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A Giro undecided: With a week to go, anything can happen

With the Giro's hardest stages still looming, the fight for the pink jersey remains wide open with the Gavia and Stelvio looming in Tuesday's stage

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PONTE DI LEGNO, Italy (VN) — The Giro d’Italia is living up to its reputation as the most unpredictable, volatile grand tour of the year. And what a good one it’s been.

With a week to go and the hardest stages yet to come in the 97th Giro, no one knows who is going to win.

“If I knew who was going to win, I’d go down to the bookies,” said Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) at the line Sunday. “We have had two weeks of racing, and the first GC riders are divided only by a few minutes. I don’t think anyone expected a Giro this close.”

This Giro has seen it all: crashes, attacks, bad weather, aggressive racing, and, above, a seesaw battle in the GC.

Nearly every decisive day has seen major swings in fortunes. One day, a rider is hot, such as the attacking Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) on Saturday, and the next day, he’s paying the price.

“I had trouble breathing,” Pozzovivo said at the line Sunday. “I hope to be able to go back on the attack. My legs are good.”

Thanks to gains in the time trials, Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) carries the pink jersey into the final week, but rather tenuously.

Although he’s widened his overall lead to 1:03 over second-place Evans, he’s been ceding time to dangerous climbers Nairo Quintana (Movistar), now fifth at 2:40 back, and Fabio Aru (Astana), fourth at 2:24 back.

A buoyant Urán sounded optimistic, but even he knows the attacks will come.

“I think we’re in a good position. I have gained time on Evans, and I still have a good lead to the others,” Urán said. “The hardest stages are still to come. I think I will do well in the big mountains. We’ll see, but I want to keep this pink jersey until Trieste.”

If someone else wants to win, he’s going to have to yank away the pink jersey from Urán.

Urán rebounded Sunday after a somewhat flat stage Saturday, when he admitted he still had not fully recovered from hard effort in Thursday’s time trial. Urán followed Aru’s early surge, and then rode his own pace up Montecampione, taking time on his closest rivals, Evans, and third-place rider Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo).

So far, Urán’s been judiciously using his margin to the other GC rivals to his advantage. He seems confident enough to be able to give away seconds to rivals such as Quintana.

Tuesday’s epic climbing stage across the Gavia and Stelvio before the Val Martello climb is the first of four decisive climbing stages in the final week.

The weather looks to be holding up, so Tuesday’s brutal stage should be able to be contested, presenting a major test for Urán.

“There is a lot of movement in the GC. It’s still very open, and there are still the hardest high mountains to come,” Urán said. “We still have a week, and every day is important. We’ll see what happens.”

Health problems continue to bother both Quintana and Pozzovivo, two of the Giro’s most explosive climbers. The latter said he was suffering from minor bronchitis Sunday that prevented him following the decisive surges, while the former is still suffering from a chest cold suffered in the first week.

Everyone agrees Quintana is not at the same level as last year’s Tour de France, when he was the only rider who could match Chris Froome (Sky) in the mountains. Quintana does, however, appear to be riding into better form. If Quintana can hit close to peak fitness in the final week, anything could happen. He is considered the only rider explosive enough to single-handedly alter the race’s dynamics.

“There is still a lot of room to try to win this Giro,” Quintana said. “Sunday was the second day in a row that I have taken back time. It wasn’t enough to recover the time I’ve lost already, but it was enough to let me know that I can do something in the coming mountain stages.”

Tomorrow’s three-climb stage is the Giro’s first real test in the hard mountains. So far, the finishing climbs have not seen anything as wickedly steep as what awaits on the Gavia and Stelvio. The peloton’s legs will be starting to show the wear and tear of more than two weeks of racing.

Stage 18 to Rifugio Panarotta will be one for a breakaway, but the GC riders will be throwing down in the final climb. Friday’s climbing time trial up Monte Grappa could prove decisive, but everyone agrees that nothing will be decided until Saturday’s brutal climbing stage ending atop Monte Zoncolan.

“I think the Zoncolan will decide this Giro,” said Movistar sport director José Luis Arrieta. “It’s a climb where a rider can lose minutes. It’s the hardest climb on the final day, so we will keep fighting all the way to the end.”

In many grand tours, especially the Tour, there seems to be one rider who is superior to everyone else in the field. From its outset, this Giro has been a race of equals. It should be very interesting to see who rides into Trieste next Sunday in pink.