Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) took victory on the Gran Sasso d’Italia summit finish at the end of a brutal 225km stage of the Giro d’Italia to extend his lead at the top of the general classification.
After gifting the stage win on Mount Etna to team-mate Esteban Chaves a few days ago, Yates was in no mood for gifts atop this 2,135m summit finish, hitting the wind for the first time all day with 100m to go to sprint past Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) to take the stage win.
That result came at the end of a long day of work for the Mitchelton-Scott team, before Astana took responsibility for the chase for what was effectively a 47km finishing climb.
Astana’s work was intended to set up Miguel Angel Lopez, who was the first to launch one of a dizzying spell of attacks in the final two kilometres with Pinot, Pozzovivo, and Giulo Ciccone (Bardiani CSF) also getting in on the action.
However it was a six rider group, headed by Pozzovivo, which came towards the line, and while Pinot was the first to open the sprint it was Yates who was able to come past to take the stage win.
Yates now leads the general classification by 32 seconds over Chaves, with Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) 38 seconds down in third place.
However it was not such a good day for Yates’ compatriot Chris Froome (Team Sky) who was dropped by the pace of Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) with two kilometres remaining, and ended up losing more than a minute to drop out of the top 10 overall.
Watch: Giro d’Italia stage nine highlights
How it happened
At 225km in length and with plenty of climbing on the cards, stage nine of the Giro d’Italia saw a very active start with plenty of attacks in the opening kilometres and a group of 14 men eventually getting clear.
In the move were Mickael Cherel (Ag2r La Mondiale), Davide Ballerini and Fausto Masnada (Androni-Sidermec), Manuele Boaro (Bahrain-Merida), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Simone Andreetta (Bardiani CSF), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Tim Wellens (Lotto FixAll), Natneal Berhane (Dimension Data), Hugh Carthy (EF Education First-Drapac), Maxim Belkov (Katusha-Alpecin), Gianluca Brambilla and Laurent Didier (Trek-Segafredo), and Alex Turrin (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia).
The peloton initially seemed unwilling to let such a large group stay clear, keeping up the chase for around 20km, before easing off the gas and allowing the break to establish a lead of nearly eight minutes.
The gap hovered around the seven to eight minute mark for much of the stage even as there were moments of nervousness in the bunch behind as crosswinds briefly split the main group on the plateau after the Roccaraso climb.
For most of the day it was up to Mitchelton-Scott to control the pace on the front of bunch, but as the peloton moved onto the Calascio climb, the first of the two climbs that dominated the final 45km of the stage, it was Astana who moved to the front to up the pace.
That pressure immediately had an impact on the gap to the breakaway which lost two minutes in the space of seven kilometres, while there was also damage at the back of the peloton as rider after rider suffered and were dropped from the bunch.
Acceleration from the break for the mountains points saw the front group split up, with Brambilla, Carthy, Boaro, Visconti, Cherel, and Masnada finding themself clear as the long final climb to Gran Sasso d’Italia started almost immediately.
With two men in the break, it was no surprise to see Bahrain-Merida working hard with Boaro putting in huge turns in the front to maintain their lead while Visconti saved his legs at the back. However the pace wasn’t high enough to deter a long range attack from Masnada with 18km to go – immediately opening a sizeable gap and prompting a counter-attack from Boaro.
Meanwhile, back in the bunch, Mitchelton-Scott were back on the front to lend Astana a hand in making the race hard and fast, bringing the gap to the leaders down to two minutes on the approach to the unremitting ascent of the final seven kilometres.
However the long day in the saddle was clearly taking its toll on the men out front, and the gap ticked down quickly as the road rose upwards with Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott) grinding away on the front of the bunch.
Cherel, Visconti, Brambilla, Boaro, and Carthy were all caught and passed in quick succession to leave Masnada with 45 seconds to take into the final 3.5km, but a short section at 13 per cent did for the young Italian and he was caught with 2.8km to the line.
The pace was clearly high as the group split in two with Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) among those gapped before Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani CSF) launched an acceleration that wasn’t able to gain him more than a couple of seconds lead.
Ciccone was kept within reach by Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott), and Haig’s pace was also enough to drop Chris Froome (Team Sky) who was quickly on the radio to call team-mate Sergio Henao back from the front group.
As Froome suffered Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) saw an opportunity to attack, before Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) launched a move of his own to try and get away. Neither move was successful but did help to extend the gap back to Froome out to 30 seconds.
Ciccone launched another move of his own with 500m to go, but that was countered by Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) who kept the pace high on the front even as a brutal headwind blew down the finishing straight.
However Yates was waiting in the wheel, and with 100m to go the 25-year-old surged to the front for the first time all day to cross the line with his arms aloft and claim the stage win that he gave away to Esteban Chaves on Mount Etna earlier in the week.
That result extended Yates’ lead at the top of the GC out beyond half a minute, but it was a long wait for Froome to cross the line as he conceded more than a minute to Yates and dropped out of the top 10 overall.
Giro d’Italia, stage nine: Pesco Sannita to Gran Sasso d’Italia, 225km
1 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, in 5-54-13
2 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at same time
3 Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott, at same time
4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 4 secs
5 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar, at same time
6 Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 10 secs
7 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 12 secs
8 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at same time
9 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana, at same time
10 Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Bardiani CSF, at 24 secs
General classification after stage nine
1. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, in 37-37-15
2. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott, at 32 secs
3. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 38 secs
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 45 secs
5. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 57 secs
6. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar, at 1-20
7. George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 1-33
8. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing, at 2-05
9. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana, at same time
10. Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First-Drapac, at 2-25