Stage 20 – Caldes/Val di Sole to Passo dello Stelvio, 219km
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities was equally applicable on today’s penultimate leg of the 2012 Giro, as for once the queen stage lived up to its billing and provided an epic suffer-fest which offered us both elation and misery and left the fate of the maglia rosa still hanging delicately in the balance.
Indeed, the stage could have been subtitled A Tale of Two Races. Thomas De Gendt produced one of the most memorable solo victories of recent times to put himself within touching distance of the podium, while behind him overall leader Joaquim Rodriguez grabbed a few critical seconds and Ryder Hesjedal defended his position as favourite with great assertiveness and style. But for Michele Scarponi and Ivan Basso, the two most recent champions, the stage saw their hopes of victory effectively extinguished.
Stage 19 – Treviso to Alpe di Pampeago, 198km
Astana’s Roman Kreuziger put in what amounted to a 25km solo effort to claim victory at Alpe di Pampeago on the toughest day of the Giro so far and provide him with some consolation for his disastrous day on Wednesday’s stage 17, when he blew and lost 11 minutes to drop him out of overall contention. Meanwhile Ryder Hesjedal emerged from the elite GC group in the closing kilometres of the final climb to take time out of all his rivals and move him closer to the possibility of overall victory on Sunday.
Stage 18 – San Vito di Cadore to Vedelago, 149km
Stage profile: The GC contenders will be saving their legs in view of what’s still to come, while pretty much everyone else is just counting down the days. Except for two modest climbs, this short stage is all downhill from the Dolomites so should provide some respite for all save the sprinters. Mark Cavendish (Sky) will be looking for points to secure the red jersey, while local boy Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF) will be looking to spoil his party. The final 5km is straight and flat on well-paved roads – perfect for sprinting.
Top three: 1. Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia), 2. Mark Cavendish (Sky), 3. Roberto Ferrai (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela).