Katusha's Maxim Belkov attacked his fellow escapees from more than 50km out to take a fine solo win - his first as a pro - in Stage 9 of the 2013 Giro d'Italia in Florence today. On a cold day with heavy rainstorms soaking the roads at times, Team Sky's Sir Bradley Wiggins again risked losing time to his GC rivals due to his appparent nervousness on wet descents, finding himself more than a minute down on maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali of Astana at one point.
Wiggins battled back, and although he came close to being dropped again on the day's final two descents, he just managed to cling onto the group containing the overall contenders. One man who was unable to hold on however was defending champion Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Sharp, dropped on the final climb to Fiesole and losing around a minute to his rivals.
On that last climb of the day, which will be a key point on the closing circuit of the road world championships in September, AG2R’s Carlos Betancur attacked from the GC group and overhauled the remaining members of the day’s break, the last being Colombia’s Jarlinson Pantano within sight of the line.
That made Betancur the second rider across the line, 44 seconds down on Belkov, although a fault with the AG2R rider's radio meant he was unaware that the stage had already been won, the Colombian raising his arms in celebration.
Meanwhile, tomorrow’s rest day probably can’t come quickly enough for Wiggins, who will no doubt be praying for better weather when the race resumes in the mountains of north eastern Italy on Tuesday.
The Tour de France champion’s confidence when descending in the rain seems to have been shot to pieces following that crash on Friday that caused him to lose nearly 90 seconds to his rivals on the way into Pescara.
Today, on the long descent from the Category 1 summit of Vallombrosa, he found himself a minute down on Nibali and his other GC rivals by the time the road bottomed out at Pontassieve, with 33km still to ride.
Nibali told Italian TV station RAI afterwards that he was unaware until it was too late of the difficulties Wiggins was encountering – his team car had been relegated to last position after a rule infraction on Friday, apparently – and by the time other teams such as BMC and Garmin-Sharp had moved to the front to try and force the pace, the Briton was already bridging back across.
It took an enormous effort, however, and although he had Team Sky colleagues to help, it was Wiggins himself, in a distinctive bright blue rain jacket, who did much of the work in rejoining the group in front, the effort leaving him spent as he struggled to hold on during the day's final two climbs, shorter and punchier than those that had preceded them.
Cling on he did, however, thereby rescuing a day that could have resulted in another big blow to his GC hopes. Instead, it was Garmin-Sharp’s Hesjedal who was the big loser among the GC names today, last year’s maglia rosa distanced on that last climb to Fiesole and losing more than a minute by the time he crossed the line at the quintessential Florentine viewpoint of Piazza Michelangelo.
Today’s parcours featured two big climbs either side of the halfway point of the 170km stage from Sansepolcro, the first of those being the Category 2 Passo della Consuma, its summit reached just ahead of the halfway point in the stage, with 88.2km still to ride.
It was Colombia rider Robinson Chalapud who attacked from today's break of 12 men, which included Blanco's Juan Manuel Garate and mountains classification leader Giovanni Visconti of Movistar, to seek the points on offer.
He was soon followed by one of the race's most consistently combative riders, Stefano Pirazzi of Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, who to the Colombian's evident anger left him with no way past to challenge to be first over, the Italian taking maximum points.
Ahead of the next climb of Vallombrosa, the first Category 1 climb of this year's race, the pair had been joined by Belkov, and the trio had a lead of more than a minute on their fellow escapees.
Behind them, with the rain lashing down as they negotiate the descent from the Passo della Consuma, the peloton was taking things very carefully, giving the three leaders an advantage that rose above 6 minutes as they passed the feed zone and started heading up the Vallombrosa.
On that 8.9 kilometre climb, which had a gradient hitting 12 per cent towards the halfway point, Pirazzi attacked his companions and while Chalapud responded, he was unable to prevent the Italian crossing first.
Coming down the other side, it was Belkov, however, who lives in the town of Prato a little to the north of Florence, but confessed afterwards that he had not undertaken any specific recce of this stage, who rode off to take a fine solo win.
Giro d'Italia Stage 9 1 BELKOV Maxim Katusha Team 04:31:31 2 BETANCUR Carlos AG2R La Mondiale 00:44 3 PANTANO Jarlinson Team Colombia 00:46 4 LUDVIGSSON Tobias Team Argos - Shimano 00:54 5 EVANS Cadel BMC Racing Team 01:03 6 INTXAUSTI Benat Movistar Team All at same time 7 DI LUCA Danilo Vini Fantini 8 SANTAMBROGIO Mauro Vini Fantini 9 CARUSO Damiano Cannondale 10 NIBALI Vincenzo Astana Pro Team 11 NIEMIEC Przemyslaw Lampre - Merida 12 BRAMBILLA Gianluca Omega Pharma - Quick-Step 13 SANCHEZ Samuel Euskaltel - Euskadi 14 KISERLOVSKI Robert RadioShack - Leopard 15 HENAO Sergio Sky Procycling ,, 16 GESINK Robert Blanco Pro Cycling Team 17 SCARPONI Michele Lampre - Merida 18 KANGERT Tanel Astana Pro Team 19 VALLS FERRI Rafael Vacansoleil - DCM 20 MAJKA Rafal Team Saxo-Tinkoff Overall standings after Stage 9 1 NIBALI Vincenzo Astana Pro Team 34:19:31 2 EVANS Cadel BMC Racing Team 00:29 3 GESINK Robert Blanco Pro Cycling Team 01:15 4 WIGGINS Bradley Sky Procycling 01:16 5 SCARPONI Michele Lampre - Merida 01:24 6 HENAO Sergio Sky Procycling 02:11 7 SANTAMBROGIO Mauro Vini Fantini 02:43 8 NIEMIEC Przemyslaw Lampre - Merida 02:44 9 URAN Rigoberto Sky Procycling 02:49 10 KANGERT Tanel Astana Pro Team 03:02
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.