Giro d'Italia 2021: Stage 9 Preview - The Toughest Test Yet
Rouleur previews stage 9 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia. The race changes direction and heads north with over 3,500 metres of climbing and not a flat metre of road in sight.
Stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia is the second mountain stage in a row, and with four categorised climbs and a gravelled drag to the line we could have an action-packed day.
Following an immense battle for the breakaway which took place across over 50km, stage 8 would again be decided by the breakaway. Victor Campenaerts made an exceptional effort to join the breakaway solo and then was the most active in the final 15km. However, when the road punched uphill towards the finish in Guardia Sanframondi it was all about Victor Lafay. The Frenchman riding for Cofidis won by over 30 seconds, an incredible margin on a 3km climb. Still just 25 years of age, Lafay is one to watch moving forward.
Notably, Caleb Ewan has now abandoned the race and won’t be contending in any of the following sprint stages.
Giro d’Italia Stage 9 profile
Starting in the small valley town of Castel di Sangro, the road turns and the race changes direction to begin its journey back to Northern Italy. At 157km, stage 9 is the shortest road stage of this year’s route yet and there isn’t a flat kilometre in sight.
The stage begins on the Colle della Croce, and is perhaps harshly uncategorised. The 7km effort isn’t particularly steep and at its peak the breakaway will likely have escaped. After a short descent, the Passo Godi follows. This climb is 13.9km but averages just 4.1%. The pace could be very high, particularly if a large breakaway has already gone up the road, but the lack of severe percentages mean the GC contenders won’t be worried just yet.
After a rapid start to the stage the peloton will enjoy descending for the next 30km. The Fonte Ciarlotto follows and even though it is 11.4km and the steepest climb of the day so far at 4.5% it is uncategorised. The Forca Caruso is only marginally longer in distance and has a similar average gradient, yet is third category with nine king of the mountains points on offer to the first over the top. An intermediate sprint awaits at the foot of the descent in the town of Canalo, but the climbing is far from over.
At 12km and 5% average, the Ovindoli climb is the hardest of the stage to this point. The second category effort provides more KOM points to the first riders and Gino Mäder has his work cut out to hold the maglia azzurra. The percentages are not mega, but four climbs over 10km to this point will drain the legs.
A short descent then leads into the Rocca di Cambio. It’s just 2.5km, but bonus seconds are available here and may tempt riders some of the GC favourites to attack, particularly if the breakaway has been caught. From here, just 8km remain until the finish.
Campo Felice Climb Profile
The final ascent quickly follows and is an intriguing prospect. The climb starts with minor percentages but steepens briefly to over 7%. After a short false flat section, the final 1,600 metres are what really matter. Pitching up to almost 10%, this section is also gravelled — if anyone is in difficulty they will reach breaking point here.
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Victor Lafay won from another breakaway on stage 8. making it four out of four for the break in mountain stages thus far. With the fifth mountain stage here, expect another serious battle to join the early attackers as it could be where the stage victor (no pun intended) is decided.
Attila Valter rode strongly to Guardia Sanframondi which means he gets a third day in pink. Groupama-FDJ will be more than happy for a group of riders to move up the road and take the stage victory again, so long as they aren’t dangerous to the GC. This favours another breakaway stage win.
Needless to say, Egan Bernal has looked in consummate control on the difficult finishes thus far and despite the loss of Pavel Sivakov, the Grenadiers have the strongest team here. Ganna can control early before handing over to Jonthan Castrovejo, Gianni Moscon and even Dani Martinez. Bernal was forced to withdraw from the Tour de France last year after he suffered back issues and Ineos will be keen to make the most of Bernal’s strong legs at this stage of the race. This may encourage them to come to the front and set a hard tempo from the get-go to pile pressure on Bernal’s rivals, though they may hold their hand back until the second half of the stage.
Many teams and riders will be eager to join the early breakaway and we think the breakaway will make it five not-out on the mountain stages thus far. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the riders that could challenge.
Trek-Segafredo have numerous options aside from their GC contenders, namely Bauke Mollema and Gianluca Brambilla. Both riders have won this year and given their GC position, they are free to attack without threatening Valter’s maglia rosa. Should the GC favourites end up fighting for the stage, Giulio Ciccone has looked menacing on the climbs and may even try to attack earlier, something he is far from adverse to.
EF Education-Nippo were active on stage 8 but ultimately failed to make the early breakaway. Ruben Guerreiro was one of the most energetic — he’s clearly been let off the leash to challenge for stage wins. If he’s able to join the early move on this occasion he’s in with a great chance at the stage on a steep ramp which closely matches his skillset.
Cofidis certainly will not settle for one stage win and have some solid climbers in their ranks who could threaten here. Among them, Nicolas Edet, Remy Rochas or even Victor Lafay. The latter is more unlikely after his stage-winning excursions yesterday, but Cofidis will surely try to join the breakaway in some form again.
Bora-Hansgrohe are still looking for their first stage win of the Giro d’Italia this year, the last time they failed to win at the race was 2016. Of course, they still have plenty of chances with Peter Sagan to come, but Felix Großschartner could play his hand in the breakaway sooner or later. They may focus entirely on Emanuel Buchmann’s GC attempt, though he is 1:30 down on the top favourites so it could make sense to set Großschartner free.
Movistar have Marc Soler sitting amid the GC hopefuls, while they've been aggressive in sending riders up the road throughout to this point. Dario Cataldo, Matteo Jorgenson, Davide Villella and Einer Rubio are all breakaway potentials.
Bahrain-Victorious lost Mikel Landa but bounced back when they won with Gino Mäder from the breakaway the following day. Mäder is in the blue jersey at present and must voyage up the road if he is to hold it into the first rest day. This also puts him in stage contention.
We must also consider Deceuninck–Quick-Step's stage strategy. Most likely, they’ll keep their squad around Remco Evenepoel. The Belgian is lurking just behind Valter in the GC and if the Hungarian slips up, the young superstar is primed to claim his first leader’s jersey at a Grand Tour. Evenepoel has said he is feeling tired and looking forward to the first rest day though, so perhaps he’ll be cautious. This would be wise as he is racing over three weeks for the first time in his young career.
Egan Bernal and the Ineos Grenadiers may well look to push on early and test the legs of their rivals. The Colombian is behind Evenepoel in the GC standings but has looked in control when the road goes uphill, toying with his rivals at times. This may be a suitable moment for him to push on and claim his first Grand Tour stage victory — although the first finisher on stage 19 of the 2019 Tour, as the stage was neutralised no results were given. If the GC contenders fight for the stage, expect Egan Bernal to be the pick of the bunch.
We think that battle will take place behind yet another successful breakaway though and are backing Ruben Guerreiro. The Portuguese rider loves steep finishes even though he’ll have to tackle gravel on the final run to the line too. Guerreiro won stage 9 of the Giro d'Italia last year and we’re backing him to jump up the road and do it again this year.
Cover image: Tim de Waele/Getty Images