By a twist of fate, riders in the 95th Giro dItalia and the 6th Amgen Tour of California will both tackle mountaintop stage finishes this Saturday. In each case it will be the first chance (at the Giro) and last chance (in California) for the climbers to stamp their personalities on the race. And not before time, youre probably thinking.
In the thirteen stages and 2,174 kilometers raced so far at the Giro, the only decisive spells of climbing came on the final uphill kilometer to stage 7 at Rocca di Cambio (where Italians Paolo Tiralongo and Michele Scarponi battled for the stage win ahead of Luxembourger Frnk Schleck); on a 2-kilometer stretch of the Colle Molella just before the stage 8 finish at Lago Laceno (where Italian climber Domenico Pozzovivo managed to gain half a minute on all the other race favorites); and on the short, but spectacular ascent on narrow, stone-paved streets to the finish at Assisi on stage 10 (where current race leader Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain took a predicted stage win ahead of the unpredicted Pole Bartosz Huzarski and Italian national champion Giovanni Visconti).
In total, thats about 4 kilometers of truly intense climbing in two weeks. In the last two hours of this Saturdays stage 14, the riders face 10 times that amount of uphill workfirst over the 22-kilometer Col de Joux, immediately followed by the equally long, and higher climb to Cervinia at the foot of the Matterhorn. That finish is at 6,564 feet elevation (2,001 meters), which is just about the same height as Mount Baldy, where stage 7 of the California race ends.
Before reaching that lofty peak, the Amgen Tour has seen four road stages that all ended in field sprints won by Peter Sagan, along with Thursdays time trial at Bakersfield that propelled Dave Zabriskie, Tejay Van Garderen and Robert Gesink to the top of the overall standings, and Fridays mountainous slog up to Big Bear Lake (but without a summit finish). Of the three protagonists, Garmin-Barracudas Zabriskie is a time trialist whos limited in the high mountains; BMC Racings Van Garderen calls himself a time trialer who can hang with the climbers; and Rabobanks Gesink says, Im a pure climber who can do a good time trial when Im on top form.
Given those parameters, its clear that, with the time trial behind them, Gesink (who is on top form) has the strongest chance of coming out on top at Mount Baldyespecially because he has four strong teammates for the climbs in Laurens Ten Dam, Paul Martens, Luis Leon Sanchez and Bram Tankink. Two of Van Garderens best teammates, Steve Cummings and Steve Morabito, both crashed out earlier in the week, leaving veteran George Hincapie as his only true ally in the steeper climbs. And Zabriskie, though hes likely to start Saturdays stage in the golden jersey, will most likely end up riding for his climber teammates Tom Danielson and Andrew Talanskywho were respectively 28 seconds and nine seconds behind Gesink after the time trial.
Over in Italy, the Cervinia climb is the first mountaintop finish in a final week that features four more demanding mountain stages, so the protagonists will more likely feel each other out rather than go for the kill. However, when this climb was last used in 1997, also on the Saturday a week before the finish, the stage was won solo by eventual Giro winner Ivan Gotti.
One factor that could cause this years Cervinia stage to be as decisive as the one 15 years ago is the weather: It was snowing there Friday, while Saturdays forecast includes temperatures in the mid-30s Fahrenheit and more snow showers. If thats the case, current Giro leader Rodriguez of Katusha, who detests cold weather, and the equally skinny Pozzovivo of Colnago, will suffer badlyperhaps leaving the door open to the hardier riders such as Hesjedal of Garmin, Roman Kreuziger of Astana, Ivan Basso of Liquigas-Cannondale, Scarponi of Lampre-ISD, Schleck of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek and John Gadret of Ag2r-La Mondiale.
Therell be no sign of snow on Mount Baldy, where the temperature will be closer to 30 degrees Celsius on Saturday afternoon. And this stage will definitely be the California tours final showdown. Or as Van Garderen said Thursday evening in Bakersfield: The real shits going down on Baldy!