviani told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Particularly the first part. It's a 14-15-minute effort. The San Boronto climb is a bit less tough, and then it's long, wide roads into Fucecchio."
There are also some narrow streets with around four kilometres to go, as well as some technical corners, with the last, much broader turn sweeping left and coming about 1,000 metres from the line before a long, flat, finishing straight.
Riders who know the route well include Viviani, of course, and his lead-out man, and local, Fabio Sabatini. More unpredictably, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) lived in the same area for 10 years as an amateur, in the nearby town of Mastromarco, so the GC contender also knows the area well.
Given the climbs, riders like Viviani, who won the opening sprint at the Vuelta a Espana last year on similarly hilly terrain, could be at an advantage, as could German fast-man Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), who recently won the hilly Eschborn-Frankfurt, and Israel Cycling Academy's Davide Cimolai, who was fourth at the same race.
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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