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Archive for the month “mai, 2015”

Mihkel Räim: “My goal is to turn pro in 2016”

Mihkel Räim

How many of you have heard of Jaan Kirsipuu? Most likely, many, as the former rider from Tartu was an important figure of the peloton more than 15 years ago, when he was fighting at the Tour de France sprints, scoring along the way four stage wins, while riding for AG2R and Crédit Agricole. But how many of you have heard of Mihkel Räim? At the moment, not many can say that, but be sure you keep his name in mind, as the 21-year-old is flying this season and the results he scored so far are helping him build a nice CV that ultimately will take the Estonian cyclist to the pro ranks.

Although young, Mihkel Räim – who rides for Team Pro Immo Nicolas Roux – doesn’t lack the confidence which is so important in such a tough sport, where everyone is trying hard to make a name for themselves. On top of that, he’s hard-working and displays each time a very aggressive style (which is a trademark of Baltic cyclists), and that has helped him get not only some impressive results, but also many plaudits. Recently, Mihkel accepted to sit down and talk for Cafe Roubaix about his first years in cycling, his 2015 season, the most interesting and funniest situations encountered so far and his goals for the future.

– Mihkel, how did you start cycling?

Actually, it’s not surprising that I discovered cycling. My father is an ex-rider, he owns a bike store, and he is DS and President of a cycling team (Saaremaa Jalgrattaklubi Viiking) in my home island. He organized one of the most popular cycling races in Estonia, named Saaremaa velotuur for over 20 years. All my uncles have been cyclists at different levels, so it was pretty obvious that I have to try it.

– At that time, did you have an idol or a rider you looked up to?

I had plenty of idols, depending on the day. Some days, my biggest idols were my uncles. Some days, when I watched races on TV, it was Marco Pantani. In the flat races I was always supporting the Estonian cyclists, like Jaan Kirsipuu and Lauri Aus.

– How were your first years, what do you remember from back then?

When it all started, I only raced the local events. When I began for good, I didn’t win races, I was just in the top 6 sometimes. When I got a better bike, I started to win local races, and one of my favorite memories is when my father helped me make custom cycling clothes. It was a really nice day, he made the custom ones, because cycling in Estonia wasn’t very popular back then and there weren’t proper racing clothes for me in the bike stores. Afterwards, when I went to national races with my dad, I finished in top 10, but the victories came a couple of years later.

– How popular is cycling in Estonia nowadays? Did something change?

It has really changed a lot. Cycling is very popular in Estonia and it keeps getting bigger and bigger and I am really proud of that. For example, our national cycling calendar is packed with races, so the riders have to choose if they want to do MTB race or road race. There are even week-ends when you have to choose from two road races. Honestly, I am really looking forward to the development of cycling in Estonia.

– How would you describe yourself as a rider? What are your strong points and what would you still like to improve?

That’s a tricky question. First word what comes to my mind is aggressive: that means I really like to attack and make others suffer. Also I am pretty good in the sprint, I have the sprinter’s speed, but sometimes I am not too crazy to fight with the elbows before the sprint. Breakaway sprints are for me, that’s my cup of tea. This year I made some important progress on the climbs, so I can get over some climbs now and this is very big for me. In the past, when the road began to rise, I was immediately suffering at the bottom of the ascent and then was dropped in a flash. This year, in France, there have been situations when I have made even some climbers suffer and that’s cool. If I can go over the climbs with skinny guys, then it’s pretty easy to sprint with them. My weakness is the time trial and of course I believe I can be better on the climbs also. I think I am psychologically strong, but I have also cracked in the past. It happens.

– After a couple of years in your home country, you came to France. How did this happen?

For an Estonian cyclist is a natural step to move to France after he graduates school. There are a lot of guys who did it before me and I am pretty sure that in the future there will be plenty of guys who will follow in my footsteps. After having strong results in the 2012 Juniors Paris-Roubaix, where I finished in 12th place, a local French cycling enthusiast, Jean-Claude Comby, contacted with me and made me an offer to come to France. He came with a nice racing schedule, gave me place to live and it was all perfect for me to prepare for the World Championships. So I did some good races in France, won two of these and got several podiums. Then I signed with a French DN1 team CR4C Roanne. It was my first foreign team.

