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Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com (FILE)

Giro d’Italia, Stage 2: Potential gear choices for the puncheur

On a route boasting climbs of varying length and pitch, and a likely sprint finish, you can expect to see an array of gear in the peloton for the Giro's first road stage.

Bye bye Bologna. The Giro heads south through Tuscany on a generally rolling course. But before the terrain evens out, riders face an early climb over the Apennines. Fortunately, they will also enjoy a long descent to Prato.

Purebred climbers will be on their all-around bikes, but the puncheurs and sprinters may opt for an aero bike today. After the big climb, there are several short, steep climbs, followed by a mostly flat final 20 kilometers. A bunch sprint seems likely.

What you’ll see on TV:

Riders planting their hopes on a bunch sprint will be thinking aero. Expect the superbikes to make an appearance here: Specialized’s Venge, Cannondale’s SystemSix, Cervelo’s S5, Trek’s Madone, and other slippery bikes are likely to see action.

What makes these bikes the right tool for the job? For the breakaway ilk, aero tube shapes help reduce drag, which will come in handy for riders who are out on their own with no draft to take advantage of. Such aero frames will be mated to deep section wheels — generally in the range of 40mm to 60mm deep — and 25mm or 28mm tires.

Aero handlebars and internal cable routing top off the aero touches. These bikes are made to go fast on the flats, and they offer more advantages than a climbing bike would, right up until the road starts to pitch upward for long periods of time — which it won’t, today.

Aside from aerodynamics, a sprinter’s handlebars focus on lateral stiffness. If you watch a sprinter like Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), you’ll quickly notice his far-forward and low sprinting position. This position, while difficult to control, reduces his frontal area to make him more aerodynamic. His handlebar is designed to accommodate this position while adding lateral strength to ensure Ewan can power side to side during the final meters of the stage. Look for a long, low stem like Peter Sagan’s notoriously long, bulky Zipp stem (though Sagan won’t be at the Giro).

You’re also likely to see plenty of disc-brake-equipped bikes during stage 2. Sprinters especially have embraced disc brakes, and in some cases, entire teams have opted to equip the entire stable of bikes with disc brakes. (Trek-Segafredo has done exactly this in the past.) Given that the forecast calls for rain, disc brakes are a wise choice.

Those same sprinters will dress for the occasion with aero road helmets. These lids feature less venting than your typical road helmet, but they also offer more of an aerodynamic advantage. Like a TT helmet, the shape of an aero road helmet helps attach air flow to the helmet longer, which should reduce the size of drag-inducing eddies of air behind the helmet.

Specialized Evade II

Of course, the GC contenders will probably opt to take their climbing bikes out of the stable. The short climbs afford the opportunity to shake out the legs and test out any new gear. This is a good time to spy new wheels, shoes, and helmets.

What you won’t see on TV:

Since sprinters can put an incredible amount of stress on the front end of a bicycle, it’s not unusual for manufacturers to add reinforcement to the frame. The head tube, top tube, and down tube junction in particular might be reinforced with additional layers of carbon, or a different carbon layup. Sure, this could add weight, but given the circumstances, the added strength outweighs the grams added.

Sprint shifters usually live in the drops so riders can shift gears without changing hand position. These diminutive buttons often hide beneath the bar tape. They’re a boon for sprinters who need to shift without sacrificing stability, and breakaway riders who have settled into a low aero position to tackle the draftless hours.

Of course, it’s not all about the sprint. Riders still need to get over some serious climbs before the final flat kilometers, and you never know who might end up in that mix. The winner of the stage might not be riding an aero bike at all. And that’s the point of a stage like this: the uncertainty, the possibility, and the strategy.

Picking the right equipment is only part of the equation. This is perhaps why we’re seeing more category blending; one look at the differences between the Specialized S-Works Venge and the S-Works Tarmac will leave you with the sense that you’re looking at nearly the same bike. And both bikes would be a good choice for Stage 2. It all comes down to a rider’s skillset, combined with gear choice…and a bit of luck.