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This article originally appeared on Velo News
SANTUARIO DI CASTELMONTE, Italy (VN) - After 19 Giro d’Italia stages where the differences between the three leading riders on the general classification have been negligible, the Passo Fedaia - better known as the Marmolada - is looming as the ultimate judge. The legendary Dolomite summit should finally split race-leader Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) after the trio hit lockdown in the last week.
Speaking to a handful of riders before the start of stage 19 in Marano Lagunare, the verdict on the Fedaia was unanimous - it's extremely tough.
"It's a hard climb for sure. I think it will be a day for the GC guys. They will make the pace very fast because the first three guys are still close to each other," said Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl's Mauri Vansevenant.
"It's perhaps the hardest day of the Giro and the GC guys, Jai and Richard, still have to play it out between them, so I think both will want to win," suggested Groupama-FDJ's Attila Valter.
As for Hindley himself, he highlighted the dilemma that the GC contenders face, admitting before stage 19 that, "if the opportunity comes today [Friday], then I'll go for it. But I'm also keeping in mind that tomorrow's going to be a pretty brutal stage. So I think today, I'm also thinking about tomorrow."
Bouwman takes the stage from the break. pic.twitter.com/dgnU8pbedb
-- BORA - hansgrohe (@BORAhansgrohe) May 27, 2022
Starting in Belluno, the 20th stage begins with 60 kilometers that rise very gently towards the first of three first-category summits, the Passo San Pellegrino, which tops out at 1,198 meters.
It's a long haul, stretching to 18.5km at an average of 6.2 percent. The descent away from it is not so long and leads into a valley section that reaches the foot of the Pordoi at Canazei. Averaging 6.8 percent for 11.8km, it will take the riders above 2,000 meters for the first time in this race, reaching an altitude of 2,239 meters.
After 30km that are mostly downhill, the riders will arrive at the bottom of the Fedaia.
It's 14km long and has the steepest average of the trio of giant passes, 7.6 percent. The final 5km to the 2,069-meter summit finish are by far the most challenging, averaging 11 percent.
"It's one of the hardest days for sure, and as it's the second last day I think everybody is at their limit," Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert team director Valerio Piva told VeloNews. "They will expend the last energy that they have in their legs.
"The GC contenders will give everything to make the difference and avoid reaching the time trial with just a small gap that would make things more stressful for them. You might be stronger than your rivals in a time trial, but racing one at the end of a grand tour isn't the same as doing a normal time trial. It comes down to how much energy you've got left in your body and to motivation."
Piva suggested that Carapaz may have an edge on the race's highest peaks because he lives and trains at these altitudes and higher at home in Ecuador. However, with key lieutenant Richie Porte out of the race after abandoning on stage 19, the playing field could be flattened.
"I think guys like Carapaz have an advantage because we will be above 2,000 meters. For the South Americans it offers the best situation to have an impact," said the Italian director.
"The fact that it's the finish climb rather than featuring within a stage changes a lot. It's the kind of climb where you can lose a lot of time if you are in difficulty because you have no chance for recovery. The fact that it's the finish will make it more selective," he added.
The Intermarche director continued by highlighting how the difficulty of the San Pellegrino and Pordoi adds an extra degree of difficulty.
"By the time they reach it, the riders will also have two other big climbs in their legs. Putting the Fedaia after the San Pellegrino and Pordoi is like the Giro's dessert. The time trial on the Sunday is like the digestif, the coffee and a small glass of spirits," said Piva.
There’s still nothing to separate the two leaders at the #Giro 🤏@RichardCarapazM leads in the GC group on stage 19. His lead remains at 3⃣ seconds. Tomorrow we go again in the high mountains 👊 pic.twitter.com/kK59aWpqnb
-- INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) May 27, 2022
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