The Giro d'Italia really came to life on the Blockhaus finish
Sky’s hopes in tatters after another catastrophic moto incident
One of the positives of the first week of the Giro d’Italia had been the lack of crashes involving the overall contenders.
Usually the tension of the early flat stages cause enough crashes to put pay to at least one contender’s hopes, but the opening eight days of this year’s edition went by relatively incident-free, with all of the favourites separated by just a handful of seconds.
That all changed on the lower slopes of the Blockhaus. A stationary police motorbike caused havoc in the peloton, when a rider, squeezed for room, clipped its wheel, causing a pile-up on the left-hand side of the road.
The incident will reignite the debate surrounding the role of motorbikes, which have been the cause of several high-profile crashes in recent years.
With yet another incident severely affecting the race and endangering rider safety, surely the UCI will be obliged to do something to address riders’ long-standing concerns?
There will also be arguments that Movistar – who were leading the race at the time of the crash – should have taken the sporting gesture of dropping the pace.
But whereas this is morally ambiguous area that will divide opinion, the one thing we can be sure about it that the motorbike should not have parked where it did.
Nairo Quintana is the man to beat
Nairo Quintana went into the race as favourite, but his superiority over the entire rest of the field was still mightily impressive.
Eager not to hang about, the Colombian put in several digs early on the climb, shedding more and more riders until finally, with just under 5km left to go, there was no-one left on his wheel.
He did not relent until the top of the climb, not even slowing down at the finish line to celebrate, and put over a minute into all but three other riders.
The smoothness with which he pedalled up the climb, and the ease with which he seemed to drop everyone, will have been a disheartening sight to anyone else hoping to win the pink jersey this year.
Dumoulin and Pinot
Although it is still very early in the race, and there is plenty of time for both form and fortune to fluctuate, the signs today were that Tom Dumoulin (Subweb) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) will be the men most likely to challenge Quintana.
Although Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) initially lead the resistance, the defending champion faded away closer to the summit, with Pinot and Dumoulin forming a functional two-man chase that kept Quintana within just 24 seconds.
Of particular concern to Quintana will be Dumoulin’s performance, given the vast amount of time the Dutchman is expected to gain in the two individual time trials.
The onus will be on Quintana to take every chance he can to gain time on him whenever the road goes uphill.
Fearsome Blockhaus ends many hopes
Stage nine could hardly have contrasted more starkly with the erstwhile subdued battle for the GC, with all the contenders scattered across the road, the race having blown to pieces on the fearsome Blockhaus climb.
Some riders will feel they managed to limit their loses enough to remain in contention – Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) at 41 seconds, for instance, as well as Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) at exactly one minute.
The chances of others, however, appear all but over already. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) has a mountain to climb if he’s to avenge his near-miss at last year’s race, having lost 2-44 today.
Even worse off is Tejay van Garderen (BMC), who lost 3-45, while Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) falls from first overall to 12th having lost 3-30.
Most disappointed of all however will be those caught up in the crash, with Adam Yates losing 4-39, Geraint Thomas losing 5-08, and Mikel Landa finishing a whopping 26-56 in arrears.
What next for Thomas?
Having dedicated his season towards the Giro, which involved months of preparation and a sacrifice of his chances in the spring Classics, for Thomas’s GC bid to end as it did was particularly devastating.
His dream of winning the Giro this year, or even of finishing on the podium, appear to be over, but this race is still salvageable.
At 17th overall, a first ever Grand Tour top-10 remains on the cards, possibly even a top five if his form is as good as hinted. And there is always the chance of him riding freely and targeting stage wins.
But it is also yet to be seen how badly injured Thomas is from the crash. If hurt, his best option may be to abandon and focus instead on preparing himself for Chris Froome’s bid for the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.
‘It’s too early to think about at the moment’, he said at the finish line, when asked about his intentions for the rest of the race. We should find out soon enough.