It's a flat, long course for the real TT specialists here, and even the two climbs (4.9 kms, 3.8% and 6kms, 2-3%) won't be enough to force most riders out of their TT position and they shouldn't be much of an obstacle. They do however come in the second half of a long day, and it will be of vital importance to ration energy on the first half of the race, knowing that the toughest tests are in the back half of the course.
The weather could be a decisive factor in today's race, with the split starts and the possibility of a change in wind direction (from largely a cross-tailwind, to a cross-headwind) likely to advantage the earlier starters. Hopefully the GC candidates get to race in largely the same conditions, but a rider like Richie Porte could make up a lot of time, because he is a fast time-triallist and may have the wind advantage.
I'll split this into stage winners and GC contenders, just so everything is covered, but also because there aren't too many TT specialists present at the race. The riders mentioned in this first part may also get the bonus of a wind shift, which over this long course, will probably cost riders over a minute.
Stefan Kung was hoping for a big performance on this stage but crashed out, but Sylvain Dillier may step up in his countryman and teammate's place to ride a good race here. He is young, but has shown great aptitude for the discipline, last year placing in the top 10 of every TT he competed in, including 3rd at the Swiss nationals, finishing behind Kung and Cancellara. He has taken a step up with his racing this season, and it would be a surprise not to see a similar rise in his TT efforts.
Vasil Kiryienka is a man who can do a very good TT when he wants to, and given Porte's current GC predicament, he will most likely be allowed to go for the win here. In the past two years he has finished 4th at the World ITTs over very similar distances, and whilst he won't be advantaged by the climbing, he is nonetheless pretty good uphill. The question mark will be whether he has the form, as he has been slipping away in the mountains early every stage, leaving Porte isolated, and this shows that he doesn't have his best legs at the moment.
Fabio Felline is quickly becoming a jack-of-all-trades, he was a good climber and good sprinter, and now you can add good time-triallist to the mix as well. His 6th in Pais Vasco was very impressive, and he took a win in the Criterium International earlier in the year as well, although admittedly that was on a prologue-length course. Again he does have some question marks, his performance in the Giro TT last year was very poor, finishing 139th, and the length may be a bit long for him, with his better perfomances to date coming over shorter distances. He is an improved rider, and has been riding well without luck this Giro, and tomorrow gets to make his own luck, and I think he'll be right up there.
Kristoff Vandewalle is an actual TT specialist, taking wins in the Tour of Austria and Poland last season, but was way off the pace in his performances against the clock this season. I'm not sure if there were excuses for him in those stages, but a TTer of his class should be doing a lot better. He will certainly be trying to do so on this stage, and he could take a big win if he can return to his top form.
Luke Durbridge was expected to turn into a time-trialling colossus after domintating the junior scene and then having a number of encouraging results in his neo-pro season. Unfortunately he hasn't really kicked on from there, and now appears to be settled into a domestique role at OGE. He does still try to do his best in TTs, though they are generally top 10 efforts and that's probably the best he can hope for here.
The GC should see a pretty big shake-up, with Aru a pretty poor time-triallist, and Contador a very good one. A shift in weather could mess things up a bit, and hopefully it doesn't happen and gives the GC guys a chance at winning the stage as well as not being unfair in effecting the GC markedly.
Contador's record in Grand Tours in particular is exceptional 4th, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, 15th and 2nd are his results since returning from his ban. Considering that it is guys like Froome, Martin, Cancellara beating him in those TTs in these, it is even more impressive. Even before Porte's fall down the GC, it seemed unlikely that he'd take much of an advantage on Contador if any at all, as the Spaniard just has that ability to recover and use his energy which has served him so well, so many times in the past. He will be motivated here to put as much time into Aru and the other Astana riders as possible, as they look to be the main threat to him at the moment, but won't be able to work together and use team tactics tomorrow.
Fabio Aru has never been a particularly good time-triallist, and has been expected to lose a big chunk of time to Porte, Contador and Uran in this stage, and so Astana has been on the attack throughout the race. His best TTs are in the mountains, the skills to which aren't really relevant here, and his best performance to date in a similar TT to the one he will face tomorrow is in last year's Giro, where he finished 16th, and was 2:55 down on Rigoberto Uran. This TT is longer and flatter, and whilst the young Italian has claimed to be practising and getting better at this specialised discipline, I would be surprised if he doesn't lose at least that much time to Contador again.
Perhaps the saving grace for Aru is that he should be able to hang onto 2nd place. Porte and Uran are too far back to catch up, Landa is a poor time triallist, and the biggest threat to his postion may come from his own teammate Cataldo or Tinkoff-Saxo's Kreuziger both of whom sit just over a minute and a half behind. Other riders that could make a move up the leaderboard are Andrey Amador (8th), Ion Izagirre (21st) and Steven Kruiswijk (23rd).
Richie Porte (18th) is another of those that can make a big move up the standings, he may even get the benefit of conditions, as he starts almost an hour before Aru. He may do so, but I'm not sure I'm convinced, especially after seeing the way he just drifted in after being held up by the crash last stage. He looked demotivated and may now decide to switch goals to hunting for stages. This may well be one of those stages, but so much of the TT is mind over matter, and it has been such a disappointing race for Porte, that he may lack that will to really push for the win.
I can't go past Alberto Contador for the stage win here, maybe he hasn't actually won any of these stages in the past, but that was against real specialists, and this field is far from as powerful. The predicted weather is just that, a prediction, and it may be that Contador isn't obstructed by it at all. If that happens he is the strongest TT rider here, who has ample motivation to really put a lot of time into his closest rivals.