This article originally appeared on VeloNews.com
Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling) was last man standing from a break of eight to take victory on an attritional ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday. The Portuguese rider punched clear of Jonathan Castroviejo (Ineos Grenadiers) in the final hundred meters of the summit finish to Roccaraso to take the second stage win for his team of the Giro. “This is a wonderful win,” Guerreiro said after the stage. “I finally succeeded – the whole team deserves this success. We tried many times, today it was a great fight.” There was little movement in the GC battle save for a late dash from Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) on the steep final grind to the line, with the pair both stealing a few seconds in the classification fight. João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) did enough to limit his losses and holds on to the pink jersey, though his lead overall has been trimmed to 30 seconds. The result makes for a good day for Portuguese cycling, with their riders taking the stage and leading the GC. “Joao Almeida? He lives near me, we know each other very well,” Guerreiro said. “There is talent in this new Portuguese generation.” Kelderman’s acceleration was rewarded with a promotion from third to second on GC, while Fuglsang also moved up one place to sixth, 1:01 back. “The team gave me a lot of confidence, there were eight of us over that second last climb,” Kelderman said. “In the last part the legs felt really good … I just went full to the finish to see if I could create some gaps. I never had the pink in mind as it was too short before the finish to take the time, but maybe next week we’ll look at that. But I’m really happy with the feeling now, and that’s the most important.” Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling) also profited in the late attacks, moving up to fourth. Despite setting his team to work repeatedly in the final hour of racing, Vincenzo Nibali remains in fifth, 57 seconds down.
Guerreiro and Castroviejo had been part of the breakaway that came together after two escape groups merged at around 100km to go in the hilly 207 kilometers stage out of San Salvo. The pair formed up with Eduardo Sepúlveda (Movistar), Ben O’Connor (NTT Pro Cycling), Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale), Giovanni Visconti (Vini Zabù-Brado-KTM), and Kilian Frankiny (Groupama-FDJ). Young Dane Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates) later joined them after mounting a huge chase to bridge from five minutes back. As the rain fell heavily all day, the attacks came late in a stage that could have seen ambushes and action throughout. Clearly not fatigued by his long chase to the break, Bjerg started the action in the escape group in the final upward tilting 35km. The 21-year-old forced the pace to drop Visconti, Sepulveda, and O’Connor on the climb of the Bosco di Sant’Antonio. Similarly, the pace in the peloton cranked up a notch on the Sant’Antonio climb, with Trek-Segafredo moving to the front and setting a fierce pace with Nicola Conci and Jacopo Mosca while Vincenzo Nibali repeatedly eyeballed his rivals. While Trek-Segafredo’s move started to thin the peloton, it also left Nibali with just two teammates and the Sicilian called off the move, leaving Deceuninck-Quick-Step to take control. Just Warbasse, Bjerg, Frankiny, Guerreiro and Castroviejo remained out front going into the 10km of grinding uphill to the line, and with a three-minute gap on the peloton, they knew the stage victory was in their grasp. Warbasse went on the front foot and pushed the pace through the first kilometers, but it was Spanish rouleur Castroviejo that made the telling move. The Ineos Grenadiers rider pulled clear with six kilometers to go, with only Guerreiro able to respond. Castroviejo continued to set the tempo as the pair pulled away while Guerreiro sat on, looking to be on the ropes. Despite Castroviejo looking the strongest, he lost his legs in the steep gradients of the final kilometer. Guerreiro made his move with around 200 meters to go, and Castroviejo had nothing left to respond. The former Portuguese champion stomped on the pedals and immediately dropped Castroviejo to go solo to the line. The Spaniard ground his way to finish eight seconds later, his head hung in disappointment having been robbed of the victory. Bjerg came across the line around one minute later to take the third step on the podium. The GC group hit a stalemate behind the remaining breakaway riders as Fuglsang, Nibali, Kruijswijk, Almeida and their teams eyed each other out in the final climb to the line. Lucas Hamilton and Tao Geoghegan Hart, both starting the day in the top-20, were allowed the room to clip off the front and ride clear to take a few seconds back on their GC bid. It was only in the last 500 meters that the favorites moved, with Kelderman accelerating and Fuglsang following as the peloton shattered, with the pair snatching a vital few seconds over their pink jersey rivals.