The Queen stage of the Giro d’Italia 2023 featured a very difficult parcours, but the GC teams all picked a conservative strategy to wait for the final climb, with no one daring to try a mountain raid or pacing hard on the early high mountain passes. Fortunately for the interest in tomorrow’s time trial, Geraint Thomas, Primož Roglič and Joao Almeida remain within a minute of each other with GC still to play for.
The GC teams rode the start of the queen stage of the 2023 Giro defensively, with no satellite riders making the breakaway and the closest GC threat being Buitrago, over 10 minutes down. The pace on the early climbs was not fast and even on Passo Giau (9.8 km, 9.3%) the peloton was huge. 5.40 ᵉW/Kg for 36:04 min on Giau was 3:19 min slower than Egan Bernal’s time in the 2021 Giro which was in much more unpleasant conditions. At the crest, the group was around 35-40 riders deep as INEOS pace with Swift and Puccio was slow but Jumbo-Visma and UAE-Emirates were not willing to contribute and make the race harder.
On Passo Tre Croci (8.0 km, 7.2%) the group was reduced by a much harder pace from Laurens De Plus but after the climb, there were still 17 riders left. 22:42 min at 5.70 ᵉW/Kg definitely did some damage as the stage was heading into the sixth hour and the it seemed that De Plus paced harder at the end of the climb. Thymen Arensman before the Tre Cime di Lavaredo climb spent 5122 kilojoules for 5:32h which is 13.61 kj/kg/h. A very hard stage as the mountain passes were above 2000 metres sea level but it could have been harder if one of the big teams fully committed.
Like last year on the Passo Fedaia stage, the riders saved their bullets for the final steep ramp. Tre Cime di Lavaredo (3.7 km, 12.11%) included extended sections with a 16%+ gradient.
Primož Roglič before the climb even changed to a bike that had a 40-tooth single chainring with a 12-speed 10-44T cassette. It allowed Roglič to spin at his optimum cadence on the steep pinches, despite pushing over 6 w/kg. Probably it was a test before the stage 20 time trial which includes the steepest climb that has been used in any recent Grand Tours with a 21.6% steep 500-metre section.
Despite the steep gradients, there was not much action on Tre Cime as Roglič and Thomas stayed together practically until the finish. Both tried to attack but their ᵉW/Kg was too close to make a gap even a 10%+ steep climb. Roglič in the end sprinted to a 3-second gap over Thomas while Joao Almeida trying to hold a steady tempo as always lost 23 seconds to the Slovenian.
As the climb went up to 2316 metres, the watts were not particularly high as at altitude it is way harder to push the same watts as on climbs that start at sea level or close to it. Primož Roglič did Tre Cime in 14:20 min with 6.43 ᵉW/Kg. It was a new record as Vincenzo Nibali in 2013 (15:02 min) and Danilo Di Luca in 2007 (15:01 min) were way slower but in the 2023 Giro the tempo on previous climbs was not high and everything was saved for this final effort. At sea level we estimate that Primož Roglič would have been able to push 7.01 ᵉW/Kg doing the same effort on such gradients. This huge difference sea level effort and Tre Cime (average altitude 2077m) of 0.58 ᵉW/Kg really shows how much altitude can influence wattage output.
The stage was won by Santiago Buitrago from the breakaway. The lightweight Colombian beat the 75 kg Derek Gee by 51 seconds on the rampas inhumanas which was made for Buitrago and seemed almost unfair for Gee. Thomas is ahead of Roglič by 26 seconds and Almeida by 59 seconds and everything can happen in the final time trial.
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This 18.6 kilometre long mountain time trial will decide the Giro. Based on the climbing performances this week, Roglič and Thomas are very close but anything can happen as the Tour de France 2020 Stage 20 proved. Even Almeida still has left a small chance to win like this teammate Pogačar did three years ago. Currently, the betting odds for the title are @ 1.40 for Thomas, @ 3.00 for Roglič and @ 23.00 for Almeida.
There is a 10.8-kilometre false flat section before Monte Lussari but most of the time will be spent on the climb. The Monte Lussari road surface is not of the best quality. It is a pure w/kg battle and the riders will change for a road bike at the beginning as aerodynamics are not as important as the weight on 15%+ gradients.