With the final individual time-trial being uphill, do you think this gives the opportunity to climbing specialists and not just good time-trialers?
SK: Yes definitely, with the stage being completely uphill, we don’t have any time trial specialists currently in the top five of the GC. This goes in favour of the likes of Nibali, Evans and Scarponi.
DQ: I think it’s a great opportunity for the guys going for the GC to win a stage. There’s been a lot of talk about Nibali not winning a stage yet. Cadel Evans did a stunning final split on the first time-trial, and he is traditionally a better tester than Vincenzo Nibali, so you would think on paper it’s a chance for Evans to get a bit of time back on the Italian.
SK: I think the time-trial is done and dusted, it has to be Betancur. He’s finished second so many times he has to win one!
Do you think it makes it more interesting to have the final time trial at this point in the race rather than the final day?
SK: Yes I think if you look at the GC at the moment, there’s not much Evans can really do. He’ll go to the time-trial and give it 100% and then in the next two days is where he’s really going to have to try something, if he’s good enough to do it. There’s a chance Nibali could just follow Evans in whatever he tries, and with the way he’s been riding it wouldn’t be unexpected. But then there’s no guarantee in cycling, you can be good for the majority of the race, but then when you get to the final stages you can have an off day.
DQ: It’s exciting that it’s a mountain time trial, if it was a flat time trial then it’s a bit more of a formality. Although it’s only 20km you’ll be surprised how much time you can lose and how quickly.
What is the maximum amount of time the other GC contenders can allow themselves on Nibali after finishing the time-trial to give themselves a realistic chance of victory?
SK: I think that if after the time-trial the gap is still 1.00-1.30 I don’t think that’s unrealistic to make up. If Nibali has an off day and he’s in trouble on either of the final two mountain stages, then time can be lost very quickly. The way he’s ridden so far you wouldn’t expect it but you never know.
DQ: Nibali is not just racing Cadel Evans and Rigoberto Uran, he’s also racing the Giro d’Italia. If it was a one week stage race and he had a lead of 1.30 you’d say he would have no problem, but it’s three weeks which ends with absolutely epic stages. As Sean says it would be a case of Nibali having a bad day rather than Evans having a fantastic day. There’s always hope.
I think it’s fair to say stage 19 is going to be brutal on the riders, where do you see any tactical moves and attacks taking place?
SK: Normally any attacks will happen in the final climb. There are some epic hills with the Gavia climb in the opening kilometres and then the Cima Coppi and the Stelvio, their legs will no doubt be feeling rubbery by the time they get to the finish. They will only find out that day what the time trial took out of them. The only thing that Evans and Uran can hope for in the final two stages is for a breakaway in the early part that contains dangerous riders, and they have to do a lot of riding, with Astana being forced to commit very early in the stage and that’s where you could get Nibali in difficulty if he’s left alone in a small group and there’s nobody left to help. Then someone from further down the GC like Intxausti for example makes a move causing Nibali to do a lot of chasing before the final climb, then it becomes a dangerous scenario. If the danger men get away early, maybe someone who’s only five or six minutes down then Astana will have no choice but to follow.
DQ: The advantage Evans has is that Nibali has held the pink jersey since the stage eight time trial, so Astana have done absolutely gargantuan work, sitting on the front day after day. They must be absolutely wrecked, so they could have a bad day right at the last hurdle. It’s been noticeable that Uran and Evans haven’t received the same support compared to what Nibali has been getting. It’s a team sport and so far Astana have been stronger to this point but eventually that could cost them.
SK: Stage 19 is a 139km which is quite short. These types of stages are really full on from the start, and the shorter stages can be dangerous in the mountains. Teams will know because it’s a shorter stage they can really go full on from the start and that will put pressure on Astana, if they have to chase hard early on, they could find themselves in difficulty later in the stage.
Stage 20 on the other hand is 203km, and starts with gradual descent. How do you see that stage going?
DQ: They’ve back loaded the hills so you could find all of the racing is done in that condensed period.
SK: You have 60km before you get to the first climb. In that first 60km you could someone breakaway and out someone in the general classification in danger. If say a group of 15-20 riders get away you’re in that position where you have to put your team on the front well before you get to the climbs. There’s so many things that can happen.
So it’s likely by the final stage the points classification will be the only jersey still up for grabs?
DQ: It feels like we’ve had fewer sprint stages, there’s been lots of medium mountain stages which are really tough on the riders. Mark Cavendish will definitely have his sights set on taking home the red jersey. He would love to have a full house of points jerseys from all Grand Tours.
SK: I think after losing out to Joaquim Rodriguez by one point last year, he’d love to forget about that disappointment and what better way to do that than to win the jersey. If he’s within fighting chance at that point, it will be up to him and I can’t see him failing.