– Some riders have a cultural shock when changing countries. Was it the same with you? 

I think I have adapted well. Of course, there were some funny things that happened along the way. For example, shaking hands with teammates in the morning and when you leave. It was weird, we do it sometimes in Estonia, but mainly we just say “Ciao” and wave hands. The second thing was eating white bread. Oh, my God, how many French people eat that, and in considerable amounts. Third thing was kissing the ladies on the cheek when saying hello. There were also the never ending dinners, almost 5-hour long, which was softly brutal. I am sure there were some more things, but these are the ones I remember very well.

– Of the many wins you got so far, which was the most important for you?

It’s a tough question, because every victory is special. Tour de la Region de Lodz stage victories and win in GC are special, as those were my first successful international races. Winning a stage in the Baltic Chain Tour was also important, because it was my first – and I hope not the last – pro win. Stage victory in the Saaremaa velotuur was psychologically important, because my father and mother have organized this race for many, many years and it was like gift to them. But I really hope that best victories will come in the future.

– How about the most interesting or unusual situation you encountered in a race? 

I think it happened this year in Flanders, when I ran up the cobblestone climb of Koppenberg. When I started to ride it, I thought “damn, this is not real”. Running it in a cycling race it was fun, but because of that I lost a top three placing there. Looking behind, I’m sure that I had the legs to win Flanders.

– This year, while riding for Team Pro Immo Nicolas Roux, you already scored a victory, three podiums and finished 6th in Flanders. Was this first part of the season above your expectations?

I am surprised by my strong first half of the season, but on the other hand I worked really hard in the winter, so I think I deserved it. Being 6th in the Tour of Flanders was like the cherry on the cake. Inside my heart I believed I can have results like that, but there were still some question marks. When I raced Flanders for the first time, in 2012, I knew that this can be a race where I can do well.

– What’s next for you?

I recently finished the Tour d’Azerbaijdan, and although I didn’t got any super results there, I saw that I can ride well at this level and opponents didn’t underestimate me. Now I have some Elite races in France, then the Tour of Estonia (UCI 2.1), the European Games in Baku and the National Championships. Of course, there are also the European Championships, which will be held in Estonia, at Tartu. My goal in these races is to get strong results and I hope that some pro team will see me and I can sign a good contract.

– So your big goal is to join the pro ranks soon.

I was pro once before, in 2013, with Amore&Vita, and that year was really difficult for me, both from a physically and psychologically point of view. I really hope it’s going to happen at the end of this year. If not, then I will try again next year. If I can’t do it then, I don’t really know what to say, maybe I’ll have to stop cycling. It depends on what conditions I can ride in the French amateur level and what will my motivation be. But one thing that’s certain is that I am doing all that I can in order to earn this desired pro contract.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 14 Preview


What happened on stage 13

There’s no such thing as a quiet day at the Giro. Those who still believed that got to see the truth on Friday, when both Alberto Contador and Richie Porte crashed with just 200 meters before going in the last three kilometers – where they would have been safe – and so lost time to Fabio Aru and Rigoberto Uran, the only important GC riders who were left unscathed. As a result, the Italian took the pink jersey and now has a 19-second advantage over Contador, while Porte is more than five minutes behind and looks like he is out of the contention for the trophy. At the finish in Lido di Jesolo, Lampre-Merida’s Sacha Modolo defeated Giacomo Nizzolo and scored his first victory in a Grand Tour, at the age of 27.

What comes now

Stage 14 brings the sole individual time trial of the 98th edition, between Trevio and Valdobbiadene (54,2 kilometers). This long and challenging ITT is raced against the background of the Prosecco vineyards. The stage can be clearly divided into two halves. The first 30 kilometers, from Treviso to Conegliano, run along level, wide and straight roads, with a few roundabouts in between. The following 29,4 kilometers are indeed challenging, with a climb of approximately three kilometers at a 7% gradient just past Conegliano, and an ever-undulating route, winding its way across the hills on narrow yet excellently surfaced roads.

