Giro 2014 has seen its fair share of crashes, bad weather, new faces to the fore and old ones renewed, recriminations and opportunism. Exactly what we expect from a grand tour. Cycling is a hard mans sport and if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few years is that you take time whenever you can. Some observers talk about unwritten rules and codes of conduct but in the words of Johnny Depp, “it’s more of a guideline, really.” When the racing’s on, nobody stops.
Another win for Orica-GreenEdge is worth clapping about.
With the first proper rest day tomorrow, followed by a flat stage, today’s finish at the summit of Sestola promised some sparks as riders would take chances in the hope of recovery between now and the next big rendezvous later in the week.
Here’s how today’s stage played out…
Roll Out In Sunny Weather
As the bunch rolled out of Lugo this morning it was all smiles as we had the first really sunny day of this year’s race. Light winds and an established Grand Tour winner at the head of the race have combined to ease the pressure some have been feeling.
A relaxed atmosphere under the sun in Lugo at the start
Cadel Evans (BMC), in the opinion of some, may have taken the race lead a week too early but he’s been here before and knows what to do. And he wants to convert this race lead into an overall win this time.
Before the race even got going this morning we had a DNS in the form of Francesco Chicchi (Neri Sottoli) who had a spectacular crash yesterday and finished over 30 minutes down on the field. With a flattish run for the first 100 km of today’s stage, the pace was quite high as Sky seemed reluctant to allow a break to get away early on.
Stage 9’s profile
Eventually, there was a crash in the bunch that split the peloton in two but as everything came back together a break began to form off the front. Fourteen riders moved away and began to build a lead. They were Davide Malacarne (Team Europcar), Pieter Weening (Orica GreenEdge), Salvatore Puccio (Sky), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF), Yonathan Monsalve (Neri Sottoli), Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli), Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida), Leonardo Duque (Colombia), David Tanner (Belkin), Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto Belisol), Oscar Gatto (Cannondale), Marco Bandiera (Androni) and Julien Berard (AG2R La Mondiale).
These riders worked well together and the gap rose steadily. As the road began to rise a little after some 80 km of racing their lead had gone out to 6 minutes but with best placed man Malacarne standing 9:27 down on race leader Evans there was no frantic urgency in the pack to bring them back.
As the peloton came through the feedzone at Crespellano the pace had backed off and the escapees were now ahead by 7:24 and thoughts were surely turning to whether or not today could be the first time in this race that the break would survive to the finish. But would the gap be enough as the climb to Sestola is harder than the Cat 2 description would suggest with the only respite coming on the final section as the gradient eases. It’s the type of steep climb that would suit a climber like Quintana who has remained quite quiet but still lies only 1:45 off the lead.
Breakaway At Last?
As the road headed upwards towards Sant’Antonio with just over 60 km to the finish, BMC was marking the pace at the front of the bunch. The gap, though, was still going out and the break now had over 8 minutes advantage. Momentum was growing that they could stay away to the finish for the first time this year and with some riders like Berard having been active in yesterday’s attack it would be a nice payback for their efforts.
With the race heading uphill the gap inevitably began to drop, but not by a great amount. With 50 km to race the advantage was still 7 minutes and although the bunch wasn’t hanging around they weren’t exactly trying at this stage to claw back the deficit. Lots of riders were licking their wounds and it could be that another one of those ‘unwritten rules’ was being applied today. Give everyone a chance to recover with more hard days ahead.
With no rider in the break Garmin Sharp came to the front of the bunch and began to work, using virtually all of their remaining seven riders. They would be keen to have seen Ryder Hesjedal have a crack today but with less than 50 km to go and the break still at 6:30, Garmin’s effort disappeared almost as suddenly as it began. They were probably looking to see if other teams would work with them but as nobody seemed too bothered, they quickly switched off their effort.
Up in the break they were sprinting for the KOM points with Monsalve easily coming around Vorganov who had started the move. On the descent Malacarne made a move off the front as they headed towards the intermediate sprint but he was easily brought back and it was Bandiera who took the points.
There was a little moment back in the bunch when Movistar seemed to come to the front. Evans was back at the team car and it seems that it was Petacchi (OPQS) who acted as policeman to stop anyone taking advantage.
As the break crested the little climb before starting the long descent to the foot of the 4th Cat climb at Rocchetta Sandri, the gap had come down to 5:45. The break had 40 km to ride, and everything to ride for as they had the advantage. They needed to settle down and continue to work together after the uncertainty of the first climb and following sprint.
The bunch wasn’t really riding as if they were trying to catch the leaders but they were keeping them honest with different teams showing their noses on the front.
All Bets are Off
As the bunch headed down the long descent BMC came to the fore and took off like they had decided to neutralize the break. Evans himself was sitting second wheel as they flew down the hill and the gap had dropped to 4:39. Everybody was working for Evans with Sanchez (BMC) making sure they were pushing.
