Gianluca Brambilla loves the strade bianche
Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) marked himself out as a potential winner for this stage back in March when, at the Strade Bianche classic that is characterised by the same kind of gravel roads, he rode an eye-catchingly aggressive race to finish an impressive third.
So when he managed to get into the day’s break, and help build a lead of over five minutes with just over 40km remaining, it began to look as though he could go even better and take a win.
He duly delivered with a powerful attack on the Alpe di Ponti that dropped all of his breakaway companions, and coasted to the biggest win of his career so far.
Better still, so strong was his ride that he managed to hold enough of a lead over the peloton to move into the overall lead.
With Sunday’s time trial likely to cause another major shake-up to the GC he’s unlikely to wear it for more than one day, but whatever happens his career and reputation has already transformed with this one ride.
Maybe Dumoulin wasn’t bluffing after all
All week Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) has been insisting that it was never the plan to try and defend his pink jersey all the way to Turin, and all week pundits and other riders have suggested that such claims were a bluff to take the pressure off.
But on the Alpe di Ponti, the toughest climb the Giro d’Italia has thrown at the riders so far, he did indeed look like a rider not prepared for a GC battle, being dropped early on and falling agonisingly backwards the further uphill
How will the GC contenders fare in the Giro d’Italia time trial?
Not only did the Dutchman lose the pink jersey, he also fell out of the top ten altogether, and it seems unlikely he’ll be mounting a bid for the overall. But with a time trial tomorrow, he has a chance to bounce back immediately, and potentially put himself back in the mix.
The cream rises to the top
Today provided the clearest picture yet of which riders will be challenging for the pink jersey this year.
It was Alejandro Valverde who took on the race, first accelerating at the very bottom of the Alpe di Ponti and continuing to ride at the front until the peloton had been split to bits.
At its most select, the group of favourites consisted of just seven riders – Valverde (Movistar) Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo).
The most notable absentee was Mikel Landa (Sky), although he and a handful of other riders managed to catch back up by the climb’s summit. Having been dropped in a similar manner on stage four, the Spaniard’s form remains a concern, although on both occasions he managed to get away with not losing any time. Stage nine’s time trial could be more definitive.
Vincenzo Nibali reasserts position in Astana
Following his impotent attack on stage six, and subsequent time loss to teammate Jakob Fuglsang, there had been hints of tension in the Astana camp. Nibali blamed the instructions given to him from the team car on his failed move, while Fuglsang hinted that he harbours GC ambitions of his own.
Based on today’s performances, however, Nibali still appears to be the strongest of the two.
Fuglsang was one of the many riders dropped on the Alpe di Ponti, and ultimately finished 48 seconds behind his Italian teammate, as well as slipping beneath him on the GC. Sunday’s time trial provides a unique chance for the pair to go head to head, and therefore another chance for Nibali to make an unequivocal claim to be the team’s sole leader.
Alpe di Ponti sabotaged
Prior to all the excitement once the riders and started racing up the Alpe di Ponti, there had been drama of a more worrying sort.
Earlier in the day Daniele Bennati – who lives nearby – tweeted a photo of rusty nails that had been dropped on the climb, raising concerns that the road could spell danger for the riders if they remained by the time the riders arrived.
But thankfully no such incident occurred, after all the nails were removed in time.