Blazin' Saddles

What to expect on the final six stages of the Giro d’Italia

Blazin' Saddles

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Colombia's Rigoberto Uran is top of the pink pack entering the decisive mountain-heavy final week of the Giro d'Italia - but with five big rivals lurking within three minutes there's still a lot to race for.

Last week your faithful cycling blogger was mocked by many for suggesting Uran would put one hand on the pink jersey with a commanding performance in the Barolo time trial - but the 27-year-old actually delivered his killer blow amid the vineyards, toppling Cadel Evans at the top of the standings ahead of the mountains.

With four more summit finishes on the horizon, Blazin' Saddles expects Uran's main challenge to come from compatriot Nairo Quintana and Italy's Domenico Pozzovivo as opposed to the Australian veteran Evans, currently second place at 1:03. Let's look at what the next six days beholds...

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Tuesday 27 May - Stage 16 - Ponte di Legno to Val Martello Martelltal

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The stage that never was... Last year, freak snowstorms cancelled this exact stage so race organisers are having a second stab at what should be an explosive four hours. Short at just 139km and yet filled with three monster climbs, stage 16 is a succulent Stelvio sandwich where the outer slices of bread come in the form of the infamous Passo Gavia and the ramped Val Martello.

It's fair to say that this is the queen stage of the race - at least it would be if there weren't so many humdingers during the last week. Frenchman Pierre Rolland - who would be very much in the mix were it not for time trials (both his Europcar team's effort in Belfast and his own sodden attempt at Barolo) - has targeted this mythical stage for the victory.

Having Alpe d'Huez in his palmares cannot do his chances any harm - and given his near-five minute deficit on Uran, Rolland may be one of the GC riders who is given some leeway. But given Uran's contained struggles during the first Alpine weekend, expect the likes of Quintana, Pozzovivo, Aru and Majka to gang up and test his mettle. This may also be the day Evans drops out of the podium positions.

Winner: Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli)

Maglia rosa: Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

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Wednesday 28 May - Stage 17 - 208km, Sarnonico to Vittoria Veneto

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This rolling stage starts with a descent and finishes on the flat so has no doubt been included to keep the sprinters - and red jersey contenders - happy until the final stage into Trieste. In fact, without such a stage, many of them would no doubt throw in the towel rather than face three more days in the gruppetto.

That said, the parcours is a tricky one that includes three Cat.4 climbs. Perhaps, having seen a break unexpectedly defy the sprinters in Friday's stage 13, more escape artists will feel motivated at having a pop. We haven't seen Italian duo Marco Bandiera (Androni) and Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli) for a while. Both Italian second tier teams are without a win entering the last week of the race - and should Rabottini seal the deal the day before, Androni may throw the kitchen sink at this one.

Winner: Johnny Hoogerland (Androni)

Maglia rosa: Rigoberto Uran

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Thursday 29 May - Stage 18 - 171km, Belluno to Valsugana

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With three tough but by no means brutal climbs on the agenda - including the sparkling Passo San Pellegrino - this is the easiest of the Alpine triptych that will decide the outcome of the 97th edition of the Giro. Funnily enough, it could be the stage on which Cadel Evans makes his mark before bidding adieu.

As usual, there will be two battles being played out: one for the stage win (with the likes of Fabio Duarte, Julian Arredondo and Stefano Pirazzi going shoulder to shoulder) and the other for the GC (with all the main favourites no doubt marking each other all the way to the finish). Of course there will be other subplots: Ivan Basso's quest to stay in touch with the big boys and Franco Pellizotti's bid to roll back the years.

Evans will be caught in a kind of no-man's land: deemed no longer a threat by the big guns, the veteran may ride clear in the final kilometres, but a stage win will remain elusive.

Winner: Fabio Duarte (Colombia)

Maglia rosa: Rigoberto Uran

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Friday 30 May - Stage 19 - Bassano del Grappa to Cima Grappa

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The time gaps on the Barolo ITT were pretty hefty but they will be nothing in comparison to this savage mountain time trial, which could see some riders concede well over 15 minutes to Nairo Quintana. A relatively flat opening 7km is followed by the gentler first half of the climb (average gradient 7.4%) ahead of a ramped finish that peaks out at 14%.

Fearful of what's to come, the likes of Evans and Basso may well use time trial bikes for the first segment - just to have an advantage to play with ahead of the final 18km uphill slog. By now, Quintana should be very much in his groove and should battle it out with Pozzovivo for the win.

Both could take a minute off Uran, who will sensibly ride within his means and conserve his maglia rosa in the knowledge that he can afford to lose in order to win. Evans could well drop out of the top five on this one.

Winner: Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

Maglia rosa: Rigoberto Uran

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Saturday 31 May - Stage 20 - 167km, Maniago to Monte Zoncolan

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If Italy won't see another overall winner in the Giro this year they could well be celebrating a famous victory for Domenico Pozzovivo on the beast that is the Zoncolan. If not the diminutive, piano-playing climber with an economics degree, then Fabio Aru has the youthful exuberance and confidence to leave his mark too.

Rafal Majka will try and get in the mix to secure a top five in Trieste - but he won't have the power to follow the others and will instead tap along with Uran in a chasing group. The Pole has admirable staying power but lacks explosiveness. He's an upgraded version of Ivan Basso but not yet a rider who'll deliver a knock-out blow.

Uran will be paying homage to Sean Kelly by spending the whole final climb making the calculation. He won't be able to stay with Quintana or the two Italians but he'll grind away in the knowledge that the maglia rosa will be his provided he does not lose more than around 1:40 to Quintana. In the end, it will be close - very close - but Uran will have got his maths right.

Winner: Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R-La Mondiale)

Maglia rosa: Rigoberto Uran (by 25 seconds)

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Sunday 1 June - Stage 21 - 172km, Gemona del Friuli to Trieste

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Heavy rain will make the eight city circuits in the Adriatic port rather treacherous but Nacer Bouhanni will make it four wins by holding off perpetual second Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) and Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano). A crash involving Tyler Farrar and one of the remaining Orica-GreenEdge riders (should there be any left by now) should not be discounted.

Uran will become the first Colombian to win a Grand Tour - and with Quintana finishing runner-up in a second successive Grand Tour it will be a special day for South American cycling. After finishing a credible sixth on GC, Evans will announce his impending retirement from cycling - but promises to have a stab at the Vuelta before hanging up his boots.

Winner: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ)

Final top five: 1. Uran, 2. Quintana, 3. Pozzovivo, 4. Majka, 5. Aru

By Blazin' Saddles - on Twitter @saddleblaze

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