The last three kilometers of the stage run downhill up to 400 meters from the end. A challenging left-hand bend 750 meters before the finish is followed by a right-hand bend with 500 meters to go (still in the downhill sector). Just 400 meters before the finish, the last bend leads into the home straight of Valdobbiadene: 400 meters with a 5,5% gradient, on 6-m wide asphalt road.

After a difficult first week, Rigoberto Uran will be fired up to come back into contention and do a great time trial, that will bring him not only the win, but also a place on the podium. National champion of Colombia in the ITT, Uran should make a great race – if he feels good – and create some big gaps between him and the pink jersey rivals. For Richie Porte, it’s going to be a tough task to be on the top spot at Milan, but one thing certain is that the 30-year-old Aussie will try to bring a smile on his face with a strong ride and a victory in stage 14, at the end of which he can partially relaunch his Giro d’Italia bid.

On Friday, Alberto Contador lost the leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour for the first time in his career, after being involved in the same crash as Porte. The Spaniard hit his left shoulder, but it isn’t anything serious, so this means he will be fine and very motivated at the start of the time trial, in order to regain the top position, which is held by Fabio Aru. The Italian isn’t known for his skills against the clock, but he worked hard on it during the past winner, so he can surprise everyone with a ride that can help him limit the damages.

When it comes to other cyclists who can fight for the win or the podium, Ilnur Zakarin – a former ITT national chamion – Dario Cataldo, Luke Durbridge Vasil Kiryienka and Ion Izagirre are the men to watch out for.

Valdobbiadene has hosted a Corsa Rosa stage only once, in 2009, when Alessandro Petacchi scored one of his last victories in the race, after finishing ahead of Tyler Farrar and Francesco Gavazzi.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 13 Preview


What happened on stage 12

BMC did an excellent work in the last 20 kilometers and Philippe Gilbert made sure he won’t let his teammates down, by finishing first and taking his 8th career win in a Grand Tour, and Belgium’s 155th in the Giro d’Italia. Once again, Fabio Aru didn’t feel good and Alberto Contador noticed that, so he accelerated on the final 500 meters, which helped him increase his lead in the general classification. Thanks to his impetuous action, Contador now has 17 seconds over Fabio Aru, who said after the stage that he couldn’t hold wheels because of hypoglycemia, reassuring everyone this situation won’t repeat in the following days.

What comes now

Stage 13, between Montecchio Maggiore and Lido di Jesolo (147 kilometers), is one of the shortest of the 2015 Giro d’Italia, and it is also entirely flat. The route runs across the Venetian Plain, from Montecchio Maggiore through Vicenza, Piazzola sul Brenta, Mirano, Mestre and Musile di Piave to Eraclea, where the final 20 kilometers begin. Watch out for a number of obstacles, such as roundabouts, speed bumps and traffic dividers, while crossing urban areas.

The stage has a fast-running finale on level roads. After crossing the Piave River in Eraclea, the route first hits the city of Jesolo and then reaches Cortellazzo via the road that rolls along the riverbank. Here in Cortellazzo, the road turns right onto a bridge with narrowed roadway. The stage course then takes wide, flat and straight roads, “sprinkled” with roundabouts with different diameters, that lead to the finish line. The home straight is approximately 500-m long, on 7-m wide asphalt road.

André Greipel is the favorite, considering he is the most powerful sprinter on such a finish, but also that he has Greg Henderson in the team, who can provide an excellent lead-out, just as he did in Castiglione della Pescaia. On the other hand, Sacha Modolo can be advantaged by the technical finale, which can help him overcome Greipel and get his first Grand Tour win. Giacomo Nizzolo has a strong train, but he needs to be well-positioned, which happens rarely with him in the last hectic meters of a stage. Other candidates for the victory are Luka Mezgec, Moreno Hofland and Elia Viviani, who will try to take back the red jersey, which is now sitting on Nicola Boem’s shoulders.

Lido di Jesolo will host a Giro d’Italia finish for the fifth time. At the previous occasions, only home riders got the win: Rino Benedetti (1955), Dino Zandegu (1970), Paolo Cimini (1987) and Alessio Di Basco (1988).

