Nine days into this Giro d'Italia, and we are not much closer to finding out who will pull on the final pink jersey in Verona in just under a fortnight's time. We might know who will not be winning, with Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) and Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) among those out of contention, but there are still many more who could win the race.
There are 12 riders within 1-27 of each other after stage nine, with the climb to Blockhaus sorting out the general classification. While the same man, Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo), might still be clinging onto the maglia rosa, the shape of the rest of the top ten has been changed.
No decisive blow has yet been struck, despite the best efforts of riders like Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), who attacked fiercely on Sunday. Five riders came over the line together, as Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) claimed victory, and the top ten on the day were separated by under a minute.
With so much more climbing still to come in this Giro, especially in a mountain-heavy final week, this race has a lot more still to give. The winner will likely come from the top 12, with the jump from Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) in 12th currently to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) in 13th bigger than the gap from the former to López, who holds the lead.
The 12 are, in GC order: López, João Almeida (UAE-Team Emirates), Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Carapaz, Hindley, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Arensman.
The Giro has been especially good at keeping the race for the overall title in recent years, keeping the suspense going right until the very end. This edition feels different, though, with there being so many favourites for the win. One can imagine a scenario in which those 12 end up in any order come Verona.
This contrasts with the Tour de France, which was all but over after five stages last year, and eventual winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates). pulling on the yellow jersey after stage eight, and then not giving it up until the very end.
The lack of Pogačar and his Slovenian rival Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) certainly makes the race more open and gives GC riders hope. The fact so many contenders came to the Giro d'Italia to start off with says a lot about what they think of their chances here compared to at the Tour in July.
Here, then, are the 12 riders with a claim to lifting the Trofeo Senza Fine in Verona on the 29th.
Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo)
López stepped into pink after stage four to Mount Etna, and has been impressive in his defence of the lead ever since. Despite his Trek-Segafredo team not being set up to ride for general classification, they have marshalled their forces to help the young Spaniard, and he has delivered.
His battling ride on stage nine showed his determination to hold onto the top of GC for as long as possible. He is clearly in good climbing form, and there is no reason why he couldn't end up in the top ten, although it is unlikely that he will hold onto pink for the whole race. One could imagine a scenario where he goes into the final week still in the lead, however. A top ten is also not out of the equation, although one expects he would rather win a stage.
João Almeida (UAE-Team Emirates), at 12s
The Portugese rider has experience at the top of the Giro, holding onto the pink jersey for 15 days in the 2020 pandemic-delayed edition. At times on stage nine, Almeida looked like he was slipping back, losing time, but every time he managed to cling on and pace his way back to the lead group.
As a result, he finished on the same time as Hindley, and now is breathing heavily down López's neck. There might not be any big mountain tests until next weekend, but he might very well snatch the race lead at an opportune point this week.
Almeida joined UAE to get more GC opportunities at the big races, and in the absence of Pogačar will be hoping to deliver. With an experienced team around him, he might just go all the way. If the race is tight going into the final days, his rivals will be looking to gain time on him before the Verona time trial, as the young man is good against the clock.
Romain Bardet (Team DSM), at 14s
Bardet is very much back. Not that he was every really away, but the Frenchman looks like he is back to the form which saw him finish on the podium at the Tour in consecutive years in 2016 and 2017.
The DSM rider won the Tour of the Alps last month, showing that he has his best climbing legs, and aged 31, has the experience to manage a tilt at the general classification. With his young teammate Arensman next to him, this might finally be the opportunity France has been waiting for for a grand tour win.
You can expect Bardet to try and make it hard in the mountains to gain time, and we are all hopeful of an explosive battle with the likes of Carapaz and Landa in the Alps. His Tour of the Alps win was actually his first GC victory since 2013, so perhaps 2022 is his year.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), at 15s
Carapaz was named as the favourite by many people ahead of the race, and it is easy to see why. He is the only rider in the top 12 to have actually won the race before, in 2019, and the mountainous route suits him hands down.
In his Ineos Grenadiers team he probably has the best squad at this year's race; the likes of Richie Porte and Pavel Sivakov have already sacrificed their overall chances for their teammate, and it is packed with climbing talent. All eight Ineos riders remain in the race, and they have already looked to control the tempo on the climbs, even without the race lead.
The Ecuadorean tried to create splits on Blockhaus but failed to make the elastic snap. However, this surely will not be the last we see of his attacking brio, and he will be aggressive in the climbing stages to come.
Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), at 20s
After the 2020 Giro, Hindley was one of the coming stars of cycling, Australia's great new hope. He finished second in that edition, but then had a disappointing 2021, affected by illness and injury.
