Jai Hindley upsets heavyweights on Blockhaus, Simon Yates crumbles, Juan Pedro Lopez keeps pink at Giro d’Italia
Spain's Juan Pedro Lopez put in a brave fight to defend the pink jersey on the fearsome Blockhaus as Australia’s Jai Hindley upset Romain Bardet and Richard Carapaz to win a scintillating Stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia. But Simon Yates’s hopes of a high GC finish are all but over after the Briton cracked on the gruelling ascent to concede more than 11 minutes.
‘A photo finish in the mountains!’ - Watch thrilling finish on Blockhaus as Hindley wins
A glorious summit showdown on the infamous Blockhaus saw Australia’s Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) edge Frenchman Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) on a day of high drama on the Giro d’Italia.
Hindley, who famously lost the maglia rosa to Britain's Tao Geoghegan Hart on the final day of the 2020 Giro d'Italia, confirmed his return to form after taking the win in a six-way sprint by going long in the uphill finish and leading out around the final bend from the front.
Overnight leader Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) fought back from a minor crash on the final ascent to limit his losses and hold onto the pink jersey by just 12 seconds over Portugal’s Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) entering the second of three rest days.
The new-look general classification has the top five riders separated by just 20 seconds with Bardet, Carapaz and Hindley moving up the standings behind Lopez and Almeida. But there’s no place in the GC picture for Britain’s Simon Yates after the BikeExchange-Jayco leader cracked early on the final climb on his way to shipping a whopping 11 minutes to his rivals.
A solid fourth place for Spain’s Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) puts the Basque climber right in the mix in seventh place at 29 seconds while veterans Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) all finished in the top 10 on the toughest GC test so far of the 105th edition of La Corsa Rosa.
Dropped after coming to a standstill following a touch of wheels with eight kilometres of the final climb remaining, Lopez never gave up and rallied to 15th place over the line at 1:46 to ensure he will start the second week of the race in the coveted maglia rosa.
“This is a dream for me – I don’t believe this moment. I never would have thought I could be in the maglia rosa after Blockhaus before the rest day of the Giro d’Italia,” an emotional Lopez said. The 24-year-old also apologised for throwing a water bottle at Sam Oomen (Jumbo-Visma) in a heated episode that was not caught on camera.
A huge fight from the gun
Three testing climbs in the first 40km made for what BikeExchange-Jayco sporting director Matt White described as the hardest start to a Grand Tour stage in his memory – and a flurry of moves came as the road headed uphill pretty much from the gun.
Tension in the bunch was all too clear to see and a touch of wheels going over a small brow halfway up the second climb of the day saw a handful of riders go down hard, most notably the Spaniard Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) who was left with a gash to his hip and a bloodied elbow.
It took a while to settle but the day’s nine-man move came together ahead of the third climb to Roccaraso after a chasing quintet caught a leading trio that formed around Italy’s Diego Rosa (Eolo-Kometa). Three days after his long solo ride in the flat stage to Scalea, Rosa had kicked clear on the second climb on a day far better suited to his strengths.
‘Big crash!’ – Handful of riders wiped out on Stage 9 at Giro d’Italia
Eritrea’s Natnael Tesfatsion (Drone Hopper-Androni Giacattoli) and the American Joe Dombrowski (Astana-Qazaqstan) had joined Rosa on the descent of the second climb to Rionero Sannitico, before reinforcements came in the form of Felix Gall and Nans Peters (both Ag2R-Citroen), Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF), Eduardo Sepulveda (Drone Hopper-Androni Giacattoli), Jonathan Caicedo (EF Education-EasyPost) and James Knox (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl).
Rosa secures the blue jersey
The gap grew to a maximum lead of 5:15 for the nine leaders – never enough to threaten the pink jersey of Juanpe Lopez of Trek-Segafredo, for whom the closest challenger in the move was the Austrian Gall, almost seven minutes down on the overnight standings.
After summiting two of the opening three climbs in pole position, Rosa stole a march in the blue jersey KOM standings, moving level on points with second-place Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) ahead of the final two decisive climbs. Earlier in the day, the maglia azzurra incumbent Keon Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) had toyed with the idea of joining the burgeoning break, but the Dutch Stage 7 winner eventually dropped back into the pack.
It was a pack which quickly jettisoned the sprinters on the challenging opening triptych of climbs – although the likes of Mark Cavendish, Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Demare and Biniam Girmay could all return to the fold on the long plateau after the Roccarosa summit as the pace eased following the eventual establishment of the breakaway.
After an extended lull as the riders negotiated a long descent and some rolling roads ahead of the intermediate sprint in Filetto, the stage sparked into life on the penultimate climb of the Passo Lanciano.
Despite being dropped before the test, Drone Hopper-Androni Giacattoli duo Tesfatsion and Sepulveda reeled in Frenchman Peters after the former Giro and Tour de France stage winner had cast the first die from the break.
Peters was a frustrated figure as both his fellow escapees refused to take a pull, allowing Rosa back on as the Italian continued his pursuit of KOM points to help secure the blue jersey. When the 31-year-old rode straight past the trio, Tesfatsion was the only rider who could take his wheel.
Behind, Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) had a scare when suffering a mechanical and dropping back from the peloton, which by now was being led by the Ineos Grenadiers teammates of Carapaz ahead of the expected fireworks on Blockhaus.
Tesfatsion crash: Terrifying moment Eritrean flies off road and into bushes
Tesfatsion scare ahead of summit showdown
On the fast descent of the Passo Lanciano Tesfatsion totally misjudged a corner and left the road at high speed before going over his handlebars and landing in greenery in a fall that could have been far worse. The crash left Rosa out alone, but the Italian was soon caught and passed by Dombrowski on the climb preceding the final ascent.
But soon all the escapees were swallowed up by the Ineos-led pack as the scene was set for the GC showdown on Blockhaus, the climb where Eddy Merckx won in 1967 to underline his Grand Tour potential in his debut Giro.
Ineos duo Pavel Sivakov and the impressive Richie Porte did the damage early on as local rider Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) and then Yates were all distanced as the gradient ramped up to double figures. Hindley's Bora teammate Wilco Kelderman soon followed.
‘Oh my word!’ – Yates' GC hopes at Giro unravel on Blockhaus
Porte maintained a hefty tempo until Carapaz put in the first attack inside the final five kilometres, the Olympic champion riding clear with Bardet and Landa ahead of a chasing quartet of Nibali, Pozzovivo, Hindley and Almeida. Nibali soon dropped back before the groups came together – only to separate again after a surge from Bardet ahead of the final kilometre.
But as the pace slowed and the road flattened, the chasers were given another repreive before Hindley masterminded his return to the top of the podium in the Giro a year and a half on from his maiden win at Langhi di Cancano.
“I was pretty a bloc on the climb and trying to survive as best as I could. I knew it was flattening out in the last kilometres and I knew there was a right-hander before the finish with around 200m to go. I just wanted to hit the corner first and give everything to the line and, yeah, here we are…”
Referencing his struggle to get back to winning ways after a disappointing 2021 – during which he failed to finish the Giro – the 26-year-old said: “It’s pretty incredible. It wasn’t the easiest year that I had last year. I worked my arse off to get back to the same level as I was before at the Giro, so it’s pretty amazing to win here.”
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