Giro d’Italia 2021 Stage 19 (4 stars)
ABBIATEGRASSO–ALPE DE MERA (Valsesia)
Friday, May 28
176km (mountains, summit finish)
A somber day
We’re only two days away from the end of this Giro, but stages 19 and 20 both have mountaintop finishes. What a tough way to approach the concluding time trial in Milan. It was expected to be fun for the tifosi and the race followers to watch two more mountain stages, especially because they take place in beautiful places—around the lake district of Italy and through a spectacular part of the Swiss Alps. But the Mottarone cable car tragedy in which at least 14 people lost their lives last Sunday has given a somber undertone to stage 19.
By this point in the Giro, the GC leaders will be depending more than ever on their teammates—for the strongmen to keep the race together on the long approaches to the mountains and on their lieutenants on the climbs (remember how Rohan Dennis turned himself inside out to put Tao Geoghegan Hart in a winning position last October?). There will be other heroes this year, giving their top men the chance to win one of these last two mountain stages or be on the final podium.
The team worker bees will be hard at work for the first two hours, pulling the peloton across the Piedmont plain to the foot of what would have been the day’s first Cat. 1 climb, the Mottarone. But instead of ascending more than 15 kilometers from the shores of Orta Lake to the summit with its 360-degree panorama stretching north to the Alps and down toward seven lakes around its periphery, the shortened stage crosses a southeast shoulder of the mountain, the much lower Gignese climb, which has just a Cat. 4 rating. But the strongest riders will still hurtle down the final part of the switchback Mottarone descent to Stresa on Lake Maggiore, with the finish only 70 kilometers away.
That destination, the remote Valsesia valley, is reached by first looping back to Orta Lake at Omegna and then climbing over a tricky ridge on the Passo della Colma. From the tiny village of Scopetta in the valley, the modern 9.7-kilometer access road to the Alpe di Mera ski resort (cowbells used to ring out from the livestock here in the summer) is not a typical climb. It starts out gently and gradually steepens and is into the double digits for the second half. It will be a truly watt-sapping challenge for everyone, while the fans will get to see the spectacular backdrop of snowbound Monte Rosa. Who will still be around for this first-time finish? Bernal? Or Bardet? Or Yates? Or Carthy?
SCHEDULE (all times EDT)
Abbiategrasso start (0km) after 6km neutral (6:35 a.m.); Gignese (Cat. 4), 83km to go (8:51 a.m.); Baveno (sprint), 68.5km to go (9:09 a.m.); Passo della Colma (Cat. 3), 38.6km to go (10:04 a.m.); Scopetta (sprint), 14.5km to go (10:37 a.m.); Alpe di Mera (Cat 1 finish), 166km (11:15 a.m.).