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 12 Preview


What happened on stage 11

After being in the day’s break, Ilnur Zakarin attacked his companions with 20 kilometers to go and time trialed his way to victory on the Imola Formula 1 circuit. Winner of the Tour de Romandie this season, the Katusha cyclist got his first victory in a Grand Tour, and was Russia’s 24th in the Giro d’Italia. Back in the pack, Alberto Contador decided to attack in order to test his opponents, and even though he didn’t leave anyone behind, it was obvious that Fabio Aru had some problems responding, as he didn’t look too good in those last kilometers.

What comes now

The 12th stage (Imola-Vicenza, 190 kilometers) is clearly divided into two parts: the first 130 kilometers across the Po Valley are totally flat, while the last 60 kilometers are very wavy and rough, with a few demanding climbs, and a mountain finish after a final spurt. The route runs across the Basso Ferrarese region and the Polesine area, along flat, largely straight and regular-width roads, worn out at points.

Just past Torriglia, the route takes in the easy-to-ride Castelnuovo climb (5% average gradient), in the Euganean Hills, and then crosses a short sector of flatland leading to the Berici Hills. The course clears the Crosara climb, going up from the Mossano slope, with almost two kilometers at gradients exceeding 10% and peaks reaching as high as 17%, on quite wide roads leading to the technical Lapio descent and, eventually, to the challenging final 15 kilometres.

After Fimon, the route takes in a 2-km long climb, with an 8-9% slope, peaking as high as 11% at points. Then comes a short false-flat drag, followed by a demanding – yet short – descent, leading to the last 5 km, which run entirely on flat terrain up to 1200 meters from the finish, where the final spurt begins. The last km has an average 7,1% gradient, with slopes approaching 10% in the final part and topping out at 11% in the very last stretch of the spurt. The home straight is 300-m long, on 7-m wide asphalt road.

The finish in Vicenza is very tough and could bring another type of riders into play, the punchy ones, used with the hard climbs of Flèche Wallonne. For this reason, Philippe Gilbert will be one of the main candidates, the Belgian being keen to take that victory that has eluded him since the start of the race. Unfortunately for Gilbert, Diego Ulissi is in excellent shape and will have an important saying on Monte Berico, where he’s more than capable to outsprint all his rivals.

Giovanni Visconti lies in seventh in the general classification, but he’s more interested in getting a win, and stage 12 should provide him an excellent opportunity to reach his goal, so he’ll clearly be with the best in the finale. Damiano Cunego, Carlos Betancur (who is close to top form), Tom-Jelte Slagter, Simon Gerrans and even Fabio Aru – if he feels ok and Astana decides to put the hammer down – are other cyclists likely to be among the protagonists on the last uphill.

Vicenza was nine times in the past an arrival city in the Corsa Rosa, but only once before a stage has ended on Monte Berico. This happened at the 1967 edition, when Spain’s Francisco Ibarra Gabica defeated two Italians, Franco Balmamion and Imerio Massignan. That was Gabica’s sole victory of the season.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 11 Preview


What happened on Stage 10

It should have been an easy day for the sprinters, but the breakaway of five gave the peloton the slip, going all the way to the line, where Bardiani’s Nicola Boem took the biggest win of his career. But the main story of the day developed once Richie Porte punctured in the closing kilometers of the stage to Forli and couldn’t return to the peloton despite chasing hard, eventually finishing 47 seconds behind Alberto Contador and Fabio Aru, his rivals to the pink jersey. It wasn’t the end of this, as the UCI jury found out that the Australian got a front wheel from his countryman Simon Clarke, which is against the rules, as Clarke is riding for another team. As a consequence, Porte was docked two minutes and now lies in 12th place, 3:09 off Alberto Contador.

What comes now

Stage 11 (Forli-Imola, 153 kilometers) is short, yet quite challenging, marked by five short but hard-going climbs before entering the final circuit (the Tre Monti circuit), to be covered three times. The route takes in these climbs one after another, and never flattens out: Trebbio, Monte Casale, La Valletta, Monte Albano and Valico del Prugno. Then it reaches the Imola race track and enters the final circuit, at the exit point of the “Variante Alta” chicane.

