Water off a duck’s back for Ef Pro Cycling’s Ruben Guerreiro
Dress for the job you want, the saying goes, and at the start of the Giro d’Italia, what exactly the employment EF were seeking with their latest kit was anyone’s guess.
After a week of racing, however, their job here is clearly to win mountain stages, having taken the spoils on both of the uphill days so far.
After Jonathan Caicedo won atop Mount Etna, Guerreiro took himself off into the stage nine breakaway, surviving Mikkel Bjerg’s attack that whittled down the escape group and then holding on as Jonathan Castroviejo went off in search of a rare chance to take victory for himself at a Grand Tour.
Into the final kilometre, Guerreiro had adequately saved his legs, proving stronger than Castroviejo and riding away from the Spaniard, crossing the line to make it a sublime opening week for his team, who clearly have all the gear as well as all of the ideas.
Almeida’s perseverance caps off dream week for Portgual
As well as Ruben Guerreiro becoming the first Portuguese rider to win a Giro stage in 31 years, João Almeida has worn the maglia rosa the longest of any rider from the southern European nation.
Despite losing 18 seconds to Wilco Kelderman and other GC riders as the peloton split apart in the final kilometre to the line, the 22-year-old takes a 30-second buffer over the Dutch Sunweb rider into the second week.
After his strong time trial performance on the opening day, he hung in there on Mount Etna and was shepherded through the crosswinds of stage seven. How long he’ll be able to stay in the race lead of his debut Grand Tour is anyone’s guess, but he should at least keep his pink jersey until the stage 14 time trial when he could take more time out on those below him in the general classification. Regardless of the outcome by the end of the race, he could hardly have hoped for better.
GC contenders lose some seconds
After suffering through the cold, wind and rain, the peloton finally splintered in the final kilometre before the line, with some overall contenders losing what could prove to be crucial seconds in the GC battle.
Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) all finished together, but more importantly, took out six seconds on Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT), 14 on Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) and 21 on Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma).
With all of those riders within a minute of each other in the overall classification, these few seconds here and there could end up being vital by the time the race reaches the final time trial in Milan.
Mikkel Bjerg’s eventful day out
Mikkel Bjerg had quite the day on stage nine of the Giro d’Italia. Deciding to get into the breakaway after the move had already gone up the road, the 21-year-old making it halfway across the six-minute gap before a puncture threatened his hard work thus far.
20km later, he had made it across, before disaster nearly struck again as he rode off the course with 40km remaining. Once again, he made it back on before attacking at the foot of the penultimate climb, splitting the escape group.
He was eventually dropped after Castroviejo and Guerreiro set off up the road to contest the victory, but he celebrated his second third place at his debut Grand Tour by holding up three fingers across the line.
With Casper Pedersen winning Paris-Tours and Mads Pedersen taking Ghent-Wevelgem, a Bjerg victory at the Giro would have made it three out of three for Denmark. Instead, Bjerg shows again why he’s a prospect to watch for the future.
And now, a rest day after a hectic first week
Unpredictability is to be expected in Grand Tour racing, but the first week of the 2020 Giro has thrown up more than a few surprises.
The two pre-race favourites in Geraint Thomas (Ineos) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) are no longer in the race, while Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has denied Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) three times. Meanwhile, a relatively unknown 22-year-old Portuguese rider has taken hold of the maglia rosa.
The numerous bangs and crashes will continue to take their toll after the first rest day, when the race heads further into October, and there will no doubt be further surprises to come.