Giro 2017 Stage 9: Blockhaus lives up to its hype as GC is shaken, not stirred

This was going to be the Giro stage where the GC was going to be shaken up and down and by the end we would see where the chips fell. And certainly that happened – both in good ways and bad. Nairo Quintana used the slopes of Blockhaus to leave the other GC contenders on the rivet, taking the stage and pink in some style. However, a big crash that took out almost all of Sky just as the race was hotting up meant heartbreak and anger for Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas. Sorting this stage out will be some work …

Rider(s) of the Race

While Movistar’s Nairo Quintana took both the stage and the leader’s jersey in some style today, everyone expected him to attack and it was almost a foregone conclusion that, if he did, he would win. So his performance in the context of what else happened wasn’t all that impressive for me. So my Riders of the Race are the two runners-up: Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb).

Old Woodsmoke Pinot had this stage in his sights and rode a smart race to the bottom of Blockhaus, with his FDJ team keeping him safe and in the wheels as the Movistar train started racheting up the pace in the last 20km. After the big crash (see below), the GC contenders who were left hit the climb together in a small 15-man group, including Pinot, Dumoulin, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) and  Steven Kruijswick (LottoNL-Jumbo). However, it was only Pinot and Nibali who could live with Quintana’s attacks in the early parts of the climbs. When Quintana finally hit them hard and left them as a duo on his way to summit glory, it looked like they would be second and third on the day.

But Nibali cracked, Pinot maintained and the Dutch duo of Dumoulin and Mollema bridged to the French rider in the final 5km. In fact, it looked as though they were going to ride right on past Tibbles (as they did Nibbles, who by this time was slipping further and further back), but Pinot collected himself and stuck with them both. With a few judiciously timed attacks, Pinot dropped Mollema and it was Tib and Tom for the line. Pinot had one last kick left in him to take him to the finish in front of Dumoulin. Both Pinot and Dumoulin kept their cool, rode their own race and put themselves in a good position to contend – if not for the top step (and that’s by no means sewn up), then certainly podium positions.

To stop or not to stop

Once again, a moto incident has changed the dynamics of a race. Parked on the verge of the road (and if you look closely, sticking into the road), Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) clipped the police motorbike and went down hard right in the heart of the Sky team, taking out both Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas. At first, it looked like Thomas’s race was over, as he laid on the ground, but other than serious road rash and a shoulder that ‘popped out’ (and then presumably was ‘popped back in’), Thomas seemed to be okay and valiantly rode hard to minimise the damage, coming to the finish line 29th at +5:08. Landa wasn’t so fortunate, coming in 26:56 down on Quintana. (And that Thomas was able to talk calmly and coherently to reporters at the finish is to be admired and applauded. Nothing short of astounding – and incredibly professional.)

But, as questioned on Twitter, should Movistar (or the organisers) have neutralised the race while Sky got themselves back together? I’m not a Sky fan but I certainly never want to see riders taken out by a crash and I feel nothing but sympathy for Thomas and Landa who saw their GC dreams hit the pavement hard. But I don’t think the race should have been neutralised because, quite simply, at that point, the race was on. If it wasn’t, no one should have attacked – that’s not right – but I do believe that Movistar did slow their pace for awhile. Considering how long Thomas was down, he should have been a lot further back than 2.30 when he started back up again if they were still going hell for leather. And if it were neutralised, when would they start to race again? When all of Sky got back into the peloton? And if that was the precedent, then where would it end?

Has Q sewn it all up?

Did Quintana do enough today to put the Giro out of the reach of his rivals? I don’t think so. Today, Nibali certainly looked more like his 2015 Vuelta self when he got kicked off for hitching a ride on the side of the team car than last year’s champion. That said, as we were reminded on Twitter, Nibali never says die – he will fight to the last day and if he comes into form on the third week (as is his wont) then Q doesn’t have enough time to put it out of his reach. But even more immediate is the threat of Tom Dumoulin. Personally, I’m not big on guys winning Grand Tours largely due to their time trialling ability (>cough< Wiggins >cough<) but Dumoulin has proved in the last few years that he’s more than just a TT guy who has gotten a bit more skinny – he can hold his own on the hardest climbs, with no teammates. So Q needs to be able to get enough time on him in that last week, because Dumoulin could wipe the course with him in the final day’s TT.

Stage results

1 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 3:44:51

2 Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +0:24

3 Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) same time

4 Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) +0:41

5 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) +1.00

GC Top 5

1 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 42:06:09

2 Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +0:28

3 Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) +0:30

4 Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) +0:51

5 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) +1.10

All the jerseys

Leader’s jersey: Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

Points jersey: Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)

KOM jersey: Jan Polanc (UAE-Emirates)

Best young rider: Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Drapac)

For full review of the stage, go to Cycling News  

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4 thoughts on “Giro 2017 Stage 9: Blockhaus lives up to its hype as GC is shaken, not stirred

  1. Greg says:

    They could have say knocked 30 seconds off the pre stage GC standing for the sky team members and left it at that. That would have been fair on the sky team and everyone else. To simply do nothing when some plonker cop takes out the whole team is a joke. If nothing is done and I was Sky management I would boycott the Giro in future and pull out of the current one. Plenty of other races. I don’t really like Sky but fair is fair.

    • Sounds reasonable if everyone who was affected got the same treatment so Yates, Sunweb etc – as it wasn’t just Sky who went down. Teams leaving the race would make the organisers sit up and think, perhaps

  2. Thankfully the time gaps weren’t so big to make the rest of the race uninteresting. On the question of whether the race should have been neutralised I on the no side, slightly. But I can see the other side. It wasn’t so much of a racing incident because of outside influence and there was no break up the road however I wouldn’t want a precedent being set and races being stopped all the time. I also think Yates was the big loser.

    • It’s a tricky situation and it has certainly divided cycling fans. And at the end of the day, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed by the riders, team owners and the UCI to protect the race (as much as they can) from incidents like this. I think that’s where fans’ energy should be spent – putting pressure on the UCI to put better protocols in place.

      I also agree about poor Adam Yates – I didn’t mean to miss him out / there was just so much swirling around in my head when I wrote the post, he got missed in the chaos!

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