Its 263 kms long, mostly flat, with two late climbs and an uphill finish. Obviously the main action will come in those last two climbs, and failing that the sprint finish. The climbs are between 4-5%, and once at the top of the final climb there is a gradually building uphill to the finish, which starts at 1%, and is eventually 4% for the last 500m.
The weather is set to take a turn for the worse today, after so much nice sunshine. The riders should start out in mild conditions, but the day will get wetter and colder as it proceeds. The wind is light headwind for most of the day, making the stage lust that little bit tougher.
Orica-Greenededge have the obvious favourite for this stage, but are clearly quite tired after a very busy first week of the Giro. They will be called upon for a large proportion of the pace-making, but they should be able to do this as their main workhorses for the flat, Durbridge, Hepburn, Lancaster and Bewley haven't had as much to do with the hilly terrain. And even if Matthews is too tired to attempt the stage win, Gerrans will be very keen to go for the win, so I would expect to see OGE to the fore. They should also get support from BMC, Movistar, CCC and maybe even Astana and Sky. One team won't want to take on the majority of the pace-making for such a long stage, so there's likely to be some breakaway chicken, which may give the break a chance. Also possibly significant is what will happen if a team refuses to take initial responsibility to control the break's composition. For instance if we see a stage like the 2009 Giro where Richie Porte and 60 others went away, the peleton could rapidly find themselves in a lot of trouble.
There shouldn't be much action prior to the last 15 kms, unless, Astana and Sky decide to drive it up the climbs to test out Alberto Contador, or the winds really pick up sooner than expected and break the peleton apart.
The last two climbs should be decisive to the race, they will drop almost all of the sprinters at the end of such a tough day in the saddle if they are tackled at full speed, and if they aren't taken at top gear, then the attackers will go off the front and fight out the finish amongst themselves. The first climb will be the opportunity for the lesser names to anticipate the favourites, and try and hold their advantage into the next climb, where the real sparks will fly as the likes of Gilbert, Slagter, Gerrans should be expected to light up the race with attacks. It will be interesting to see how the race pans out from this point, if the remaining domestiques are strong enough to bring it back for their sprinters, or if the sprinters decide to try and follow the moves themselves, at the risk of fouling their legs in the sprint. OGE and CCC can probably have the best of both worlds here, they have Gerrans and Paterski respectively to follow attacks, and Matthews and Bole to do the sprint if it comes to that. And if no attacks go, both are very accomplished leadout men.
Michael Matthews is the favourite here, after his earlier win on the hilly sprint stage and his third in Milan San-Remo. He has taken another step up this season and has added that endurance that he was missing from his repertoire, and can now be expected to win sprints in the long races as well as the hilly ones. He's not just a sprinter obviously, Amstel Gold showed that he can follow the best in these explosive attacks, and he could even be part of a select group on the attack. He may be pretty tired after his days of defending the jersey and contesting sprints though, and OGE may instead have Simon Gerrans as their captain in the finish which better suits him.
Speaking of, Gerrans looks like he is coming into peak form exactly at the right time, and this stage will be one of those that he will have circled prior to the Giro. As a former winner of Milan San-Remo he can definitely handle the distance, and as a noted classics specialist, he will be right on with his tactics in this tricky finale. I would expect that he would sit on Gilbert's wheel as much as possible, look to respond to his attacks and beat him in the sprint. But he has the ability to be more proactive, and if he feels good, he could well attack and take the race into his own hands.
Phillipe Gilbert looks in superb touch at the moment, showing his form in stage 3, where he was part of the break, participating in the attacking and pace-making, before dropping back to the peleton and still finishing 3rd in the sprint! His pedigree is without question, and indeed in yesteryear, he would have been the unbackable favourite for this type of finish. Some factors will tell against him here however, he is the only real candidate for his team here, whilst others have an attacker/sprinter combo, he will have to either choose to attack or to wait for the sprint. He's also slower in a sprint than a few of the other favourites here, and can't afford to drag Gerrans, for instance, to the line.
Juan Jose Lobato has shown over the course of this season that he is arguably the best when it comes to uphill sprint, trouncing John Degenkolb and Grega Bole in the Ruta del Sol and taking the win in Stirling in the Tour Down Under. He hasn't come up against Matthews yet however, and also looks to be in pretty poor form. He did contest the stage today, but finished 14th, and in previous stages he has struggled up the climbs. In addition, after claiming that he had made Milan San-Remo a big goal for his season, he faded before the Poggio and finished well off the pace. In his best form Lobato would be a clear favourite here, but he looks a fair way from his best, which the 263 kms should show.
Grega Bole looks in prime condition so far this Giro, though he has probably been lurking out of view for many. He doesn't have a great leadout or the really top-end speed to contest the flat sprints, and he really specialises in the reduced bunch sprints and uphill sprints. He has impressed with his climbing especially so far, he was there in the Stage 3 sprint, but was poorly positioned and got whacked by a fan when he tried to go down the barriers to make up some ground, which cost him a lot of speed and positioning, and he did quite well to finish 11th. This uphill finish is right up his alley and Maciej Paterski is a really good leadout man in this terrain.
Fabio Felline is again looking impressive, and was surprisingly close to hanging onto the GC group on Stage 5 to go with his 2nd place on stage 3. He is climbing very well at the moment, and might even be a contender for the mountains stages in the near future. His immediate future is this stage however, and he will have to it without team support, as all of Trek are confirmed non-climbers. He has proved that he can freelance effectively however, and it will interesting to see his tactics as he probably has the ability to go with the moves a bit more easily than Matthews or Lobato, but lacks their absolute speed. Then again, he will be a lot fresher at the finish line, so he might just opt to sit on and count on his sprint.
Francesco Gavazzi looks like the move to a Pro-Conti team has livened him up a bit, and he is again a major player in these classics-styles races. At best he is a punchy climber with a decent kick at the finish, and he could surprise a lot of riders if he is allowed to get to finish with a group of attackers.
Sacha Modolo is probably the most likely of the rest of the sprinters to survive the course, he is a rider that is normally present at the end of Milan San-Remo, and he looks like he is going pretty well here. He is probably lacking a team to keep things together for him, as he won't be up with the front riders during the climb, and will have to be paced back on to realistically have a chance at the win.