“War!” exclaimed Richie Porte ahead of today’s stage, while Dario Cataldo talked about wanting to destroy the other teams, so you could say this was set to be a showdown from the outset. What ensued may not have been quite so dramatic, but it certainly made for interesting viewing. Astana’s Paolo Tiralongo escaped the breakaway, caught and dropped race leader Tom-Jelte Slagter and cruised the final 4km to a solo win. Meanwhile his team leader Fabio Aru and a legion of Astanites tested all the GC contenders and put significant time into Rigoberto Uran.
Rider of the day
With such aggressive posturing ahead of today’s stage, you feared that Alberto Contador’s maglia rosa was going to come under severe threat.
Indeed, his trusted lieutenant Michael Rogers suggested that it may be an option to allow somebody else to take the race lead. I don’t know what Oleg would have made of such talk, but El Pistolero was clearly having none of it. He was sharp and punchy enough to respond to Aru’s ferocious attack at the foot of the final climb, strong enough to hold his place against the in-form Astana duo of Aru and Mikel Landa, and shrewd enough to manage the situation. A few well-placed words in the ear of Aru seemed to calm things down and switch the focus on to putting time into the guys further down the hill. Today was a big test for Contador, and he passed it with aplomb.
Three things we noticed
1. The continuing resurgence of Carlos Betancur. It seems that yesterday’s breakaway adventures have stirred up something in young Senor Betancur and he was back for more today. Even more encouragingly, he wasn’t just there – for large parts of the race he looked like a real danger man and rode with great confidence. Ultimately, he couldn’t follow the stage-winning attack, but he did make a sixth-place finish on a very tough day, and this can only be good news.
2. Bertie the politician. There’s more to racing than just speed, stamina, luck and tactical awareness. There’s also knowing how to play your opponents off against each other. Astana wanted to break everybody and take the maglia rosa for keeps today, and while Contador had enough to match Fabio Aru’s first big attack, the prospect of fighting with Aru, Landa, and Richie Porte was clearly not a rosy one. Particularly given that both Aru and Landa appear to be in incredible form. A brief chat with Aru seemed to form a temporary alliance between Contador and the two Astana riders, working for the mutual benefit of getting Uran off their cloud, a switch of focus which was key to keeping the Spaniard in pink.
3. Any storm in a Porte? Although Richie Porte managed to keep up with the GC battle today, he didn’t look convincing as he chugged his way on to Aru’s attack. Today’s climbs, while being hard, are by no means the most challenging in this year’s Giro and the Tasmanian seemed to have little to offer other than hanging on to the back of the four-man group. He may be strong in the time trial, but I’m not convinced on the back of today’s showing that Porte has it in him to be a serious contender for the overall race victory.
Stage 9 result
1. Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) 5:50:31
2. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +0:21
3. Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) +0:23
4. Amael Moinard (BMC) same time
5. Jesus Herrada (Movistar) s/t
1. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) 38:31:35
2. Fabio Aru (Astana) +0:03
3. Richie Porte (Sky) +0:22
4. Mikel Landa (Astana) +0:46
5. Dario Cataldo (Astana) +1:16
6. Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) +1:46
7. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) +2:02
8. Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick Step) +2:10
9. Damiano Caruso (BMC) +2:20
10. Andrey Amador (Movistar) +2:24
Points leader: Elia Viviani (Sky).
King of the Mountains leader: Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin).
Best young rider: Fabio Aru (Astana).
Team classification: Astana.
Link: Official race website