Giro d'Italia 2023 stage nine preview - a flat time trial that should shake up the GC
Stage nine is the second time trial of this year's Giro d'Italia, and it is set to be a fast one
Start location: Savignano sul Rubicone
Finish location: Cesena
Start time: 13:10 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:09 CEST
For many centuries scholars have speculated as to the location of the famous Rubicon river that Julius Caesar and his arm fatefully crossed in 49 BC on their way towards Rome, and in 1991 strong evidence emerged that suggested the identity was the Fiumicino river that flows through Emilia-Romagna. Consequently, the small town of Savignano Di Romagna that lies on the river changed its name to Savignano sul Rubicone, and a bronze statue of Caesar was erected by a bridge crossing it.
The Rubion was significant for making the border between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul and Italy; by crossing it, Caesar defied the senate’s order forbidding him to march an army into Italy, and effectively declared civil war on Rome.
Although the Giro d'Italia’s eventual destination will also be Rome, for now the riders are travelling in the opposite direction to Caesar, as they continue to make their way north towards the Alps. From Savignano sul Rubicone they’ll take on a 35km time trial course through Emilia Romagna, finishing in Cesena, home to the first ever library to be open to the general public. Named after the aristocratic family who ran the commune during its prosperous era of the early Renaissance, the Malatesta library was built in the 15th century with grand architecture that makes it look more like a church than a library.
Stage nine profile sourced on the Giro d'Italia website
Much has been made of the increased prominence of time trialling in this year’s Giro, and today’s 35km stage will be the first mid-race stage against the clock since the 2020 edition. Previously, a time trial of similar length either at the end of the first week or during the second week was commonplace at the Giro, and they have generally had a significant impact in the race for the pink jersey. Tom Dumoulin took the yellow jersey from Nairo Quintana in 2017 by taking almost three minutes from him, but failed to do so from Simon Yates the following year when the Briton held firm to lose only a little more one minute. Primož Roglič stormed to stage victory in 2019 and put over a minute into all of his rivals, and in 2020, although neither knew it yet as they languished further down the GC, the 1-15 Tao Geoghegan Hart gained over Jai Hindley was to be decisive in their unexpected battle for overall victory.
The terrain of this stage will be particularly punishing to any GC contenders who struggle against the clock. Not only is it virtually entirely flat, it’s also made up of mostly wide, straight roads with few bends to have to slow down to negotiate. It’s going to be a fast one, and one where the specialists will be able to make the most of their power, while those with lighter and less streamlined builds will struggle to limit their losses.
It was all guns blazing at the opening time trial last weekend, with a number of riders making their mark on the race. But there has been eight long stages between stage one and this time trial that will have fatigued the legs. Throw in some crashes for the GC contenders and it becomes a tougher race agains the clock to predict.
Remco Evenepoel (Soudal - Quick-Step) is, of course, our first contender. He put in a stellar performance in the opening stage, completing the 19.6km route in 21 minutes and 18 seconds. However, he's suffered two crashes since then and while it doesn't seem to have impacted his form too much, there's little forgiveness in a TT. He showed his first weakness on the steep climbs of stage eight, so will be eager to recapture lost time here.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) looked at his exceptional best on stage eight, and is well versed at Grand Tour time trialling. The Olympic champion should remain closer to Evenepoel than perhaps he did on stage one, but he'll need to up his game if he's to beat the Belgian on this power course.
With Filippo Ganna out of the race with Covid-19, Ineos Grenadiers will focus fully on the placing of their GC riders in the time trial. Tao Geoghegan Hart put in the performance of his life last week, taking fourth place, while his co-leader Geraint Thomas came ninth and will be motivated to better his fifth place in the overall standings. Both put in strong performances to distance everyone but Roglič on stage eight, but they may be looking more to remain as close as they can to Roglič and Evenepoel rather than eyeing the stage and significant GC gains.
Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) are two other GC contenders who will not want to let their times slip. But the nature of the course won't suit them quite as well as stage one's.
For the stage, Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) is the main favourite outside the GC contenders. An extremely powerful rider, the former European champion's best chance at a stage win in this Giro is on Sunday and there's no doubt he'll be going all out. Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) is another powerful rider who suits this course, but the Italian hasn't looked on his strongest form for some time now.
After his scintillating stage one time trial, Remco Evenepoel is the clear favourite to repeat the feat and win on stage nine. It will be more difficult given the racing that's taken place since, but there's a good chance the Belgian champion will remain head and shoulders above the rest and certainly regain the overall lead.