Stage 9: San Sepolcro to Firenze, 170km
Another dark, rain-soaked medium mountain stage with four categorised climbs and four slippery descents that saw a lone breakaway victory and a GC contender distanced from his rivals.
After yesterday’s time trial, it was thought that the peloton would let a breakaway group stay away and for once it went according to plan. A group of a dozen riders went off on their own early in the 170km stage. Robinson Chalapud (Colombia) and Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) broke off at about half-distance, with Pirazzi mopping up the mountain points. Maxim Belkov (Katusha) then bridged across to what was now a bickering twosome. On the descent of the Vallombrosa, with over 50km to go, Belkov hit the afterburners and his fearless descending skills allowed him to make a winning gap.
Meanwhile, back in the peloton, Vincenzo Nibali and Astana were controlling the pace. The pelting rain and slick conditions once again did not agree with Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and he was seen yo-yoing off the back of the peloton. His team gathered around him, continually pulling him back onto the peloton, but Sky was shown no mercy. David Millar and a few of his fellow Sharpies started drilling it, getting the distance between the maglia rosa and Wiggins up to just over a minute.
Up front, Belkov was being chased by Colombia’s Jarlinson Pantano and Argonaut Tobias Ludvigsson, who in the last kilometres of the stage were joined by Ag2r’s Carlos Betancur, who shot by both and did a victory salute – ‘doing a Pozzato’ – not realising that Belkov had crossed the line 44 seconds earlier.
The GC contenders arrived in a wet, huddled mass, with Cadel Evans leading them over the line in fifth. However, the one GC contender who was not there – and who ended up losing over a minute on his rivals – was defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), who had a nightmare of a stage, looking like a spent force and ‘riding immodestly’ trying to get some power.
VeloVoices rider of the day
Another fantastic solo ride through the rain, VeloVoices rider of the day has to be Maxim Belkov. He made two smart moves: the first was bridging up to Pirazzi and Chalapud once they broke free of the larger breakaway, and then using their bickering to steal away from them and descend like a stone. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the atrocious conditions and it has to be said, on clear roads and a sunny day, his break would never have stuck. Nothing like a rainy day victory to show you’re a hard man of the road!
Opinion & analysis
Astana went for Sky’s soft underbelly today, putting the pressure on during the descents. Wiggins himself said that he was “descending like a girl” (although what girls who aren’t afraid of descending would think about that is anybody’s guess). The added firepower of Garmin-Sharp and BMC when Sky was off the back made it clear that there would be no quarter given in this race. That they weren’t able to make the time gap stick was a tribute to Sky’s efforts.
The big loser was Ryder Hesjedal. He looked uncomfortable in Saturday’s time trial but it was deemed that he came out of it okay. Here, however, it was clear that he didn’t have it in the legs. He ended up losing another minute on his rivals, surely putting the defence of his title beyond reach.
Although Wiggins ultimately didn’t lose any time today, the race will only get more difficult for him as they go into the high mountains. As he is not known for being a particularly explosive rider, it will be interesting to see how Sky intends to make up the time he has lost already. Or will they start protecting Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, seemingly the team’s two strongest riders?
Stage 9 result
1. Maxim Belkov (Katusha) 4:31:31
2. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0.44
3. Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia) +0.46
4. Tobias Ludvigsson (Argos-Shimano) +0.54
5. Cadel Evans (BMC) +1.03
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 34:19:31
2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +0.29
3. Robert Gesink (Blanco) +1.15
4. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +1.16
5. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) +1.24
6. Sergio Henao (Sky) +2.11
7. Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) +2.43
8. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) +2.44
9. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +2.49
10. Tanel Kangert (Astana) +3.02
Link: Official website