Giro d’Italia Stage 9 Preview

A big day in the mountains, some riders are saying this is the hardest stage of the Giro. We’ll see, two things are certain: a big shake-up of the GC contenders and if you read on you’ll know more about the Blockhaus climb.

Lotto’s numbers game: Mathieu van der Poel went on the rampage at the start and helped force a group of 21 riders clear. It was exciting but he looked like a junior who’d overdosed on caffeine gels, although with him anything’s possible, he can get away with it and it enlivens many a race. The group contained Guillaume Martin who was four minutes down on GC so Trek-Segafredo took up the chase to protect Lopez’s maglia rosa and the Frenchman continues his Snakes and Ladders method of racing.

Van der Poel split the group with 40km to go but got hit by the counter attack from Davide Gabburo of Bardiani and Movistar’s Jorge Arcas and they were joined by Thomas De Gendt and team mate Harm Vanhoucke, and briefly Simone Ravanelli of Drone Hopper. Now what to do? Van der Poel and Biniam Girmay formed a chase group with Martin, Wout Poels and Quickstepper Mauro Schmid but they could only keep the lead quartet at thirty seconds. This was ideal for the leaders as they had no cushion to sit on, just the tip of their saddles. None of them could afford to play games and this was heightened in the finish when the gap fell to just ten seconds as Van der Poel, Girmay and Schmid closed on. But who was gone to win, four leaders in search of a sprint? De Gendt settled things quickly, unleashing a powerful jump that just left the others trailing.

The Route: 189km and 5,000m of vertical gain. The climbing starts right from the beginning so many will be warming up on rollers in Isernia but the first climb’s not too hard. The second one is, the Valico Rionero Sannitico has some tough 10-12% even if it’s short and then it’s across to Roccaraso, a regular in the Giro and the climb here from Castel di Sangro was last used in 2018 and there are some 7-8% sections along the way to help a break form if it hasn’t gone already, or just to help the climbers. Then comes the best part of 100km across the Apennines on decent roads that twist and turn but with few surprises.

The Passo Lanciano appears in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro, it’d make a decent summit finish today but of course there’s a lot more to come. It’s got a steep start and then eases to 7% for 8km. At the top of the pass you can press on across the Maiella mountain to reach the Blockhaus but not today. The race descends back the valley floor to lose 1,200m of altitude, and all in a regular descent with some long straight sections.

The Finish: a 13.5km climb and there’s a climb just to reach the start but once out of Roccamorice there’s even a short descent that’s not on the profile. The image above is helpful but the reality is a very irregular climb, this is a mule path that got tarmacked rather than a ski station access road and the gradient keeps changing on the way up as it climbs among wide open pastures. It’s hard climb for a team to ride tempo given all the slope changes and anyone struggling will find it agony, they might be able to hold on for a while but risk exploding because of the irregular effort. There’s a slight dip in the final kilometre and then it’s back up to the line at a solid 8%.

The Contenders: it’s a big day for the GC contenders and their teams but they’ll be content if a breakaway can get clear early on the hilly start before they get to work on the Lanciano and Blockhaus climbs. So riders down on GC who can cope with a big summit finish have a chance. Wout Poels (Bahrain) must be tired after two days in the breakaway but he seems to be going well, Joe Dombrowski (Astana) tends to prefer the third week and the long climbs but he won in the first week last year, team mates David De La Cruz and Vincenzo Nibali can try too. Jonathan Caicedo (EF) won a stage in 2020 and can try again but it’s always hard to know who gets in the breakaway. Davide Formolo (UAE) can try again but his team might prefer him to hold back and help the leader.

Safer picks are to be found among the GC contenders and today is the big reveal, we’ll see what they’ve got. We had a big group on Etna but an odd day with some whispers of sluggish legs and blaming the previous day’s air transfer from Hungary. Now everyone’s had a some steady days of racing.

Simon Yates (BikeExhange-Jayco) banged his knee in a crash the other day and team manager Brent Copeland was speaking to Italian TV in a hopeful sense, a “we’ll see, let’s hope” sort of speech so we’ll see how he’s doing and so for now he’s not an easy three-chainring pick. Romain Bardet (DSM) keeps looking sharp but this is a big test. Richard Carapaz (Ineos) might still be the GC favourite and a safe pick but this climb’s irregular slopes might not suit his style. João Almeida (UAE) won’t like this climb either but if he’s in the mix with 500m to go he’s got a good chance.

Mikel Landa and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain), Jai Hindley and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-hansgohe) are the pure climbers among those high on GC.

Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) is on home roads but the “Gecko of the Abruzzo” can’t pedal any faster for it, it’s just a straight test. If he’s still there with a kilometre to go his finish can help.

Richard Carapaz
Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa, Simon Yates
Almeida, Poels, Fortunato, Dumoulin, Sosa, Buitrago, Dombrowski, Mollema

Weather: sunny for most of the day, 25°C in the valleys.

TV: the stage starts at 11.45am CEST and there should be a good battle to get in the breakaway. The Passo Lanciano starts around 3.15pm and the final climb will begin around 4.30pm with the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST.

Blockhaus? Today’s “summit finish” of the Giro is far from the top of the mountain and really ought to be called “Majelletta” as this is where the finish line is, a crossroads where two roads meet on their way up the mountain and where you’ll find the Majelletta ski station, crucially with parking for the race and a side route off the mountain. The race halts here at 1665m but you can ride on up, passing the bristling antennae and onwards, all on a smaller tarmacked road for six kilometres to reach the real Blockhaus beyond 2,000m.

If it sounds German, it is and because of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Italy and Italian are relatively new things and for a while part of Italy was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, although a part in the north and a long way away. However much of the ruling class and military officers had connections and so it was that a German-speaking officer commanding local troops ordered the construction of a small garrison to help dominate the Maiella mountain to deter smugglers and brigands.

A Blockhaus might evoke images of modernist squat concrete mountain bunkers and pillbox-type fortifications but in German it’s just a log cabin and so was just a small hut at the top of the mountain and only the stone foundations remain today.

42 thoughts on “Giro d’Italia Stage 9 Preview”

    • He’s a Basque rider, for Bahrain…

      …for today? He’d surely prefer a shorter climb, he’s great on Basque-country type climbs rather than big summit finishes but has a chance today.

  1. @Øystein These gradients are too difficult for him, I guess.
    Apart from the usual suspects ( Carapaz, Yates, Landa, Almeida ecc. ) I expect something big from Bora riders, Hindley or Buchmann.

    • I’m not convinced that there will be big gaps amongst the GC.
      If the mountain doesn’t suit Carapaz especially, will Ineos go full gas?
      Conversely, others might but is the climb selective enough (with a descent to follow) to shed the favourites?
      The race history is great but think the TdF, which had to go in search of *super climbs* to prise open the GC.
      I wonder if the Blockhaus is one of those past leviathans that will be cut down to size by modern gearing and conditioning?
      We’ll see, almost as interesting to contemplate that question as the race itself 😀

      • It was a single final climb in 2017 and despite little previous effort by the riders it delivered the biggest difference in years across the peloton. Besides, I suspect there’s a misunderstanding of sort in what you write, it’s as if you were speaking of seeing gaps on the penultimate climb, that is, even before the last Gpm, but it’s not like you make that clear. The Roccamorice side *is* a superclimb, wasn’it for pure altitude only it’s clearly way harder than most of what you might see at the TDF.

  2. With the 2nd (and 1st real) rest day after this stage, those in the running and/or with good legs can let it all hang out here.
    Ineos to continue to dish it out vs taking it?
    1st time chance for Almeida to show his form?
    I reckon this is a GC day for sure. No break to the finish.

  3. The moment the race was won happened during a commercial break but I don’t think de Ghent could believe his luck … all of the hard work was done by others.
    Should get some questions answered tonight.

    • For a circuit race, yesterday was about perfect for me.
      About half the length of a World Championship race, less is more, surely?

      • Very good race in Naples, but… are you serious? Even if we don’t want to ask too much to our memory, well, was this really better than, dunno, the *2021* Worlds?

        That said, surely, it was a good race and hence better than a mediocre one – no doubt in cycling history we’ve got mediocre Worlds just as we had mediocre Flanders or whatever… and lots of mediocre 150 km races.

        Under no metrics a shorter race *grants* more spectacle. Full stop. What’s sure, instead, is that it does *not* grant that the winner has the full set of cycling skills, including fondo.
        Maybe the winner indeed has – as in Naples – maybe he doesn’t.
        Ulissi would love your suggestion – he rarely won a race well over 200 km, but within his shorter shooting range he could beat the likes of Sagan, Dumoulin, Valverde, Evans, Purito, Gerrans or Nibali at their prime. Ulissi is a great rider and I’m happy he can prove it under opportune circumstances, yet I’m even happier that in cycling as a whole those who are just as strong (or a bit more), but also have got some *further* skills… well, can be rewarded for them in those *special* races (aka Monuments, Worlds), while at the same time it’s being made possibile for us to appreciate the difference among different classes of riders.

        However, this could be a great circuit for some good Worlds no doubt… with an appropriate length!

