18/05 - Stage 9 - Lugo to Sestola - 172 km

Cadel Evans moved into the pink jersey on stage 8. He shouldn’t have any problems keeping it today. Many riders lost a lot of time and we might see a breakaway make it this time.

The route
On paper, this stage looks a lot like stage 8. The first 110 km are flat. A morning breakaway should be able put in a lot of time on the peloton. After a couple of hours on the bike, the peloton enters the Apennines. The first climb of the day is the ascent up to Sant'Antonio. This 13.2 km category 3 climb is separated by a flat part in the middle, which means the average gradient is much higher than the noted 3.7 %. Today’s intermediate sprint is located 5 km after the top. We might see some of the sprinters gunning for the red jersey trying to make it into the morning breakaway in order to gain a few points here. The descent is very fast on wide roads.

With 32 km to go, the riders start on the second climb of the day. From the profile Rocchetta Sandri seems like a steep ascent. However, the 8 km towards the top have an average gradient of just 3.5 %. After a short descent, the peloton enters Fanano. This is when the final climb, Passo del Lupo, begins.

The first 9 km of the climb have a steady average gradient of about 5 %. The peloton will be able to keep a very high pace on this part, making it hard for a breakaway to maintain its gap if time difference is short. This becomes even more difficult on the following 3 km where the road kicks up with an average gradient of 10 %. If some of the pure climbers feel good at this point, we may see an attack for the stage win. The last 3 km are the least difficult part of the climb with gradients of around 4 %. The road is basically straight-out until the finishing line. This means the peloton will have visual contact with any late attackers, giving them a psychological advantage in the chase. Unless a breakaway makes it, we may end up with another uphill sprint.

The favorites
Once again, we have two likely scenarios. A morning breakaway or another fight among the GC contenders. Julian Arredondo and Pierre Rolland came close on stage 8. I think a breakaway will make it this time. Despite knowing they would lose the pink jersey, GreenEdge put in a huge amount of work late on stage 8. This probably doomed the break. This time, BMC will be left alone to do the work. The Giro is still very long and I doubt Cadel Evans will use up his team already. The same goes for Nairo Quintana. The Colombian is still suffering a bit from his crash the other day and he doesn’t seem to have that extra kick right now. Therefore, I doubt Movistar will work as hard they did on Saturday.

For a moment, Dani Moreno looked like he would surely win stage 8, but the steep final part seemed to take the Spaniard by surprise. He faded and Roberto Kiserlovski and Diego Ulissi stormed past him. Today’s finish suits Moreno perfectly. If he’s still near the front at the end, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against him. Unfortunately for Moreno, Katusha doesn’t really have enough manpower to control the race. This means we might see Dani Moreno try to join an early breakaway.

Lampre is one of the few teams interested in keeping the breakaway in a short leash, trying to set up Diego Ulissi for a third stage win. However, stage 8 was very hard and it’s doubtful how fresh the young Italian will be today. Like Moreno, Ulissi loves these kind of finishes. The other teams know this and they probably won’t help out by working in the peloton. By themselves I don’t think Lampre will be able to keep Ulissi within striking distance.

The outsiders
Instead, let’s take a look at some of the candidates for a morning breakaway. Once again, I would expect the South Americans to be well represented up front. This means guys like Miguel Angel Rubiano, Yonathan Monsalve, Yonder Godoy, Rodolfo Torres, Winner Anacona and Sebastian Henao.

Personally, I had high hopes for Fabio Duarte before this Giro started. Unfortunately, Duarte had a bad day and lost valuable time on stage 8. The Colombian is now  more than 10 minutes behind Cadel Evans. This means that he’s now left to chase stage wins. Duarte is best in the high mountains but I wouldn’t be surprised if tried to bounce back as quickly as possible. Team Colombia desperately wants a stage win and to me, Duarte is their best card to play. Fabio Duarte got a daughter in December last year, Marianella. With her named tattooed on his right arm, Duarte is very eager to win a stage and dedicate it to his baby girl. Today might be the day.

Today’s finish in Sestola is close to Lucca where many riders live and train. Therefore, many will also be very familiar with the final climb. One of these riders is Chris Anker Sørensen. The Giro d’Italia has a special place in the heart of the Danish climber. This is where he took his last win, four years ago. I have a strong feeling, Sørensen has red-circled this stage in his road book. Naturally, Tinkoff-Saxo is very focused on Rafal Majka. However, with both Michael Rogers and Nicholas Roche in great shape, Chris Anker Sørensen may get green light to go for a stage win near his home in Italy.

For other strong breakaway candidates look to: Pieter Weening, Paolo Tiralongo, Edoardo Zardini, George Preidler and Tim Wellens. The young Belgian did very well on stage 6, when he finished 2nd. Afterwards Wellens started to talk about aiming at the KOM jersey. He lost a lot of time on stage 8, meaning he is no longer a threat for the pink jersey. Wellens is clearly in great shape and, being fast on the line, this stage actually suits him very well.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.