The final 15,4-km long circuit is raced partly on the Imola race track, and partly outside it. From the finish line (on the pit straight), the route covers around 3,5 kilometers of the track, up to the “Variante Alta”. Here, the stage course leaves the race track, takes the climb leading to Tre Monti (4 kilometers, 5% average gradient), then descends onto quite wide and well-paved roads until the last kilometers, that leads to the entry point of the Rivazza turn, around 850 meters before the finish. The route features one last bend 650 meters from the finish, and a long, slightly bent home straight on an 8-m wide, perfectly level tarmac surface.

Even before the rest day, Michael Matthews made clear that he’s interested in winning this stage, and the former U23 world champion will start as one of the main contenders, although his chances depend largely on the thoughts of the GC teams, who can blow the race to pieces as they’ve done more than once last week. Another cyclist who marked this stage is Fabio Felline, but the Italian’s problem is that he isn’t the fastest in the pack in case it ends up in a sprint, although truth being told, he defeated Matthews in a Vuelta al Pais Vasco stage.

Enrico Battaglin and Davide Formolo also have their eyes on this day, and the same goes for Diego Ulissi, the winner of the Fiuggi stage. 2012 world champion Philippe Gilbert can be in the mix as well, and he has two options: to go into the attack and to wait for the sprints, where Francesco Gavazzi, Juan Jose Lobato and Grega Bole can also feature. Other candidates, but from a break, are Gianfranco Zilioli, Stefan Küng, Simon Geschke (who will try to gain more points in the mountains classification), Maciej Paterski, Luis Leon Sanchez and Adam Hansen.

The peloton will get to finish for the third time in Imola, the city most noted as the home of the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. At the previous visit, in 1992, Italy’s Roberto Pagnin took his only stage victory in the Corsa Rosa. The finishing circuit of Wednesday is identical with the one used for the 1968 World Championships, when Vittorio Adorni won the rainbow jersey.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 10 Preview


What happened on stage 9

Paolo Tiralongo took his third victory in the Giro d’Italia, this time from a breakaway, becoming the oldest ever cyclist to win a stage at the race (37 years and 313 days). Once again, Rigoberto Uran lost time when Fabio Aru attacked, only Alberto Contador and Richie Porte being capable of responding. In the last 250 meters, Aru launched a sprint and gaped the Spaniard for one second. Contador remained in the pink jersey, with a three-second advantage over Aru.

What comes now

On Thursday, the bunch will line-up in Civitanova Marche, ready for a 200-km long stage which finishes in Forli, the town of Ercole Baldini, one of the finest time trialist ever seen, winner of the Giro d’Italia and the World Championships in 1958. The day is entirely flat and covers almost the whole of the Adriatica coastal road. The route unfolds along wide and largely straight roads for 100 kilometers, with just a brief detour to climb up Montedi Gabicce from the Pesaro slope. The following 60 kilometers run straight along the ss. 9 Via Emilia, through Santarcangelo di Romagna, Cesena and Forlimpopoli, leading to the finish in Forli.

The last kilometers past Forlimpopoli run along straight roads, with roundabouts and traffic dividers being the main obstacles typically found in urban areas. Approximately two kilometers before the finish, there is a 1,500-m setts paved sector, with a bend 1,100 meters from the finish, in Piazza Saffi, and a bottle neck 800 meters from the finish. The route features one last bend 500 meters before the end of the stage. The home straight is on level, 7-m wide asphalt road.

The weather will be excellent, with warm temperatures, but there’s still a risk of crosswinds. Giving how aggressive the GC teams were in the first week, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them coming at the front yet again, trying to create some damages and distance their rivals. Otherwise, this is going to be a day for the sprinters, and the technical finale should play into the advantage of Sacha Modolo, a rider who loves it when things become messy in the last kilometer. Another strong contender will be André Greipel, who’s keen to take the red jersey back from the shoulders of Elia Viviani. Of course, Sky’s sprinter will also feature there, as will Matteo Pelucchi and Giacomo Nizzolo, who is still in the hunt for his first Grand Tour victory.

Forli will host a Giro d’Italia finish for the ninth time, first visit here taking place in 1925, when Costante Girardengo was victorious. More recently, in 2006, Robbie McEwen was first – ahead of Olaf Pollack and Tomas Vaitkus – and became the only non-European cyclist to win in the capital of the Forli-Cesena province.