It could be that BMC wanted to stretch things out or just that they wanted to stay clear of any crashes that might occur behind them. The result was that those riders who had been struggling earlier on the climb had gone off the back and this might have accounted for BMC’s actions. Fabio Aru (Astana) had a mechanical but as he’s now the GC contender for his team, he was taken back through the cars by his colleagues.
With the break on the second last climb of the day David Tanner attacked the lead group to try and take the points. Garmin had come to the front of the bunch again, this time aided by Giant Shimano, and the gap had dropped to 3:40 with 25 km to go. It was going to be close for the lead group if they were to survive.
Tanner took the points over the top but his advantage was only 5 seconds as the other escapees started the descent.
Once again, Garmin switched off their efforts and it was Team Europcar who came to the front. Katusha, who have had a terrible Giro this year, was also thinking about Dani Moreno. All of the GC leaders were present as Quintana was watching Evans in case anyone should try a long attack towards the final climb. This meant that the gap was now 3:19 but with 20 km left to race, the advantage was still swinging towards the breakaway.
On the only piece of flat road before the final ascent Pieter Weening attacked his companions and took off up the road in search of Tanner who had built a gap. The others were unwilling to pick up the chase and Weening quickly caught and passed Tanner to make the running on his own. Not being as strong a climber as others from the group Weening was keen to get a cushion but behind him the break was beginning to splinter as the climbers began to sort themselves into a smaller group.
Malacarne was the first to chase and finally caught Weening. Van Der Sande, Barbin, Duque and Rodriguez were sitting at 15 seconds behind the lead pair but were slowly reeling them back in. Duque decided to cross the gap on his own but try as he might he just couldn’t make it across.
With the gap back to the main bunch now sitting at 3:51 it was clear that the winner was going to come from this break, unless someone lit the fuse behind.
Now Berard and then Rodriguez decided to try and get across as they were all trying to calculate whether the leaders would falter on the climb or stay away to the finish. The original breakaway group was shrinking as riders decided to try and jump across to the Weening group but the Orica and Europcar pairing was slowly pulling away.
In the bunch it was back to tempo riding with BMC controlling the pace as the other teams continued to watch.
Inside the Final 10
Through the town of Sestola and on up towards the ski station Weening and Malacarne now had 1:30 of an advantage over the chasers. This was the point where the road began to kick up and it was here that the climbers in the chase group would have to make their move.
The two leaders hit the steeper section where the gradient rose to 13% but they had a great advantage over the chasers with 7 km to race.
As the bunch came through the town there was a concertina effect as they approached a left-hander and Gorka Izagirre (Movistar) hit the deck. He looked to be a lot of pain but was soon back on his bike.
The climbers from the remains of the chase group now took off in pursuit of the Weening/Malacarne pairing. Barbin had set off on his own and was trying to chase them down on the harder slope. Geniez (FDJ.fr) had also set off on his own from the main peloton but it could have been the prelude to a second chase group.
The race had finally been set alight as the lead pair was being chased by Barbin who was 1:56 behind. The chasers were scattered but were another 20 seconds back. The surprise was that the main bunch was now at only 3 minutes but with 4 km to go, surely the leaders could survive.
Pozzovivo (AG2R) attacked from the bunch and Evans and Uran (OPQS) had to chase. The other GC guys were there as Steve Morobito (BMC) controlled affairs for Evans. Pozzovivo was on his own and had 30 seconds over the Maglia Rosa group. He was 2 minutes behind the lead pair with 2 km to go but with a slight easing in the gradient towards the line could he catch them?
Cat and Mouse
Into the final km and Weening wanted Malacarne to take up the running as he is the better sprinter. Pozzovivo was motoring the whole time and taking time back on Evans but it was all about the sprint now.
The two leaders were almost track standing as Pozzovivo came within 400 meters behind. Malacarne was looking over his right shoulder as they came into the last 200 meters but eventually he had to go. Weening fought to come around on the right as Malacarne tried to close the door but it was to no avail as Weening took the sprint by a bikes length to add to the great Giro that Orica GreenEdge are having.
Pozzovivo took third spot and valuable bonus seconds to cut his deficit to Evans in the overall. The GC group crossed the line 27 seconds behind Pozzovivo so the rider that had a bad day yesterday has made up for it today.
Great win for Pieter Weening and a superb Giro so far for Orica GreenEdge.
Keep it Pez
Stage 9 Results:
1 Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica Greenedge 4:25:51
2 Davide Malacarne (Ita) Team Europcar
3 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:42
4 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:01:08
5 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
6 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
8 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Team Sky
9 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo
10 Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col) Colombia
GC After Stage 9:
1 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 38:49:34
2 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:00:57
3 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:01:10
4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:20
5 Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:01:31
6 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:01:39
7 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:01:43
8 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:01:44
9 Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team 0:01:45
10 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Trek Factory Racing 0:01:48