Firstly, a quick look at how the overall GC battle looks heading into the final week.
|1||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||62:02:34|
|2||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||0:01:26|
|3||Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling||0:02:46|
|4||Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia||0:02:47|
|5||Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida||0:03:53|
|6||Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida||0:04:35|
|7||Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) Ag2R La Mondiale||0:05:15|
|8||Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff||0:05:20|
|9||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2R La Mondiale||0:05:57|
|10||Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team||0:06:21|
Who Will Win?
The first two places overall look pretty well settled. Nibali is in exceptional form, and its very hard to seeing him losing any time to anyone. His time buffer, while not huge, should be enough to protect him if he falters near the end of any of the climb-heavy stages later this week.
Cadel also looks to have 2nd place sewn up. His form is good, and whilst he is likely to have a go at overhauling Nibali, the gap is probably just a little too much. He has over a minute lead on the chasers behind him too, so barring a very bad day, he'll finish in a very well-deserved 2nd place.
Rigoberto Uran can really celebrate how this week has turned out for him. With the withdrawal of his team leader (Bradley Wiggins), he has become the 'Plan B' team leader. He has made the most of this opportunity, sitting 3rd overall - and he could have been even closer if he hadn't been made to wait for Wiggins during his 'bad days'. Uran and Santambrogio will wrestle for the final spot on the podium.
Uran's contract with Team Sky ends this year. He can expect his next contract (with Sky or whoever) to be a reflection of his terrific performance in this Giro.
Carlos Betancur has also had a great Giro. One of the two leaders for Ag2R (with Domenico Pozzovivo), he has looked particularly strong in the high mountain stages. His efforts on last night's stage 15 up the Telegraphe and Galibier rewarded him with the white jersey for 'Best Young Rider' (a slim 5 second lead over Rafal Majka).
Nothing changes the complexion of a race more than the withdrawal of two of the big favourites. Bradley Wiggins was the biggest shock. While he was at the pointy end of the race, he never looked comfortable. He then totally lost his descending mojo, and the televised scenes of him gingerly coming down the wet, rainy Italian roads would have been both embarrassing and humiliating for him.
Wiggins was then struck with a bad cold and chest infection. Clearly, he walked under too many ladders! He has now left the race to recover, and prepare for the Tour de France.
Ryder Hesjedal, the defending champion, was also a disappointing withdrawal. Some great attacking riding early in the race promised much, but he absolutely fell apart after the first rest day and ended up over 20 minutes behind the leaders. No-one is sure what happened, but he also left the race with eyes on redemption at the Tour in July.
Samuel Sanchez was another pre-race favourite, featuring heavily in the pre-Giro advertising campaign. He has fallen well away, and clearly isn't at the same level as the current Top 10. Some better signs in the last couple of stages suggest he might come good in the final week for a stage win - but his race for the overall win is over.
Finally - Robert Gesink. So many times he's promised to finally breakthrough for a first grand tour podium, and once again he has faltered. Surely it is time for him to put his GT ambitions aside, and focus on different cycling goals. It will be interesting to see where his career goes from here.
The final week of the race is dominated by mountains, including a 'mountain individual time-trial' on the penultimate stage.
Really, anything can still happen. The stages are hard enough that any rider (even Nibali) can lose bucket loads of time if they have a bad day. The weather also shows no signs of improving, and no rider is immune to cracking in the wet, cold, miserable conditions.
As a cycling fan, this year's Giro has once again kept us on the edge of our seats. Terrific riding by the competitors, spectacular weather (of all types!), and surprises coming out of almost every stage. The final week is not to be missed!!