Stage 15 will not be decisive in the competition for pink, writes Jack Houghton, but he expects the story of the final week will begin to be written
"It's unlikely we'll see a Giro-defining move on the stage, but there will be gaps among the main contenders..."
What's the stage like?
With the Alps looming to the north, this 185km lumpy stage is more foothills than high mountains, but it is nonetheless a proper General Classification test, and we should see the race for the Maglia Rosa begin in earnest on its slopes.
Four categorised climbs include a fearsome-looking 15km summit finish up to Piancavallo, of which the first 9km contains some 10% plus gradients. It's unlikely we'll see a Giro-defining move on the stage, but there will be gaps among the main contenders.
Whether one of them wins the stage is another matter. The route will encourage some breakaway artists with good climbing legs, and the GC guys might be content to let them go. It's a day to split your stake between either scenario.
Who are the favourites?
If the stage does fall to a GC contender, then there are some obvious candidates with climbing credentials. Domenico Pozzovivo (8.007/1), Wilco Kelderman (10.009/1), Jakob Fuglsang (11.0010/1) and Vincenzo Nibali (16.0015/1) all look to have the better of Joao Almeida (26.0025/1) when the ascending gets really tough.
Of those, the preference is for Nibali. He might be reaching the end of his career, but he is the most talented, accomplished and experienced of these riders and, given he is two-and-a-half minutes behind the leader, he will want to start making inroads before the rest day and the start of the decisive third week in the Alps.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
Ilnur Zakarin (14.0013/1), Ruben Guerreiro (16.0015/1) and Rafal Majka (20.0019/1) all have pedigree when it comes to breakaways in the mountains, Guerreiro most recently when winning Stage 9. And given how much the likes of De Gendt and various riders from Ineos Grenadiers - who have been the perennial participants in breakaways in recent stages - buried themselves on Stage 14's time trial, the breakaway might be less competitive here.
Of these riders, Guerreiro is favoured, although it might be a stage to bet on in-play to see who makes the selection and is allowed up the road.
What effect will it have on the overall market?
This is the day that riders will put down markers for the week that lies ahead. Joao Almeida will be keen to maintain his hold on the Maglia Rosa into the rest day, but it is likely this stage will see the beginning of the inexorable erosion of his lead.
Having not played in the General Classification market since a small pre-Giro bet on the ill-fated Geraint Thomas, I have now backed Vincenzo Nibali at 8.007/1. One more time trial looms for him, but he is value to take enough time in the mountains on his rivals to hold on to pink into Milan.
*Odds correct at the time of writing
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Back Vincenzo Nibali @ 16.0015/1
Back Ruben Guerreiro @ 16.0015/1
Back Vincenzo Nibali @ 8.007/1 in Giro Winner Market