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Studying the Giro: Oropa opportunity?

The Giro d’Italia has been teasing us for nearly two weeks. First we watched fireworks fizzle on Mount Etna. Next, Blockhaus blew up the GC race, only to see a reshuffling two days later in the stage 10 time trial. Well fans, I’m afraid we have one more tease before the meaty final week of climbing. On Saturday, the peloton faces a short, 131-kilometer stage to the Oropa climb. Let’s study the history of the Giro’s next challenge.

Oropa by the numbers: 11.75km, averaging 6.2 percent, reaching a max gradient of 13 percent after about 6km. It climbs 733 meters to the Catholic sanctuary at the top.

Previous Giro stages: 1963, stage 11; 1993, stage 20; 1999, stage 15; 2007, stage 13; 2014, stage 14.

What history can teach us: To begin with, none of the five riders who won atop Oropa went on to overall victory in their respective Giri.

We can cross out a few editions of the race that aren’t very comparable to this year. Although 1963’s route was nearly the same distance as stage 14 in the 2017 Giro, that was 54 years ago. Sorry, Vito Taccone, I don’t think we’ll dig too deeply into your win that day. Although it’s worth mentioning that overall winner Franco Balmamion was third that day.

The 1993 trip up Oropa came at the very end of the race — eventual winner Miguel Indurain lost just 36 seconds, so it wasn’t a pivotal stage.

Marco Pantani won atop Oropa in 1999 while wearing the pink leader’s jersey, but that Giro was front-loaded with mountain stages. Five days later, Pantani was controversially kicked out of the race.

That leaves us with 2007 and 2014 — the former was an uphill time trial. But the 2014 Giro d’Italia’s race up Oropa is worth a closer look. The climb was on stage 14, like it is this year. It came after only two other notably selective stages: the eighth day to Montecopiolo, where Cadel Evans took the overall lead, and the stage 12 time trial, where Rigoberto Uran moved into the pink jersey. Up against Nairo Quintana, Uran proved to be the best in the time trial. Sounds a lot like what Tom Dumoulin did on Tuesday, right?

In 2014, Quintana and Uran stayed out of the fray in stage 14, finishing 15th and 22nd, respectively. Quintana took 25 seconds out of Uran’s lead. Bardiani’s Enrico Battaglin won the day. However, prior to Oropa, the peloton faced three other categorized climbs that day in 2014.

At the end of May, Quintana went home with his first grand tour win. He made a decisive move later on stage 16, which like this year’s stage 16 featured three major climbs — including the Stelvio.

But we aren’t here to talk about the Stelvio. The Oropa climb gave us a taste of what was to come. Quintana proved himself, but he didn’t blow the race apart.

What will we see this year? Unlike 2014, we shouldn’t see an opportunist like Battaglin win the day. With a flat approach to Oropa in 2017, a breakaway will have little chance. GC contenders will surely attack Dumoulin. Based on the Dutchman’s performance on Blockhaus in stage 9, he should be fine because Oropa is shorter and not as steep. On Blockhaus, Dumoulin showed he’s confident in his own pacing and will not be drawn out by attacks. The men behind him in the GC’s top 10 may change places, but it seems likely that Dumoulin will keep the maglia rosa.

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