2015 Giro d’Italia – First week stats

– Orica-GreenEdge is the first team since Del Tongo (1985-1986) to win successive team time trial stages in the Giro d’Italia

– Simon Gerrans and Simon Clarke became the 7th, respectively the 8th Australian cyclist to wear the pink jersey

– Davide Formolo, Jan Polanc and Elia Viviani all scored their maiden victory in a Grand Tour

– André Greipel claimed his 13th career win in a Grand Tour and climbed to fifth in an all-time list of German stage winners in Grand Tours, behind Erik Zabel (20), Rudi Altig (18) and Marcel Wüst (14)

– Paolo Tiralongo became the oldest ever winner of a Giro d’Italia stage: 37 years and 313 days

– Seven of the 22 teams have nabbed a victory: Astana, Cannondale-Garmin, Lampre-Merida, Lotto-Soudal, Movistar, Orica-GreenEdge and Sky

– Alberto Contador has 12 days in the pink jersey and lies in third among the active riders, after Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali, both with 19 days

– Simon Geschke is the first German cyclist to lead the mountains classification in the last four years

– Home riders have had an excellent week, winning four stages so far, taking Italy’s tally to 1241 victories in the race

– The first eight stages in line were won by eight different cyclists

– Ten riders have abandoned the race thus far, Etixx-Quick Step and Nippo-Vini Fantini being the only teams with two cyclists out of the race

Rider of the week

On paper, Peter Sagan didn’t come to the Tour of California with aspirations for the overall classification, as people were talking before the start of a fight between Sergio Henao, Robert Gesink, Ben Hermans and Joe Dombrowski for the glory. At best, he was hunting for a stage victory, but everyone knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task, as Mark Cavendish was the top contender in the flat days. Eventually, after finishing three times in a row second, the Slovak champion found the way to a victory, in Avila Beach, taking advantage of the fact that he knew the last 200 meters to perfection, unlike his opponents.

Later in the week, Santa Clarita saw him finishing again on the podium, before the redesigned course for the individual time trial had Sagan powering to a commanding win, which surprised people because of the huge gaps he created on the 10,6 km-long parcours. Still, the most impressive ride of the Tinkoff-Saxo leader came on Mount Baldy, a tough Hors Categorie ascent, where he was expected to make way for the climbers and lose minutes, thus getting out of contention.

But Sagan – who changed his cadence on the mountains this season – decided to have a defensive approach on Baldy and keep his energy once the attacks began to come, pacing himself all the time, helped by the fact he always had visual contact with some cyclists ahead. Inspite of the fast tempo and riders attacking all over the place, the Slovak kept his composure and came home just 47 seconds behind stage winner Julian Alaphilippe, losing the yellow jersey for just two seconds, with one day remaining until the end of the race.

Then, on Sunday, in what was one of the most thrilling finales a stage race has seen in the past seasons, a finale truly worthy of a big budged Hollywood movie, Peter Sagan finished third at Pasadena for just 1/100 of a second in front of Tyler Farrar, but only after the organizers checked the photo-finish, prolonging his and Julian Alaphilippe’s agony. By winning the US race (for a mere three seconds) and showing he’s more than just a sprinter/Classics-type of rider, the 25-year-old relaunched his season, discovered a new dimension of himself and now has every reason to look with optimism towards the Tour de France, where he can be once again of the top protagonists.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 9 Preview


What happened in stage 8

It was another another nervous day at the race, which started fast and led to more than 100 riders losing contact with the main group early on. Then, at the first intermediate sprint – won by Eduard Grosu – Alberto Contador came second and this allowed him to double the advantage he has in front of Fabio Aru in the general classification. On the last climb of the stage, Beñat Intxausti won from the break, while Aru and Richie Porte attacked Contador, hoping to distance him, but with no luck, as he responded each time.

