After Blockhaus shakedown, the GC is looking a little clearer at the Giro

There were no big gains as the fight for pink began in earnest on stage 9, but there were a few enormous losses.

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The 2022 Giro d’Italia has completed its second weekend, and the peloton has survived what many have been calling the toughest test of this year’s race. So with Jai Hindley celebrating stage victory, it’s time to take a look at where the GC favourites stand after nine stages.

After taking the pink jersey on stage 4 to Mount Etna, Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) was thought likely to lose the race lead on the infamous Blockhaus, but the 24-year-old Spaniard was able to limit his losses and hold on into the second week.

While the battle for the stage saw the GC favourites rise to the top, with a few completely imploding, the time gaps weren’t huge. Nevertheless, the top 10 has been cleansed of the first week’s breakaway riders, and is beginning to look more like what we’ll have in Verona in two weeks’ time.

The GC after stage 9

  1. Juan Pedro López
  2. João Almeida + 12 seconds
  3. Romain Bardet +14 seconds
  4. Richard Carapaz +15 seconds
  5. Jai Hindley +20 seconds
  6. Guillaume Martin + 28 seconds
  7. Mikel Landa + 29 seconds
  8. Domenico Pozzovivo + 54 seconds
  9. Emanuel Buchmann + 1:09
  10. Pello Bilbao + 1:22

And the other GC players:

11. Alejandro Valverde + 1:23
13. Vincenzo Nibali + 3:04
17. Hugh Carthy + 4:22
19. Ivan Sosa +5:53
24. Wilco Kelderman +11:02
25. Simon Yates +11:11

The virtual podium

There are three riders who stamped their marks most indelibly on the race, besides Hindley.

Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) has got to be the top favourite now, not least for the strength of his team, which put their combined weight to the grindstone almost as soon as the race ducked under 100 km to go. On the final climb, Richie Porte sacrificed his own high placing with a furious pace, which set up the Ecuadorian’s attack.

With Bardet and Landa on his wheel, Carapaz looked every bit the Grand Tour winner that he is, but he was unable to shake them and they were joined by a few rivals, including the stage winner, in the last kilometre.

Carapaz played his cards on Blockhaus.

“I missed a little luck in the sprint, but the sensations are good,” said Carapaz. “The team wanted to control the stage and we did it. We will keep fighting. I am delighted with how the day went and now we will  look ahead to the second half of the Giro.”

Not for the first time, the Ineos Grenadiers look like the strongest team in the race. However, they did a lot of work on stage 9 for not a great deal of reward, so it remains to be seen if they try something different in the coming mountain stages, or stick to the well-thumbed Skytrain textbook. Answers on a postcard, please…

Second on the stage was DSM’s Romain Bardet, who was attentive in all the key moments, and the first to react when Carapaz or Landa put the pressure on. He was then able to punch hard in the uphill sprint to the line, and it’s a measure of the man’s confidence and ambition that he’s so disappointed with his ride.

Bardet’s relatively inexperienced DSM team is doing a good impression of experience so far.

“It’s difficult to accept, because I made an error on the last corner and those were the few centimetres I was missing in the end,” Bardet said post-stage. “On the last climb, I knew that Ineos were going to do something, so I just needed to be on the wheel when Carapaz attacked. But afterwards, we didn’t work together well. It was a pity to come to the finish in a group fighting out the win, that will serve as a lesson for me.

“We didn’t work together that well. I had the impression that everybody was withholding something. It was a pity, because in group sprint, there’s always a bit of a hazard like that.”

Bardet had the support of his DSM teammates throughout the stage, and Thymen Arensmen was never far away on the climb to the finish. The young Dutchman now sits 12th overall himself, but when asked about his own strong performance, he swept the compliments aside with the words, “What I do doesn’t really matter.” He’s all in for his French teammate, he says, and should come in handy in the mountains to come.

The third man on the virtual final podium is the resurgent Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), who showed he’s back to his best despite falling twice during the stage.

Two crashes and one new shoe later, Landa showed he was one of the strongest GC riders at the Giro.

“Today we’ve started to see who can be the strongest in this year’s Giro and I’m delighted to be up there,” Landa said after the stage. “I fell on the Lanciano and again on the descent, and after that, I didn’t like how I was pedalling, it always felt odd. So all in all, I’m very satisfied with how it worked out. I didn’t lose time and I was up there.”

