Giro d'Italia

GC favorites anxious before Giro’s difficult 55km time trial

The 54.8km race against the clock is undulating, with a finishing ramp of over 13 percent gradient

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Margherita di Savoia, Italy (VN) — The top GC contenders of the Giro d’Italia are anticipating a difficult and decisive day in the saddle on Saturday, the race’s first individual time trial, a hilly 54.8km trek from Gabice Mara to Saltara.

It’s a stage bound to create time gaps in the general classification and produce a new race leader.

The Giro’s official race book — affectionately know as the “Garibaldi,” in homage to the Italian national hero — outlines the first 24km of the TT course as “climb, false flat and descent, continuous left and right bends with no straight sections worthy of note.”

“After about 12 straight and mostly flat kilometers the final climb begins. The final 3km after Calcinelli (time check) are very slightly uphill. The final 400m are steep (gradients of around 13% for the final tens of meters). The finish line is on a 200m straight.”

All eyes will look toward Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins, the Olympic TT champion and winner of both of the Tour’s time trials last July. Wiggins led Sky to a team time trial victory last weekend on the island of Ischia, and is heavily favored for the stage win.

Heading into Friday’s stage 7, Wiggins sat sixth overall, 34 seconds down on race leader Luca Paolini of Katusha. In the virtual GC of pre-race favorites, Wiggins sits three seconds behind Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), is tied with defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), and is eight seconds ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).

Given the compact nature of the GC, assuming there are not major GC changes on Friday’s hilly stage 7, it’s likely the winner of the TT will also take over the maglia rosa. Many are imagining that will be Wiggins, which would present a similar scenario to last year’s Tour, when Wiggins took the yellow jersey on stage 7, cemented his lead in the stage 9 time trial, and held it for two weeks, all the way to Paris. It must be said, however, that Wiggins’ form against the clock is a bit of an unknown; he hasn’t raced a proper TT since last summer’s London Olympics.

“Wiggins is the favorite for the time trial, for sure, he’s the best time trial rider here at the Giro,” Nibali said. “The idea is to lose as little as possible Saturday because we have to keep in contact for the mountains. The Giro is long, he can have his great days, but there may be days where he’s not so hot, and that’s where I’ll take advantage of him.”

Nibali continued: “I’m more of a climber than a time trial rider. I’m always trying to get better and better in the mountains, because with my weight, I have a chance there. I’m able to defend myself well. I’ve had good rides. I’m even able to win in one-day tests. I’ve trained for those mountains, but also for the time trials, trying not to miss out on any critical point. It’s normal, though, when you’re lightweight that it’s hard to go strong in the time trials. On the flats, Wiggins is heavier and he’s able to push bigger gears.”

The Sky leader told VeloNews that he previewed the time trial course a few weeks before the start of the Giro, and described it as “seriously tough.”

“I’ve ridden it once, a few weeks ago, and we drove over it on Saturday as well, of course,” Wiggins said. “It’s tough — seriously tough. I rode it on a time trial bike and it took me an hour and 50 minutes. It’s up and down, and long. I’d guess times like 1:15 or 1:20 for the winner. It’s a real solid course.”

Asked if there could be major time differences between the top riders, Wiggins said it was likely. “It’s one of those courses where you have to be good from the start to the finish. The last kilometer finishes at 16 percent.”

Like Wiggins, Hesjedal has made a trip to Gabice Mara, specifically to recon the TT route.

“It will be a tough test. It’s a very demanding TT after a long first week,” Hesjedal said. “The GC will become more clear after. For me, I am focused on the best ride I can do and will asses after that. There is still a lot of racing in this Giro beyond that point. It took me 1:45 to pre-ride going pretty good. It’s going to hurt.”

Evans, on the other hand, has not previewed Saturday’s course.

“From what I understand, it is a really hard time trial” Evans said. “Not only is it long, but there is really not much flat involved. It’s going to be pretty tough. It’s going to be long, at 55km, but also long in time because it’s not on particularly fast roads, and with the gradient, it’s not going to be a real fast time trial. I had a bit of a look at the maps and so on. [It’s] undulating and winding and then one or two quite steep climbs.”

Evans added that he didn’t necessarily view Wiggins as the favorite, due to the course’s profile.

“If you look at his time trials in the stage races he did last year, you would consider [Wiggins the favorite],” Evans said. “But it’s not a perfect time trial [route] for him. He is probably more suited to a flatter, faster time trial. But if he comes around with the form he had at Tour of Romandie last year, on a hilly time trial, of course he could make some big time gains. It’s a bit hard to judge.”

And even if Wiggins does take the race lead on Saturday, there’s no guarantee he will hold it for two weeks, all the way to Breschia, as he did at the Tour last year.

This Giro offers several significant climbs, including the 149km 15th stage from Cesana Torinese to Col du Galibier that has two monster ascents — Mont Cenis and the Télégraphe —packed into the stage before hitting the giant of the Alps at Galibier. The 203km 20th stage from Silandro to the Tre Cime in the Dolomites features five major climbs, with the Tre Cime summit hitting 12 percent over the final three kilometers. This stage is so hard and so demanding that nothing will be secured until the pink jersey is across the line.

How much Saturday’s TT plays into the GC standings at that point won’t be known for another two weeks. But right now, it will factor in as the most important stage of the first week.