      • Ecky – silly question you had. Are you seriously suggesting they put a full Worlds distance on stage 9 of a GT? If you do that, you better let the racers use every necessary technique to recover afterwards.

        There’s a reason why one-day races are 260km and GT stages noticeably shorter.

        • Not sure that was what Ecky was suggesting, but I’d better let him answer on that ^__^

          However, your point isn’t quite much spot on, either. You can make GT stages as long as you want – the riders will just ride accordingly.
          I don’t know if you were hinting at the old topos about hard courses implying doping when you wrote about “every necessary technique”, but that’s nonsense. We had way harder courses when sophisticated “recovery techniques” weren’t simply available in medical or chemical terms and, guess what?… riders would just ride accordingly.
          The original Sacile-Cortina last year was 212 km long with just *that little more* altitude gain 😉 than any Classic around (surely, there was a rest day after that). In 2020 we had a couple of complicated stages with significant altitude gain (4,000-4,500 m of altitude gain) at about 225-230 km of length, none of which followed by much rest, quite the other way around in the case of San Daniele del Friuli.

          It’s true that there’s a trend, even at the Giro, of cutting down mountain stages, which is really a shame, yet when average speed goes down because of the climbing, even a 200 km stage might be enough to make for a 6-hour day on the saddle, which is when things go quite serious, and the typical duration of most Monuments (barring Sanremo which sits closer to 7 but with a different intensity most of the times), although Liège is often closer to the 6h30′ mark and the Worlds can vary much, always around the 6-6.5 hours (Florence, I think, being the most notable recent exception in excess).

          • Right, but as you mention if they made a stage 270k, the riders would adjust their pacing accordingly, and then the armchair cycling fans would complain that it was the most boring stage on the planet.

            It seemed that Ecky was implying that 140k was “less” (and therefore inferior) than a typical Worlds race… well, a typical Worlds race doesn’t require 8-days of racing immediately stacked ahead of it.

        • @CA Re: your further reply (can’t go on answering below it).
          Speed, even relative or comparative speed on a similar course, hasn’t much to do with boredom. Simply not related. Plenty of examples. It’s just a strategical factor more. And sometimes (not always) an athletic one. If anything, one could even argue (not me, presently… not my fight 🙂 ) that high speeds make for more boring racing because of aero physics of sort.

          • Your point about boredom was spot on CA, watching riders going round in a circle for 6 or 7 hours is not my idea of entertainment at all.
            I’ve come to really dislike looooong circuit races.

          • I generally don’t have huge love to spare for circuits, either, but it can’t be denied that the Worlds or the Olympics quite often provided great racing, so a good circuit can be nice. Length should fit circumstances. In a GT it’s mostly about the race design as a whole (right succession and combination of stages and so).

            So, should you watch it all if it’s a 6-hour race? Probably not, which doesn’t mean that full length is not necessary. Should you watch full Liège or Flanders or Lombardia… or Sanremo? Heck, no. Even many a Roubaix were far from meaningful from hour 2 to hour 4. Just as you don’t need to watch a full GT, every stage from start to finish.

    • Eh?
      Once he saw (frankly not that easy) that Gabburo and Arcas’ move was a winning chance to jump into, De Gendt was working harder than the rest of the last break (“fuga della fuga” cit.) – in fact, most commentators both in Italy and in Spain were suggesting that he was working for his younger teammate. And that way he kept at bay an impressive chase. Masterclass.

  4. A good break will probably win the stage with the GC guys coming in in a small group. Apart from Martin yesterday, no one has attempted anything since Etna (which Yates must be glad for) so there’s no excuses for tired legs. Bahrain and Bardet have been content to sit in the peloton but to be on the podium they’ll have to try one day. There’s a rest day tomorrow and some flat stages to follow so, Carpe Diem!

  5. Interesting that there are no rings for Carthy. He was with the GC group on Etna (plus Arensman and Hamilton). I’d give him at least one!

    A couple of minor typos. Formolo may be asked to work for “his” leader rather than “this and in the last sentence, “it German” should read “in German”.

    Great writing, as ever. Loved your comment about MVDP’s enthusiasm!

    • Typos fixed, as for Carthy it’s hard to see him just riding away from everyone on the first week, he tends to diesel his way around a grand tour and not fade as much as others come the third week. We’ll have a race on if he’s able to do it though.

  6. The various comments about Simon Yates’ knee “injury” seemed oddly timed, either a bluff or telling rivals he might struggle. Lennard Kämna and the Bora team seem very well motivated, would not be a surprise if he was in Pink this evening. I wonder about Tom Dumoulin, on Etna he seemed to have gone but maybe it was post rest day legs, his ride here five years ago confirmed he was a contender. I am sure it will be all aboard the Ineos mountain train, not sure it is the right tactic with this set of riders.

