2023 Giro d’Italia Stage 18 Preview

Oderzo > Zoldo Alto 161km

On paper, this isn’t as hard as Tuesday’s stage, but I have a feeling it’s going to be just as hard in real life. The climbs aren’t anywhere near as long as Monte Bondone, but oh my God, one of them is incredibly steep. With Roglič starting to show weakness, Thomas and Almeida need to strike now to drive him out of the battle for the pink jersey. However, there’s still a chance Roglič recovers and is the rider dishing out the pain. 

Weather

Yet another sunny day, just as well after the first two weeks.

Key Climbs

Passo della Crosetta is up first. This cat 1 climb is very important in the battle for the blue jersey. If Healy is first over the line, the jersey will be hard to get off him.

Forcella Cibiana is the next cat 1 climb. 9.5km at 7.7% is a tough climb, but will anyone dare to go long with the climb cresting 26km from home?

The stage ends with two cat 2 climbs, split by a very short descent. First up is Coi, it’s a brutal 5.2km at 10%, the final rise to the line is 2.7km at 6.6%. Imagine giving the same number of points on each climb! Coi is so hard, expect to see gaps between the best.

Tactics

Who’s going to chase the break? Ineos don’t have the numbers to launch a proper chase, will UAE be willing to? As Almeida already has a stage win, I’m not sure they’ll bother riding all day, it looks a good day for the breakaway.

The first climb starts after 28km of racing, will the break form here? That’s the big question, and I don’t have an answer. We could see a team like Groupama – FDJ control the opening kilometres, before launching Pinot on the climb, but there’s no guarantee. What is for sure is that some riders who sit just outside the top 10 will look to jump in the break, this is a great chance to win a stage and move into the top 10. Fans get annoyed when teams ride to protect top 10 places, but as Ineos are the team with 9th and 10th, I don’t think we’ll see a big reaction. Carthy, Rubio, Pinot, Buitrago, Haig and Van Wilder should all be interested if the break goes on the first climb. It’s a little more complicated if the break goes on the flat before the climb, there’s a lot more risk involved in terms of wasting energy and not making the move, hopefully we see a couple of guys get away on the flat and then the serious hitters go on the climb. Carthy is the one that’s borderline for me, would his presence spark a chase from UAE? 

This race hasn’t really been one for sending satellite riders up the road, and I don’t see it starting here. Ineos don’t have the men to really try this trick, maybe Jumbo-Visma would try it if Roglič was feeling good, UAE could potentially try it but with very little flat in the final 40km I don’t think it’s worth it.

One thing is certain, Ben Healy will be in the break. His goal will be to take 40 points on the first climb, and he’d love to do the same on the next cat 1 climb. If he makes the break, I think he seals the KOM jersey. He’s likely to find Pinot also in the move, but I don’t think Pinot will be going daft to get points, he wants to save his energy for the stage win, something that won’t really bother Healy. If the Englishman (I can’t bring myself to call him Irish as he clearly isn’t) can take the KOM jersey along with his stage win it will have been an incredible race for him.

The Ineos approach will be interesting. Swift and Puccio to try and ride on the front for as long as possible, but what happens when they pull over? Arensman and De Plus are 9th and 10th on GC, are they going to be asked to ride as proper domestiques and sacrifice any hope of finishing in the top 10? The answer should be yes, but I think Ineos will hope someone else takes over on the front allowing Arensman and De Plus to save some energy, this is one of the reasons why I think the break is almost certain to take the stage. If Ineos really want to go risky, they could try and sneak one of these into the morning break, that’s a strategy they’re unlikely to try.

The GC action is likely to kick off on the Coi climb, it’s one of the steepest I can remember seeing. With gradients getting close to 20%, it’s going to be carnage. This is the sort of climb which suits Roglič a lot more than Thomas and Almeida, but only if he’s 100%. In fact, it’s a climb where Sepp Kuss will likely be stronger than everyone else, what he can do never ceases to amaze me. Time after time in grand tours we see the top 2 or 3 riders, and Sepp Kuss, he really is an incredible climber. Of the top 3, I would say Almeida is the least suited to the double-digit gradients, but he does seem to have great legs just now. As the final rise to the line is relatively easy, it’s all about doing the damage on Coi, I can’t wait to see the crowds and the riders going full gas.

Contenders

Thibaut Pinot – didn’t have great legs on Tuesday, can he bounce back in style? Grand tours are downright weird, riders can be terrible one day and world beaters the next, you can never tell. Pinot came here to win a stage; he’s got two chances left to do so. He’ll go down swinging, you can guarantee that.

Hugh Carthy – in all likelihood he’s probably too close on GC to go for the break, but I live in hope.

Einer Rubio – 5:43 down on GC, is he another who’s too close? This is hard to call, I have a feel he’ll be in the break and looking to win his second stage.

Ilan Van Wilder – I’ve been so impressed with him since Evenepoel abandoned. After the TT he was 29th on GC, 12:07 behind Geraint Thomas. He jumped in the break in stage 12 and made up around 6 minutes on GC. He was good on Crans-Montana and in Bergamo, but to finish 6th on Monte Bondone was a brilliant result, he now sits 15th on GC, 7:46 down. He’s in a perfect position to go for the break, challenge for the stage and move himself into the top 10.

Bahrain – they’ve got Caruso to look after, only one of Haig and Buitrago will get the green light for the break. The problem is, neither look at their very best, winning will be hard.

Lorenzo Fortunato – crashed before the break was formed on Tuesday, he’ll be hoping for better luck in this stage. Fortunato was in brilliant form before the race started and Coi is perfect for a man of his stature. He’ll be praying the break goes on the first climb, then he can go for a stage win.

Ben Healy – I’ve taken him out the oven, rested him, he’s cooked and ready to eat! All joking aside, he’s had one hell of a race, now it’s about winning the blue jersey and surviving until Rome. I’d be amazed if he had the energy to win this stage.

Sepp Kuss – very unlikely he’ll be allowed to go for it, but I hope I’m wrong.

Geraint Thomas – lost the sprint to Almeida on Monte Bondone, but he was the best on the climb. This is a big chance for Thomas to attack and see if he can put more time into Roglič, and hopefully also distance Almeida. Now is the time to stick the knife in and twist it around, and I’m not talking about when he cuts his birthday cake.

João Almeida – has his stage win, how will he approach this stage? Does he think he can beat Thomas in the mountain time trial? I’m not sure he’ll be as aggressive as he was on Tuesday, he’ll be worried about Thomas dropping him on the double-digit gradients.

Primož Roglič – every fan watching will be praying that Primož is at his best and injury free. Given he wasn’t on Tuesday, it’s not looking great for him, but you never know, huh.

Prediction Time

The main break will go on the first climb, and it’s going to feature lots of brilliant climbers.

Embed from Getty Images

Once the dust settles, Ilan Van Wilder will have his first grand tour win and Geraint Thomas will put time into all his rivals.

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