Stage 20: Alba to Sestiere
Date: October 24, 2020
Stage start: 10:25am CEST
Stage type: Mountain
Is this the third “queen stage”? The fourth? It’s certainly as epic as the day over the Stelvio and up to Laghi di Carcano, although not quite as substantial in terms of vertical gain. Stage 20 clocks just a little over 5,000 metres as it crosses three legendary passes and then climbs to the mythical finish at Sestriere, which first appeared on the Giro route in 1914 on a 468km stage between Milan and Cuneo.
Starting in Alba, to the south of Turin, the riders initially head west to Brossasco, site of the first intermediate sprint, and Casteldelfino, the start of the Colle dell’Agnello, by far the longest of the day’s climbs. It extends to 21.3 kilometres, averaging 6.8 per cent as it rises to 2,744 metres, just 14 metres fewer than the Stelvio. In short, it’s immense. Comparatively easy to begin with, the second half, most of which is above 2,000 metres, averages 9.3 per cent, so anyone struggling today could be found out very early indeed.
The 20km descent is not too technical, but very fast in parts. It was here that Steven Kruijswijk crashed into a snow bank when trying to keep pace with Vincenzo Nibali, the incident costing the Dutch rider the leader’s jersey. No sooner do the riders reach Château Queyras at the bottom than they’re climbing again, this time on the classic side of the Col d’Izoard that passes through the stunning scree fields and rock formations of the Casse Déserte towards the summit, which comes after 14.2km at 7.1 per cent gradient.
Once again the descent is fast, running into Briançon, where the route turns from France back towards Italy via the second-category Montgenèvre pass (8.4km, 6 per cent), which is very even in the gradient as it rises to the border. The descent away from this crest into Cesena Torinese is comparatively short, and leads straight into the day’s final climb to Sestriere.
Like many other roads that access ski stations, its gradient is steady and relatively benign, averaging 5.9 per cent. But the concluding 11.4km could still take a heavy toll with 44 kilometres of climbing already completed. When the Giro last finished here on the penultimate day in 2015, stage winner Fabio Aru gained almost two and a half minutes on leader Alberto Contador. A similar result today could lead to a very significant shift in the standings before tomorrow’s race-ending time trial.
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