A move to a new team, Bora-Hansgrohe, has helped invigorate the 26-year-old, and he is now the highest placed of the German team's GC hopes. His stage win on Sunday was super impressive and showed his form and speed. With the help of his teammates Buchmann, Wilco Kelderman and Lennard Kämna, he is surely a contender for the win in Verona now.
Hindley's confidence will definitely be high after a stage win, and there is no reason why he won't get another, in the mountains yet to come.
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), at 28s
Martin actually lost time on stage nine, coming in 1-08 behind the lead group, but he remains in sixth place overall thanks to his exploits the day before in Naples. The Cofidis rider has an odd approach to general classification, seeming to prefer yo-yoing up and down rather than defending his position.
With his unorthodox tactics, the Frenchman might not be the favourite for the win in Verona, but there is no reason he can't continue to be a factor and finish in the top ten overall. This would back up his 8th place in last year's Tour. He is certainly an interesting watch.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), at 29s
Has the bad luck finally ended for Landa? The Bahrain-Victorious rider crashed twice on stage nine, and needed to change one of his shoes, but still managed to hold onto the front group and lost no time to his rivals.
Fans have become accustomed in recent years to misfortune causing the Spaniard to tumble out of races; he failed to finish either the Tour or the Vuelta a España last year.
However, he conquered his demons on the climb to Blockhaus, showing that he is still one to watch in this race. Of course, he has finished on the podium here before, coming third in 2015, which feels like a lifetime ago. Landa will want to go even better at a Grand Tour, however, and 2022 might be his year.
One blow for him and his Bahrain team is that they have already lost Jan Tratnik, but with the help of his teammate Bilbao, Landa will be looking to launch a serious challenge for pink.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), at 54s
Pozzovivo might have just lost time on stage nine, but he is still up there overall. More importantly, he is the first Italian on general classification.
Pozzovivo is also 39. That's almost as old as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and the same age as James Anderson. He first rode the Giro in 2005! It feels mad that he is up in 8th overall, especially after the rollercoaster couple of years he has had with injuries and team changes.
The Italian only joined his fifth cycling team in February, after the collapse of Qhubeka-NextHash last year, and is already repaying them hugely. While it is unlikely that he could win overall, his gritty determination could certainly see him achieve the seventh top ten of his career at his home Grand Tour.
Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), at 1-09
A minute might feel like a lot compared to the smaller gaps higher up this list, but trust me, with the amount of climbing still to come in this race, Buchmann is still in contention.
The German is yet to live up to the form which saw him finish 4th at the 2019 Tour, but he has looked good so far at this race, without doing anything spectacular.
With his teammate Hindley above him on GC, he might be able to act as the perfect foil in the Alpine stages. If he attacks, he might force teams to chase while his Australian friend sits on, or potentially vice versa. Bora have gone all in for this Giro, and it is paying off so far.
Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), at 1-22
The second Bahrain-Victorious rider on this list, Bilbao has been a solid Grand Tour rider in the last couple of years, coming 9th at last year's Tour and 5th at the Giro in 2020.
While Landa looks like his team's best bet, Bilbao can still offer a lot, and is more than just a super-domestique. The Spaniard looked good at the Tour of the Alps last month and will be on hand if any more bad luck comes his compatriot and teammate's way.
He has a fast kick, finishing third on the opening day as proof, and so might well be in with a chance of a third stage win at the race.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), at 1-23
If Pozzovivo is old at 39, then Valverde is ancient at 42. The Movistar stalwart is riding his last season this year, and is looking to go off on a high at this, his penultimate Grand Tour.
It is only his second Giro, and he finished third on his first edition, in 2016. This is a good sign for Valverde, and he also won a stage on that occasion. He came into this race claiming he wasn't riding for GC, but the deeper we go into this race, the more this might look like a bit of a lie.
He is a born champion, and it is easy to foresee a situation in which he goes into the final day time trial with a shot at the top five, let alone the top ten. While Valverde is more likely to look for a stage win, he might well accidentally finish high up on GC too.
Thymen Arensman (Team DSM), at 1-27
The third team to have two riders in the top 12 is DSM, with Bardet and Arensman. The youngest man in this group, the 22-year-old has a promising future ahead of him, but there is no time like the present to make a mark.
Arensman has only increased his position on GC throughout this Giro, as others drop away, and has impressed at just his third Grand Tour, and his first in Italy.
The Dutchman finished sixth overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, before finishing 3rd at the Tour of the Alps, where he helped Bardet to the win. He might well continue to be the perfect helper to the Frenchman's ambitions, but also continue his growth in the process.
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