The Spaniard was’t the only Bahrain Victorious rider to be visited by bad luck. Pello Bilbao also hit the deck hard fairly early on requiring a lengthy visit to the medical car, but he joins his teammate in the top 10.

“For one moment I thought that all my bad luck had come back to haunt me again, so I’m very pleased to be up there ahead,” Landa went on. “But the GC is beginning to sort itself out now, I’m up there and we’ll see what we can do. So I can be pleased with that.”

Steady as they go

Jai Hindley made a welcome return to the winner’s circle on Sunday, chasing patiently up Blockhaus and then leading the GC group into the last corner.

“It’s pretty incredible actually,” Hindley said. “It wasn’t the easiest year with the year I had last year. I worked my arse off to get back to the level to compete at the Giro and I’m lost for words, honestly it’s pretty amazing.

“The last Ks were a bit steady and I could see in the front they were playing with each other. It gave me a bit of time to recover in the wheels. I knew this last sprint, it was about 200 m to go at the right-hand corner, and I just made sure I was the first one in. I led out the sprint quite early but it was enough and I’m really lost for worlds. I didn’t expect to win today.”

The two sharpest prongs of the Bora-Hansgrohe fork, Hindley and Buchmann.

Bora-Hansgrohe arrived in Hungary for the grande partenza with four potential leaders, but with Wilco Kelderman (now 24th) and Lennard Kämna (now 15th) dropping off the GC pace, their fork is now just two pronged. In other words, Hindley and Emanuel Buchmann have gained a couple more domestiques.

João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) stayed almost completely under the radar until the final kilometres when he re-appeared after dropping off the pace further down the climb. Without Almeida’s steady pacing, and the work of teammate Rui Costa earlier on, the chances are that Carapaz, Bardet and Landa would have disappeared up the mountain uncontested.

Two names that were a welcome addition to the GC race were Grand Tour veterans Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), both in their retirement year, and both supposedly at the Giro to serve others. Granted, Nibali’s team leader Miguel Ángel López left the race on stage 4 and Valverde’s leader Ivan Sosa has been nowhere to be seen thus far, but their high placings are nothing but good for the race. That said, surely they’d sooner grab a stage win than a top-10 finish in their final Giro d’Italia?

Vincenzo Nibali is squeezing every last drop out of his very last Giro.

A third veteran who finished strong is Domenico Pozzovivo, he of the distinctive and less-than-ideal position on the bike which has been influenced over the years by a number of horrific crashes. The Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux leader has said he’s at his home race to get a top-10, and he’s so far on track.

An honourable mention for Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) who holds steady in the top 10 despite being distanced on Blockhaus. After his efforts in the breakaway on stage 8, his position is still good going into the second rest day.

Slip and slide

This is painful for a Brit to write, but two of the biggest losers of the day are in this category and both hail from these green and pleasant lands.

Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) was widely touted as the man to beat going into the race, and a phenomenal performance on the stage 2 time trial only reinforced that theory. However, the 2018 demons came knocking on stage 4 when he picked up a knee injury – in the crash that kicked Miguel Ángel López out of the race – and the knocking became cacophonous on stage 9.

Like his Giro hopes, Simon Yates hit the ground with a thud when he reached the finish of stage 9.

The Bury man was dropped on the Blockhaus’s lower slopes and though he held his margin at around half a minute for several kilometres, he eventually gave up the ghost and finished 11:15 behind Hindley.

“I’ve lost the race. It’s causing me a lot of problems, so I stopped trying to hide it,” Yates told the media post-stage, confirming that his knee is causing him issues. “It wasn’t my only problem today. I really struggled in the heat again. That’s how it goes, guys. I gave my all and that’s it.”

Also losing time was Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), although he did rather better than his compatriot with a top-20 stage finish. Now sitting 17th overall, 4:22 down on the pink jersey, Carthy is unlikely to trouble the top five, but there’ll be more slipping and sliding in the next two weeks, so a top-10 on GC isn’t completely out of the window just yet.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Movistar’s Ivan Sosa, whose horrible Giro just goes from bad to worse. He lost an alarming 1:23 on the 9.2 km stage 2 time trial, and he finished Sunday’s stage 9 in an anonymous 20th place. His teammate Valverde is doing rather better, but expect Movistar to set their sights on stage wins going forward.

Similar can be said for Jumbo-Visma whose top finisher was Sam Oomen in 18th, while Tom Dumoulin was one of the first to drop out of the peloton on the final climb, confirming that his Giro is now all about stage hunting.

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