With Stage 20 being shortened this stage takes on greater significance, writes Jack Houghton, who expects fireworks in the General Classification
"Anyone with Maglia Rosa ambitions to overthrow Almeida will need to do damage here..."
What's the stage like?
After the General Classification damp squib of Stage 17, this stage is surely going to be decisive in the outcome of this year's race.
Early on Wednesday, organisers announced that, contrary to suggestions otherwise, all the four scheduled stage climbs would be completed, including the iconic, super-categorised Stelvio. With snow cleared, and temperatures forecast at a balmy four degrees, riders can look forward to 25km of painful ascending on that climb alone. And after some courageous descending, the road kicks up again for a Category One summit finish.
This will be tough and will favour the best climbers alone.
Who are the favourites?
For the same reasons outlined on Stage 17, Tao Geoghegan Hart (4.003/1) is rightfully the strong favourite. He has shown that he is reaching a peak at the right time, and assuming his Stage 15 form carries through here, he'll be hard to beat.
Jai Hindley (10.009/1) was impressive on Stage 15, and if it wasn't for his dedication to his super-domestique role there, he might have troubled Geoghegan Hart for the win.
Hindley served his team leader, Wilco Kelderman (11.0010/1), that day, and will presumably be performing a similar role here. But whilst Kelderman will have the benefit of this assistance, it's unlikely that he will be especially motivated to ride for the stage win: distancing Almeida will be his only motivation.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
Ilnur Zakarin (20.0019/1) and Thomas de Gendt (40.0039/1) were both active in the breakaway on Stage 17, so expect them to be quieter here.
Rafal Majka (18.0017/1), Vincenzo Nibali (14.0013/1) and Domenico Pozzovivo (24.0023/1) all need to make time up in the General Classification and will be motivated to try here. However, whether they have the legs is another matter; they certainly didn't on Stage 15.
This is a much bigger mountain day, though, and whilst Geoghegan Hart is the deserved favourite, Nibali is interesting at a bigger price on a stage type that has historically suited him.
What effect will it have on the overall market?
Along with announcements that Stage 18 would progress as planned, organisers also confirmed that the monstrous Stage 20 would be shortened, due to snow and sub-zero temperatures on the Agnello climb. This heightens the pressure on this stage: anyone with Maglia Rosa ambitions to overthrow Almeida will need to do damage here.
Meanwhile, in the Mountains Classification, it now looks as if Ruben Guerreiro plans to make a bid. Expect to see him out front early.
*Odds correct at the time of writing
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Back Tao Geoghegan Hart @ 4.003/1
Back Vincenzo Nibali @ 14.0013/1