  7. Yeah, I wondered too about Carthy for today. Ineos train one loco down (but not out – Castroviejo), Ineos must be praying that Porte does not have one of his off days. Yates “knee injury” story might well be an excuse not to attack, he can just follow and ride the train still. If there’s a fast and furious start we’ll find out if he’s bluffing or not.

    • Just can’t see it for Carthy. He’s been with the best on the climbs so far, but they have been relatively easy and with no major attacks. That will change today and he will concede time – though I hope not. His last big mountain performance was the Angliru and that was 2020

      It’s also too early for Yates to take the lead. His team isn’t up to defending against multiple rivals for two weeks.

        • Interesting reading back the comments the faith in Yates.
          I was similar.

          But it seems now given his sun aversion and the knee the writing was on the wall and any smart money would’ve counted him out.

          Also a surprise not to see Hindley on INRNG chainrings now, rare that INRNG doesn’t have the winner somewhere on the list.

  8. I had some great reading earlier, this part of Italy was within the Kingdom of Naples / Kingdom of Two Sicilies and was ruled by the Bourbons.
    They were subservient to Austria-Hungary (who by treaty could have troops here) but it was, officially, not strictly part of the latter’s empire as such.
    A very complicated history however, that changed almost by the generation.

    • I have to say that the history of this part of the world has always been confusing to me but I thought Austria-Hungary was relatively late (1867) and Naples and the 2 Sicilies were earlier (Vittorio Emanuele, Garibaldi, Italian “unification” and all that.) Was that Austria or Austria-Hungary? Not that it’s relevant to a bike race …

      • Confusing to me also, lol.
        That’s one of the beauties of IR’s blog, it does promote other reading and interest outside of the pure cycling.
        You’re right about Austria-Hungary, its predecessor was the Hapsburg Empire.
        Much the same in some respects though.

  9. Based on what I saw on stage 7 I am expecting to see Bouwman in the mix but he doesn’t seem to rate a mention … what am I missing?

    • Credit to Bouwman and Dumoulin, but I think what you were also seeing on stage 7 was the main contenders playing un poco piano with the Blockhaus coming up.

  10. I would expect a break away to win today. It always depends on the players and needs strong riders in the break.
    This is not the tdf so i don’t see any of the teams as having sent a strong enough team to the giro to both keep the break away in close plus smash the last mountain to set up their rider. For that matter i don’t think any of the riders are that much a favourite that any team should consider this.
    But of course you could always have a Team Jumbo tactics.

    • Not what happened! I think this was a fair prediction but I wouldn’t have had the confidence to be as certain! Easy to say in hindsight though…

      It was quite an odd stage – listening to the podcasts last night I was surprised to hear how few stories there were within the peloton for such a grand stage, Landa’s crash was the only one I’d missed while watching. The break didn’t seem to offer a huge amount of news aside from the Drone tactics.

      Then things seemed to never quite catch light, either in the break or the GC – I enjoyed still as I love huge climbs and nice that things are in the balance – but definitely expected more from Carapaz’ attack and gutted we didn’t get to see what Yates could do. After his bad day in the sun at the race before the Giro I’m interested to what held him back more, the heat or the knee. His heat aversion is quite a weakness.

      • I wonder if you can break that heat intolerance. Having done grad school in the south of the US, after living in upstate New York and Maine for years, I learned to run and ride in ridiculous humidity and heat. After 16 years in Vancouver, BC, I can’t tolerate any heat. 20c is unbearable…

        Perhaps a November-January stint in Australia?

        • You can adapt to it yes, or at least there are measures you can do to help if coming from a colder climate to a hot one. It’s basically acclimatisation, getting used to it and the body does adapt, sweating, mineral loss, the blood chemistry, even the feel can change. 3-4 days helps, a week or 10 days is great. Even having a hot bath or a sauna in a cold place helps too, there’s some evidence to back this up.

    • Likewise. Were you disappointed or not? He made me think of Majka, extremely good but not quite good enough for the god-tier of GC winners?

      It will be interesting to see what he does – some riders seem to make the call early to become a prized stage hunter and other trudge on fruitlessly?

      I still think De Gendt made the decision too soon – his ride on Stelvio was one of the great GT days of the last decade and it’s so sad we never got to see more? Majka probably got the best of both worlds with stages and multiple good overall results. TJVG was maybe the converse and seemed to put himself through psychological hell for little reward.

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