Ruben Guerreiro wins rain soaked stage 9 – Giro d’Italia

Giro d’Italia 2020

Stage 9

Portugal’s Ruben Guerreiro of EF Pro Cycling denied Ineos Grenadiers a third Giro d’Italia stage win through Jonathan Castroviejo by picking the Spaniard’s pocket on the final climb to Roccaraso in a sodden Stage 9 on Sunday.

Guerreiro sandbagged his fellow escapee all the way up the last of four ascents before dancing clear on the steep double-digit ramp near the finish to become only the second Portuguese rider to win a stage on the Giro – and the first in 31 years.

Victory for Guerreiro – a second for his EF Education First team in the opening phase of the race following Jonathan Caicedo’s triumph on Mount Etna – was capped by the 26-year-old taking over the blue jersey as the new king of the mountains.

Compatriot Joao Almeida (Deceuninck Quick-Step) did his part for Portugal by digging deep in the rain to retain the maglia rosa for a seventh day to set a new national record.

Almeida finished 1’56” down on his countryman and lost time to many of his GC rivals, including Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren).

The slight shuffling of the pack sees Almeida stay on top but with a reduced lead of 30 seconds over his new nearest challenger, the Dutchman Kelderman. Spaniard Bilbao moves to within 39 seconds but drops to third place, while Italian duo Nibali and Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling) compete the new-look top five ahead of the first rest day.

Veteran Spanish time trial specialist Castroviejo looked to be closing in on a first ever road stage win as a professional – and his team’s third success following the withdrawal of their leader Geraint Thomas. But Guerreiro used his guile and superior uphill kick to catch Castroviejo out, riding over the line eight seconds clear to take the second and biggest win of his career.

Race leader Joao Almedia cycles in the pack.

Danish youngster Mikkel Bjerg (UAE-Team Emirates) took an impressive third place ahead of Switzerland’s Kilian Frankiny (Groupama-FDJ) and the American Larry Warbasse (Ag2R-La Mondiale) as five of an initial eight-man break defied the chasing main pack to stay out ahead in the 208km stage through the rugged Abruzzo region of central Italy.

Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) and Australia’s Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott) attacked from the field of favourites to finish sixth and seventh before Kelderman repaid his Sunweb team for their earlier efforts by leading home the pretenders for pink.

Almeida faded to nineteenth place as the streamlined peloton came home in dribs and drabs, but after another day of solid protection from his Deceuninck Quick-Step team, the 22-year-old Grand Tour debutant held onto the maglia rosa to make history for Portugal, adding gloss to his compatriot’s triumph and maglia azzurra coup in what was the second of six summit finishes in the 103rd edition of La Corsa Rosa.

In stark contrast to Saturday’s sun-blushed stage along the picturesque Puglian coast, Sunday’s 208km schlep through the mountains of the Abruzzo was played out under grey skies and heavy rain.

After a battle of attrition over the flat opening segment of the stage, seven riders came together after the intermediate sprint – which had seen Frenchman Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) extend his lead over maglia ciclamino rival Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) by one point to 57 points.

Beating Demare and Sagan to the line were a quartet featuring Guerreiro, Castroviejo, Eduardo Sepulveda (Movistar) and Ben O’Connor (NTT), with a trio of Warbasse, Frankiny and Giovanni Visconti (Vini Zabu-KTM) bridging over at the start of the Cat.1 Passo Lanciano.

Italian veteran Visconti took maximum points over the summit ahead of Guerreiro – a scenario which was repeated on the Cat.2 Passo San Leonardo with 54km remaining.

A rainbow breaks through the clouds as the peloton travels through the Italian countryside.

Between those two climbs, the seven leaders were joined by Bjerg after the 21-year-old Dane zipped clear of the peloton on the first climb in what appeared to be a badly judged bid to join the break.

But despite trailing the leaders by five minutes, Bjerg rode both sides of the Lanciano climb on his own before finally bridging over to make it eight men out ahead.

As the rain lashed down, the advantage crept above the seven-minute mark as Castroviejo rode into the virtual race lead and Visconti put himself in a commanding position to take over the blue jersey from the Spaniard’s Ineos teammate, Filippo Ganna.

But after Bjerg put in the first big acceleration on the penultimate climb, the Cat.2 Bosco di Sant’Antonio, Visconti faded along with O’Connor and Sepulveda.

Guerreiro took the points over the top of the climb before riding clear of the five leaders with Castroviejo on the final ascent following an initial dig by the American Warbasse.

With the main field starting the 9.6km climb of Roccarasa with a deficit of four minutes, it became clear that one of Guerreiro or Castroviejo would take the spoils. As both riders were in search of a maiden Grand Tour stage win, it was a cagey affair as the rain pelted down and their gap extended to 40 seconds entering the final kilometre.

Castroviejo looked to be in control but would end up coming second – mirroring the fate of his Italian teammate Salvatore Puccio one day earlier. The 33-year-old tried to drop his rival going under the one-kilometre banner, but the EF rider stuck to his back wheel.

Ruben Guerreiro feels the pain as he pedals towards victory.

And with the road steepening ahead of the finish, Guerreiro finally came out of the saddle to drop Castroviejo like a stone. Guerreiro, whose only previous win was the 2017 national road race title, became the first Portuguese rider to win a stage on the Giro since Acacio Da Silva in 1989.

Victory also saw the EF rider net another 40 points in the king of the mountains standings – enough to overtake Visconti and become the new maglia azzurra. Guerreiro leads the veteran Italian by 84 points to 76, with Castroviejo up to third on 45, four clear of his Ineos teammate Ganna.

In the battle for GC, Almeida retained the pink jersey but saw his lead at the top slashed to 30 seconds over Sunweb’s Keldeman, who darted clear of the main field alongside Astana’s Fuglsang to lay down a marker ahead of the rest day.

Despite some hefty pace-setting by his Trek-Segafredo team, Italian veteran Nibali was unable to deliver the goods on the final climb, the double Giro winner conceding 14 seconds to his rivals Kelderman and Fuglsang in what was a fairly subdued day for the favourites.

Nibali is now 57 seconds down in fifth place, with Denmark’s Fuglsang just four seconds further back and lurking with intent. Almeida faded towards the finish but rallied to limit his losses and ensure Portugal would enjoy a record seventh day in the race’s famous pink jersey.

Big losers of the day included the Belgian Harm Vanhoucke of Lotto Soudal, who dropped three places to seventh, and the Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk, who came home in a group just behind Almeida to edge out of the top 10.

But with the top 14 riders in the standings still within two minutes of Almeida’s lead, everything is there to fight for when the race resumes on Tuesday with the 177km Stage 10 from Lanciano to Tortoreto.

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