With Stage 15 looking a reliable form line, writes Jack Houghton, it's hard to look past the first three there
"This is what Stage 17 is all about: can Almeida cling on to pink for another day, and, if not, who will take it from him?"
What's the stage like?
The first of three mountain stages in four days, and although this is probably just about the easiest of the trio, it's still a monster. Four categorised climbs - three of which are Category 1s - over 203km, including a tough summit finish to Madonna Di Campiglio which, although not especially steep, will be a relentless 15.5km with the fatigue of the day, and the Giro as a whole, in their legs.
This is one for the out-and-out climbers, and given that there are enough riders who need to make significant chunks of time in the mountains if they are to challenge for the Maglia Rosa, it is unlikely that a breakaway will be given much rope. Expect this to fall to a General Classification hopeful.
Who are the favourites?
Given his success on Stage 15, it's no surprise to see Tao Geoghegan Hart (8.007/1) topping most lists. He looked comfortable on the final climb to Piancavallo that day and, provided he has recovered from that effort, he is expected to go well again for a team that is on fire.
Jai Hindley (10.009/1) was similarly impressive on Stage 15, acting as super-domestique for his team leader, Wilco Kelderman, a role he is expected to reprise here. Had he done less of the donkey work that day, perhaps he could have challenged Geoghegan Hart, but then there is every likelihood he will be asked to saddle up again in the service of the team. Hindley's odds, then, looks a little on the short side.
As for Kelderman (11.0010/1), whilst he is riding the best of those at the front of the General Classification, he will have little motivation to attack. For this reason, he is hard to back. Even if he finds himself sprightly and energetic on the final climb, he is as likely to sit on a wheel and roll over in third as he is to try and win the stage.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
A host of riders who we expected to feature on Stage 15 were disappointing. Vincenzo Nibali (22.0021/1), Domenico Pozzovivo (18.0017/1), Jacob Fuglsang (14.0013/1) and Rafal Majka (16.0015/1) all bled time, even failing to better the efforts of Joao Almeida (17.0016/1), who we expected to capitulate dramatically when the severe climbing came.
Almeida likely will lose the Maglia Rosa in the coming days, but those other hopefuls did not look like the riders who will be threatening him. That's not to say that any one might not recover and win here, or that a rider who has been distanced up to now but we know possesses supreme climbing talent - like Ilnur Zakarin (20.0019/1) - might not surprise.
For now, though, using Stage 15 as our form line, this looks to be between the favourites.
What effect will it have on the overall market?
There are lots of points on offer in the Mountains Classification, but it is looking increasingly unlikely that a rider will seriously target this competition, with it more likely going to a General Classification rider as a result of their other exploits. And this is what Stage 17 is all about: can Almeida cling on to pink for another day, and, if not, who will take it from him?
*Odds correct at the time of writing
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Tao Geoghegan Hart @ 8.007/1