Though the previous day did not quite deliver the level of fighting expected from the general classification favourites, Fabio Aru was first to have a dig in the final kilometres; finding Alberto Contador, Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran too strong to drop. Based on the insights gathered thus far there is little to separate the contenders, some might just be trying to stay as fresh as possible before dealing their damage against the clock on Stage 14. Regardless of the lack of definitive action amongst the favourites, Spokenforks’ pick Beñat Inxausti was a worthy winner on Stage 8, having kept his powder dry as part of the break before attacking and dropping his companions late on. The peloton’s next challenge is a 215km trek across rolling terrain, a course which is bound to prove too much for some riders come the finish at San Giorgio del Sannio.
Many of the teams will have their eye caught by the possibility of stealing an unexpected win on Stage 9’s race from Benevento to San Giorgio del Sannio, a stage which is likely to shine favourably upon those who ply their trade as escape merchants. Lacking much in the way of flat roads and stretching itself across 215km, the day will be a draining affair for many who will instead seek a quiet life as part of the peloton for the most part. Despite a sawtooth profile, the day only possess three recognised climbs from start to finish, the first of which comes after nearly 100km have been racked up. Monte Termino is a Category 2 ascent which averages 4.2% for the majority of its 20.9km entirety, but does include a short lived ramp of 9% after the halfway point. Once tackled, the riders shall descend onwards through Montella before finding themselves once again at the foot of a major climb; on this occasion the Category 1 Colle Molella. This climb is shorter lived than the preceding ascent, but packs more into its short gradient of 9.5km, averaging a 6.3% gradient which swings aggressively between 10% – 12% for two kilometres nearer the summit.
Whoever is leading at this point will then begin dropping back down in altitude rapidly, forming a roller coaster ride which takes the bunch through several small town as they head towards the base of the day’s final climb; beginning less than 20km from San Giorgio del Sannio. The climb up Passo Serra is likely to prove decisive for whatever type of group hits it first, given its short 3.6km distance packing in an average of 8% and a maximum gradient of 13% during its midsection. Just over 10km will remain once they have hauled themselves over this last climb, subsequently descending before striking a 2km long hill (4.9%) with 5km separating them from victory. The finale could make for an intriguing backdrop to the battle emerging from a possible lead group, any such contest will be fought upon a 600m 3% gradient up to the finishing line.
Given the likelihood of the winner in San Giorgio del Sannio emerging from a strong breakaway, the possibilities of who will form its constituent parts are broad. Many of those who helped to form the breakaway on Stage 4’s ride to La Spezia are bound to fancy their chances here as well; as are those who have missed out on the break so far. Many will point to Giovanni Visconti has a man who is certain to find himself aboard the day’s key move, the Spaniard has already performed in similar moves so far and was unlucky of Stage 4. Sitting only 1′ 16″ on the general classification makes the chances of him securing the maglia rosa for his team very high if a move containing him makes it all the way to the line.
A man who rode alongside Visconti on day four was Yonathan Monsalve of the Southeast team; causing a stir with his impressive performance. Such a successful day in the breakaway will have no doubt raised the expectation of him repeating the same en route to San Giorgio del Sannio and there is little to suggest he cannot execute a repeat performance.
Though unlikely, should a bigger group manage to stick together and contest the finish without having disintegrated upon the final ascent, Fabio Felline would surely dominant a sprint. During this season he has demonstrated an huge step up in terms of climbing ability, managing to stick with the mountain men at the Criterium International, Pais Vasco and Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia. Stage 9 appears too long and testing for the Italian sprinter, but this Giro d’Italia has proven far from predictable during its unexpectedly hectic first week.
These early stages have been attritional, in both terrain and distance, but one rider who seems to favour these conditions is BMC’s Philippe Gilbert. Misfortune has been haunting him currently, so Stage 9 could come as an opportunity to remedy this situation for the Belgian, with a strong win coming on the finishing drag to the line. On the assumption that he will be able to stick the pace over the steady Monte Termino, it would leave him well placed as part of a breakaway to survive the shorter Colle Molella and onto the rolling terrain which has suited him so well in the past. The finish in particular is what makes Gilbert such a contender for the day, the drag to the line will be reminiscent of the Ardennes for the former world champion.
Rinaldo Nocentini and Carlos Betancur offer AG2R La Mondiale options in the wake of the disappointing departure of Domenico Pozzovivo after his nasty crash. Nocentini has had a surprisingly quiet 2015 so far, a shock given his hectic race schedule since the season kicked off in January. Though his chances of winning this stage are limited, he will be interested in contributing to the day’s breakaway on a stage where TV coverage shall be good for sponsors in the break. The Colombian Betancur is certainly capable of winning Stage 9, but his efforts in the previous day’s break is likely to deter him from attempting much the same so soon again.
Edoardo Zardini is not that far back in the hunt for the mountains jersey and is certain to see this stage as a great chance to be part of a break which tackles all categorised climbs first. He will need a dominant performance to take maximum points on a day where the break is likely to be large in participants, but the motivation of the jersey will lure the Bardiani CSF rider into the decisive move.
CCC Sprandi Polkowice could turn to Maciej Paterski in their search for glory at this year’s opening grand tour. The Polish rider has had a great season already and his win at the Volta a Catalunya on Stage 1 proved he can stay the course under pressure from better climbers and ultimately take the victory. If he does find himself aboard the crucial breakaway, Paterski will be a serious contender in any group which is allowed to stay out front all day.
Somehow clinging onto second place under the charge of Fabio Aru, Alberto Contador and Richie Porte was an impressive achievement from Sylvain Chavanel on Stage 5. The Frenchman is evidently in good form and will happily contribute to a break which he believes to have the potential of staying clear all day. If late on in the day it becomes apparent that Chavanel’s group will indeed reach the finish first, he will need to drop others and arrive solo as he does not suit the finish as well as others likely to comprise his group.
The assumption that this stage can only be decided by a breakaway could prove costly for some, especially with how Stage 5 played out still fresh in the mind. Given the terrain and distance, a general classification skirmish could erupt once again in the wake of a break and Fabio Aru is the favourite to benefit most if the opportunity arises. He appeared somewhat edgy today when attacking the likes of Contador and Porte, all too aware that he needs to find time before the time trial which is bound to be the scene of a significant time loss for the Italian. The finale includes a drag which Aru could exploit with his faster turn of speed and gain a handful of seconds over his rivals at the death.
It is almost a case of pulling names out of a hat in terms of picking a winner for Stage 9 of this year’s Giro d’Italia, a variety of riders suit the course, all with a diverse range of motives. Philippe Gilbert and Fabio Felline will be favourites to take a sprint from a small group if present, but they will both need an impressive performance to be there come the finale. A breakaway which gradually diminishes throughout the day seems more likely and Maciej Paterski could prove a dangerous man in such a situation; able to stick the pace and finish strongly. As mentioned, if the day ignites an unexpected battle amongst the general classification contenders, then Fabio Aru is likely to come out strongest on this course.
Sprint: Philippe Gilbert
Breakaway: Maciej Paterski
Outsider: Fabio Aru