After 16 grueling stages, the cyclists competing in the 2013 Giro d'Italia are closing in on the finish line. Five more stages remain, and there are a few competitors who have separated themselves as the men to beat.
Spain’s Benat Intxausti Elorriaga won Stage 16 with a strong performance in the medium mountain course. Tanel Kangert of Estonia and Przemyslaw Niemiec of Poland finished in second and third place, respectively.
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali held on to his overall lead, which after 16 stages is just one minute, 26 seconds.
Here's a quick look at the overall leaderboard:
|1||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||67:55:36|
|2||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||-0:01:26|
|3||Rigoberto Uran (Col) Sky Procycling||-0:02:46|
|4||Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida||-0:03:53|
|5||Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida||-0:04:13|
|6||Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia||-0:04:57|
|7||Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) AG2R La Mondiale||-0:05:15|
|8||Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff||-0:05:20|
|9||Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team||-0:05:47|
|10||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||-0:07:34|
To see where every cyclist stands after 16 stages, visit the race's official site.
Stage 17: Caravaggio – Vicenza
- Distance: 214km
- Highest point: 402m
- Category: Flat
After toiling in the mountains, the competitors will relish the opportunity to take on a flat track.
There is one big challenge toward the end of the stage, however. Near the end of Stage 17 there is a big ramp that will challenge the contestants to keep up their sprint.
This stage will be interesting to watch—especially the last half hour or so—as the pure sprinters will attempt to make up lost time on the flat, while the strong climbers will attempt to regain lost time in the short climb to Crosara.
Stage 18: Mori - Polsa (ITT)
- Distance: 20.6km
- Highest point: 1,205m
- Category: Individual time trial
The second-shortest stage of the race, Stage 18 is a brutal test against nature and against the clock.
According to CyclingNews.com, Stage 18 features some tough grades: "The gradients, an average of five percent and the final 6km at 6.8 percent, look better suited to the specialists than to the thoroughbred climbers."
Time trials pit man against the road without any help from teammates, which really sets the top riders apart from the main group.
Though short, this stage will push the competitors to the limits of their endurance, and should one or a few of the top racers falter, it could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Stage 19: Ponte di Legno – Val Martello
- Distance: 139km
- Highest point: 2,758km
- Category: High mountain
Of all the final stages, this one will likely determine the winner of this year's Giro.
Whereas Stage 18 was a short time trial up a steep grade, Stage 19 is a 139-kilometer test in the high mountains.
The distance itself isn't the big challenge in this stage, however. According to CyclingNews.com, the contestants will battle through "4,300 metres of accrued climbing."
Under any circumstances, this stage would be difficult, but it is even more of a monumental task considering all the hard riding the cyclists will have already done by this point. The contestants with the most energy, willpower and conditioning will separate themselves from their peers.
Stage 20: Silandro - Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Auronzo di Cadore)
- Distance: 203km
- Highest point: 2,304m
- Category: High mountain
Don't let this stage's easy start fool you—it's a bear.
Climb, climb and climb some more—that's what the contestants can expect on the second-to-last stage of this race.
According to Stefano Zanatta of CyclingNews.com, "If the Giro isn't already won, Passo Giau might well determine its outcome. I've seen riders blow spectacularly on it because it's just very, very hard."
Winning this prestigious race won't come easy—especially here near the end.
Stage 21: Riese Pio X - Brescia
- Distance: 197km
- Highest point: 200m
- Category: Flat
After three grueling mountain stages, the final stage of the Giro is almost perfectly flat.
Depending on what kind of lead the top rider has, this final stage could be quite boring. On the other hand, if there are a few competitors close behind the leader, this final stage could conclude with a sprint to the finish line for the ages.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78