The Giro d'Italia reached the mid-way point with the stages in the Veneto region to Asolo and Bibione, but a whole different race will begin on Friday when the Corsa Rosa heads into the little-known Giulie - or Julian Alps - for stage 13 to Cividale del Friuli, followed by the Dolomites and then the intense 10.8km mountain time trial from Castelrotto to Alpe di Siusi.
Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) will try to defend his pink jersey, push himself to new limits, and reveal his true potential as a future Grand Tour rider on Friday, during the 170km of racing and over the four categorised climbs. At the same time we will finally see a major face-off between Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde and their respective Astana and Movistar super teams and teammates, including Jakob Fuglsang and Andrey Amador – who is in line to inherit the pink jersey if Jungels struggles.
Grand Tours are fascinating for their multifaceted storylines and the stage from the stunning Palmanova fortress to Cividale del Friuli will also reveal how strong and competitive Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) really are.
"Up to now, the reality is that there are seven or eight riders in the same condition and it's all very even," Movistar manager Eusebio Unzue told Cyclingnews, echoing the thoughts of everyone at the race.
"There isn't a big difference between them. I think it's very even and it's very interesting. This weekend might start to show us who is really prepared, who is a real contender, then the big days that follow in Risoul and Vinadio are where the Giro will be decided. It's very exciting. Chaves, Nibali, Fuglsang, Majka, Uran, Zakarin and so on are all there. They are men capable of everything. And when you've got young riders in the mix, that are still developing and can improve a lot from one year to the next, lots of things can happen. We'll have to be mindful of that. One of them could be the big surprise - the Landa of this year."
Steep climbs and twisting descents
None of the four climbs on the Friuli stage are over a thousand metres but it has been given four stars by the official race book, indicating its true difficulty.
It has two tough climbs mid-stage – Montemaggiore (8.3km at 9.3 per cent) and then the Crai (8.8km at 6.4 per cent with 3km at over 10 per cent) – followed by 30km of flat road before two final climbs and a nerve-racking descent to the finish – on twisting country roads – that ends just eight kilometres from the finish.
Both late climbs are all over 8 per cent, with the Cima Porzus at 8.9 per cent for virtually all of its 6.7 kilometres. The Valle climb is a kilometre shorter but almost as equally steep and so will no doubt spark some kind of natural selection amongst the overall contenders.
Team Sky directeur sportif Dario Cioni will be somewhat a spectator during the fight for the pink jersey in the mountains after Mikel Landa quit the Giro d'Italia on stage 10 due to a stomach virus. He is hoping the British team can bounce back and perhaps target a stage victory with one of its climbers but knows it will be a hard day of racing and one that could shake up the race, despite its lack of big-name, high altitude climbs.
"We studied the stage after the Giro del Trentino. It's a really tough one and could cause some problems and some surprises, we'll really see who is a real contender for overall victory on Friday," Cioni predicted.
"It's got a figure of eight shape, which is unusual and all the climbs and descents are on narrow twisting roads. The final descent is pretty close to the finish and so could also play a big factor. It's a really tough way to kick off the mountain stages of this year's Giro but should produce some great racing."
|Rider Name (Country) Team
|Bob Jungels (Lux) Etixx - Quick-Step
|Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team
|Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
|Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
|Row 3 - Cell 2
|Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team
|Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team
|Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Team Katusha
|Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-GreenEdge
|Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step
|Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - Merida
|Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale Pro Cycling
|Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team
|Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Trek-Segafredo
|Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
|Stefano Pirazzi (Ita) Bardiani CSF
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