What comes now

Benevento-San Giorgio del Sannio (215 kilometers) is a very wavy stage, with a total difference in altitude just under 4000 metres. The first rough part of the route rolls across the Benevento area, hitting Pietrelcina, Benevento and Atripalda. Here the course enters the Irpinia region, with a long and easy-to-ride climb up Monte Termino (20 kilometers, 4,2% average gradient), which is preceding the more challenging Colle Molella (9,5 kilometers, with slopes of 6,3%) ascent.

The route then follows the constant undulations that lead through Lioni, Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi and Castelvetere sul Calore, up to 20 kilometers from the finish, where the harsh Passo Serra climb (3,6 kilometers, 8% average gradient) will lead to the final kilometres of the stage. The road surface is worn out and narrow at points over some sectors. The Passo Serra climb has a really demanding central sector, reaching double-digit gradients. A short, brisk descent follows, up to five kilometers from the finish. Another short climb and a stretch on city roads precede the 600-m long home straight, with a 3% gradient.

On paper, this is an excellent course for the break to succeed, so look to such riders as Simon Clarke, Maciej Patersi, Enrico Battaglin, Philippe Gilbert, Adam Hansen, Ryder Hesjedal and Gianfranco Zilioli ready to take their chance. On the other hand, if everything will be kept under control by the peloton, then Orica-GreenEdge has the opportunity to take the victory, with Michael Matthews or Simon Gerrans, the only requirement for the Australian team being to pick the right man for this, unlike what they did in the Fiuggi stage.

Fabio Felline nabbed a second place in the race, but is in the hunt for that win that can save his team’s Corsa Rosa, which means he’ll be determined to give it everything in the finale. Giovanni Visconti – who lies in 7th place overall – has what it takes to go for the victory and the Italian is prepared to do utmost in order to reach his goal, but he should be with his eyes on fellow countryman Diego Ulissi, who recently proved that he came back to the top.

The Giro d’Italia has visited San Giorgio del Sanio just once in its history, at the 1987 edition. Back then, Paolo Rosola – one of the finest sprinters of the decade – came first, followed by Guido Bontempi and Stefano Allocchio.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 8 Preview


What happened on stage 7

Diego Ulissi won his fourth stage in the Corsa Rosa, this being his first victory since serving a nine-month ban for salbutamol. After the longest day (264 kilometers) of this year’s Giro d’Italia, the Italian rider of Lampre-Merida outpowered Juan Jose Lobato and Simon Gerrans in Fiuggi, before being overwhelmed by huge emotions thanks to this liberating win.

What comes now

Stage 8, which takes the pack from Fiuggi to Campitello Matese (186 kilometers), is marked by the lengthy climbs of the two KOMs: Forca d’Acero (26 kilometers with a 5% slope) and Campitello Matese (13 kilometers, with ramps of 6,9%). After the start, the route hits Alatri, Veroli and Sora on largely flat roads. This is where the long Forca d’Acero climb begins, leading first to Abruzzo, and then fast to Molise. Along and easy-to-ride descent leads to Isernia along the new ss. 17 express way, which features a series of tunnels. Past Isernia, a further stretch on wide and slightly hilly road leads to the Campitello Matese climb.

The final ascent is 13 kilometers in length, and after the first deceptive false-flat drag, the route gets to the town of San Massimo with gradients of approximately 10%, then it takes the road leading to the finish (large, well-surfaced and with wide hairpin bends extending up to one kilometer from the finish). Starting from the last kilometer, the road descends slightly up to 250 meters from the finish. Here the road levels out on the home straight, on 6.5-m wide asphalt road.

Fabio Aru and Richie Porte will try to test Alberto Contador, who has a subluxation of his shoulder after crashing in stage six, so you can bet on the fact that the two of them will attack at some point, the main question being if Contador can hang on. It will also be interesting to see how the Spaniard’s team will react on the last ascent, considering it was below-par in some key moments of the race so far, after a very powerful start to the race. Besides these three, other cyclists to watch out for are Rigoberto Uran, Darwin Atapuma and Giovanni Visconti, who’s had a very impressive first week.

Campitello Matese is going to host a Giro d’Italia stage for just the seventh time in history. Most recent visit here was recorded in 2002, when Gilberto Simon won ahead of Francesco Casagrande and Franco Pellizotti, while 37-year-old Jens Heppner kept the pink jersey he was helding since stage seven.

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