• Riders like Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde won't give up in their fight for pink. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Accumulated fatigue may see Saturday's mammoth mountain stage at the Giro d'Italia a non-event, so expect the sucker punches to come well before that, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
24 May 2016 - 7:30 PM  UPDATED 24 May 2016 - 7:55 PM

With its troika of 2,000 metre-plus cols it seems most pundits are talking up Saturday as the one to decide this year's Giro, however my belief is that our overall champion will be revealed sometime before then.

You see, whenever race organisers of the Giro have designed a particularly brutal percorso as they've done this year, more often than not, the final mountain stage has been anti-climatic. Take the 2014 Giro, Stage 20 to Monte Zoncolan, for instance: with the race already wrapped up by Nairo Quintana, three minutes plus clear of second-placed Rigoberto Uran, the final podium place-getters, exhausted beyond belief, finished within 16 seconds of each other; Michael Rogers won his second stage from a breakaway.

"He also hinted at a possible alliance with Nibali and/or Zakarin, describing the former as the one 'with the most courage and anger among the GC contenders' and the latter as 'a man you can never let go'."

2013 Giro, Stage 20 to Tre Cime di Lavaredo - the five-climb, 203 kilometre epic had to be re-routed due to adverse weather, which saw three climbs removed and 7km added; Nibali, head and shoulders above, reaffirmed his superiority. 2011 Giro, Stage 20 to Sestriere: Alberto Contador (since removed as the race winner, a result of a backdated doping ban) was already leading by five minutes from second-placed Michele Scarponi; the final podium place-getters finished within 22 seconds of each other. 2010 Giro, Stage 20 to Passo del Tonale: boasting four passes over 2,000 metres' altitude with a hilltop finish it was, in short, stupid-hard; Ivan Basso, likely on a diet of something other than bread and water, had smashed erstwhile maglia rosa David Arroyo the previous stage, making the penultimate a flaccid affair, the final podium place-getters finishing 18 seconds apart.

And so on and so on.

Which is why, I think, riders like Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali, Rafal Majka and Ilnur Zakarin will have their best chance to wrest the maglia rosa from Steven Kruijswijk's broad shoulders either tonight (Stage 16), Thursday (Stage 18) or Friday (Stage 19).

Preview: Giro d'Italia Stage 16
Featuring challenging climbs, the peloton will be glad Stage 16 from Bressanone (Brixen) to Andalo is only 132km.

In fact, in his most recent rest day interview, Valverde, in a roundabout way, let slip his intentions. Of the Stage 16 ascents of the Mendel Pass and Fai della Paganella, he said: "These two climbs are Cat. 2 in the roadbook but I've ridden them and I don't know why they're categorised like that. To me, they look like Cat. 1. The first one is 16km at almost seven percent - that's a true Cat. 1 climb - and the last one before (the finish in) Andalo has 9-10km with almost eight percent average (gradient). Both could be Cat. 1 or even more. It's going to be a really tough one."

As for the sole climb of Pramartino on Stage 18, its summit located 20km from the finish in Pinerolo, according to Valverde it was originally designated a Cat. 4 but now reads Cat. 2 on the offical website. "The complaint I made earlier applies here. I don't know why they put Pramartino as Cat. 4! 4km at almost 11 percent! That's not Cat. 4 anywhere - not in Italy, not in Spain, not in France. Es una barbaridad (It's awful). After such a hard Giro, a 240km stage, it might become decisive. There won't be huge gaps, but there could be some important seconds (to be gained). In four kilometres, with such gradients, you can lose 30, 40 seconds, even a minute. It seems easy, but it's not."

Added Valverde, currently fourth overall, 3'29 behind Kruijswijk: "We've seen surprises in this Giro every single stage. Things changed for one rider or another every day. It didn't matter whether it was the hardest or easiest stage."

He also hinted at a possible alliance with Nibali and/or Zakarin, describing the former as the one "with the most courage and anger among the GC contenders - he will attack" and the latter as "a man you can never let go. He's a rider similar to Nibali. He attacks, never fears anything." As for Majka, he thought the Pole "will probably attack, but I don't see him really willing to lose everything".

"Those who know me well know I never settle," said the evergreen Spaniard, who remains a polarising figure. "I can recover quickly from setbacks. I showed it yesterday (in the mountain time trial). Astana is furious, but we've got some fury inside, too."