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CHERASCO, Italy (VN) — The pink jersey hangs in the balance this weekend for a pair of decisive climbing stages on both sides of the Alps that could go a long way toward deciding who will win the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
Winter-like conditions could prove the spoiler, however. Because of snow on the upper reaches of the Col du Galibier, the historic climb in the French Alps that’s featured in Sunday’s 15th stage, the ascent has been removed due to unsafe racing conditions.
As for Saturday, organizers removed the climb and the descent of Sestriere because of snow.
The re-routed courses still feature some exciting climbs, but the weekend could be a bust in terms of sorting out the GC.
Despite the departure of pre-race favorites Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky), there are still a half dozen riders within striking distance of pink.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will be looking to consolidate his grip on the race lead. The Italian looks rock solid and takes the pole position into the Alps.
Though Wiggins and Hesjedal are gone, he still has to worry about Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), lurking at just 41 seconds back, and another half dozen riders all within three minutes of pink.
Nibali will want to take important gains both days in order to carry a larger lead into Monday’s rest day.
Stage 14, Cervere to Bardonecchia (Jafferau), 168km
Riders woke up Saturday not really knowing what to expect, but ultimately organizers took out the Cat. 2 climb of Sestriere because of snow at the summit and concerns for the riders’ safety on the descent. Instead, the course, which was reduced from 180km to 168km, will take the riders through the Susa Valley before the final climb up Jafferau.
Jafferau has been overlooked in a Giro packed with legends such as the Galibier, Stelvio and Gavia. The climb becomes steeper as it progresses, with an average grade of 9 percent and ramps as steep as 14 percent. The final section of the climb is over unpaved roads, which could turn in a sloppy muck if it’s raining and/or snowing.
Who it favors: Of the favorites, this type of steep finale is tipped toward Rigoberto Urán. Now that he’s thinking big-picture podium as the new outright leader of Sky, Urán might be looking to defend his position going into the final week of the Giro. Puncheurs such as Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale), still hunting for a stage win after two second places, or impressive Polish climber Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) could thrive in this terrain.
Weather alterative: Officials were also worried about the upper reaches of the climb at 1,908 meters. If conditions are deemed unworthy, the finish line will be moved to the Bardonecchi ski village at 1,281 meters. That would dramatically alter the dynamics of the GC battle, with a likely break winning the stage, and the GC riders having little terrain to try to make a move.
Stage 15, Cesana Torinese to Verneys
On paper, this was one of the most dynamic and explosive stages in the Giro. The short stage was to start out with the long, grinding climb of Mont Centis but organizers removed it from the course on Saturday because of inclement weather.
The stage was scheduled to finish on the Col du Galibier, a punishing Cat. 1 climb that favors the strongest climbers in the peloton. However, snow at the summit forced organizers to re-route the course and take out the famed climb. Instead, the stage will finish 15km below the Galibier, and 3km above the Valloire ski station.
The new route has not yet been released, but it appears the only major climb on Sunday would be the Col du Télégraphe.
Who it favors: On the weather-shortened course, it will most likely be an uphill sprint right from the gun. Anyone who is slow out of the gates could be doomed.