The Inner Ring | Giro Stage 8 Preview

    A real mountain stage and a good day for the breakaway, unless Tadej Pogačar wants to eat their lunch.

    Peru-gia: Tadej Pogačar crossed the line with a victory celebration, knowing he won the stage. He beat Filippo Ganna by 17 seconds and even if the Italian had gone faster Pogačar would have still won the day because the likes of Geraint Thomas, Dani Martínez and Ben O’Connor were two minutes adrift.

    Pogačar built his victory against his GC rivals on the flat, taking time on them all at the two early time checks, then speeding uphill into Perugia to eject Ganna out of the hotseat. The result stands for the day but the gains per kilometre – more than 1s/km against Thomas on the flat part of the course suggest the second time trial by Lake Garda means there’s more time for the taking.

    Spare a thought for Ganna, resplendent in his Italian tricolore and once an invincible but now with Pogačar reduced to finishing second. Close, but sport is a winner-takes-all domain. Being the best time trial specialist used to be a very valuable niche, much less so now although of course we can revisit this as the sun sets on Paris late in July.

    Back to the moment and to look at the GC now is to see the same tea leaves we saw on the eve of Torino: Pogačar leads, Martínez and Thomas are next, then Ben O’Connor because he blew himself up on the road to Oropa. Luke Plapp had a solid day after his breakaway and is up to fifth, Alexey Lutsenko is sixth but you wonder for the high mountains. Cian Uijtdebroeks loses ground but arguably had his best time trial ever so seventh is solid and Antonio Tiberi makes a leap up to eighth. These are all relative comforts in a day when Pogačar started the day with seconds on his rivals and finished it with minutes. Already.

    The Route: A hard day, a real mountain stage with 3,750m of vertical gain. It starts with an unmarked but very real climb out of Spoleto to help the breakaway go clear.

    The Finish: Prato di Tivo’s been a regular in Tirreno-Adriatico and featured just the other day in RCS’s freshly revived race, the Giro d’Abruzzo where Alexey Lutsenko won, muscling his way past several UAE climbers. It’s a long climb on a wide road, a ski station summit finish but with a wild feel as it’s remote. The middle-section is the steepest but just, the overall feel is of a very regular climb.

    The Contenders: Tirreno-Adriatico came here in 2021 and the winner that day? Tadej Pogačar (UAE) took the stage after a solo move but he was “only” six seconds ahead of Simon Yates, a win and not a rout. He can obviously win again today but this depends on whether the UAE team want to ride all day to keep the breakaway in check. They can try… but really don’t have to.

    So this opens up space for the breakaway. The climb suits riders who can muscle their way up and either dance away or sprint from group. Aurélien Paret-Peintre (Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale) has the sprint, Michael Storer (Tudor) the jump. Others like Alexander Kamp (also Tudor), Simone Velasco (Astana), Jefferson Cepeda (EF), J-P Lopez (Lidl-Trek) come to mind but it’s an open stage.

    Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-Quickstep) lost in Rapolano but impressed for the way he was making move after move to get away so some form is there. Team mate Jan Hirt is almost the opposite, no turbo but he can grind the pedals over to a result. Mauri Vansevenant sits at the Lagrangian point between the two, even if he rocks on the bike.

    Pogačar, APP, Storer, Zana
    Kamp, Hirt, Alaphilippe, Velasco, Lopez, Vansevenant, Pellizari

    Weather: sunshine but a cool 18°C inland for much of the stage.

    TV: KM0 is at 12.45pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST. Tune in for the final climb at 4.30pm.

    Postcard from Prati di Tivo
    It’s too much to call Prati di Tivo a ski resort, “prati” is Italian meadows and green pastures abound while a handful of hotels, each spaced hundreds of metres from each other, offer accommodation amid the Gran Sasso mountains. For what? It’s a small ski resort, apparently once popular with Belgians but customers are dwindling today.

    There are only a handful of pistes to ski, it’s more a destination for locals at the weekend if the conditions are right. And if there is snow the lifts don’t just have to cope with the ice, howling winds and high energy costs but court cases with the operators involved in a legal saga.

    This is an issue all over Europe for small ski resorts at mid-level altitudes. Snow is increasingly intermittent and the operators, often local or regional government, are having to think about the future. Plough money into them or deploy it elsewhere? This is where cycling comes in because rather than see Prati di Tivo as a “ski resort”, many places want to rebrand as summer locations where, to borrow from Lee Perry, if the city is too hot people can cool out on the hilltop.

    Today’s Giro stage helps put the place on the map but while cycling can help revive and promote these places, their decline means fewer funds to bid for races. As ski resorts pour funds into promoting the summer season the likely outcome is a “rich get richer” scenario where the big high altitude resorts can have a busy winter and summer program with bike races of all kinds, ski competitions and much more. Prati di Tivo might just revert to grassland.

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