Giro d'Italia stage 9: Remco Evenepoel wins time trial to take maglia rosa
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Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quickstep) powered to victory on stage 9 of the Giro d'Italia but his winning margin was hardly the dominance shown on the opening stage.
The Belgian champion moved into the maglia rosa but only managed to win by a single second over Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and two over Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers).
Evenepoel could hardly celebrate what was to be his biggest chance of putting a large chunk of time into his rivals, although he managed to gain a more respectable 17 seconds on Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).
He won the stage and as expected, moved back into the maglia rosa as Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM) came through in 19th, 1:15 behind Evenepoel.
"Today was maybe not my best TT but still I gave it all," Leknessund said after the race finish. "It was super cool to be the last guy to start in the Giro. I lost the jersey but I'm super proud of the time I've had in the pink. I'm not disappointed about losing it today, it was exactly what I expected."
Leknessund saw an opportunity amid the loss of the race lead. "So far it's been a good Giro for the breakaways," he said. "It's something I prefer for the next two weeks. There's still more to come and I look forward to the last stages."
While Evenepoel swept to victory, contrary to expectations, the Belgian failed to score a knock-out blow. The Giro d'Italia is still wide open, with Evenepoel in the lead by 45 seconds over Thomas and Roglič remaining in third at 47 seconds. Geoghegan Hart climbed over João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) into fourth at 50 seconds, while Lekneussund remained in a respectable sixth at 1:07 on the same time as the Portuguese rider.
"I think I didn't pace it very well," Evenepoel admitted. "I started way too fast and my second part was a really bad part. After the technical section, I found some better legs because I could recover a bit.
"I think my first part was very good. It was the pacing plan we tried to get. But in the second part with the headwind I wasn't feeling too well, so not the best result. It's another stage win so that's very nice but it was not the best time trial that I ever did. I think we should just be happy that we took the stage win again and that we have the pink jersey. But it was a very tight one today."
Monday's rest day couldn't come soon enough for the Soudal-Quickstep leader who will have three stages before his next major mountain test at Crans-Montana.
"It's pretty good to go into the mountains with that advantage," Evenepoel said. "For sure Ineos will have some plans to attack me but we have a strong team. We have a lot of confidence. Tomorrow I need to recover really well because I think the last two days weren't my best days. We should try to recover well and try to enjoy today's victory."
How it unfolded
A nervous peloton lined up to traverse the rain-soaked and technical 35-kilometre time trial from Savignano sul Rubicone to nearby Cesena, a flat course but one sodden with standing water, making corners tricky.
Daan Hoole (Trek-Segafredo), the third rider down the ramp, set the quickest early time but was soon surpassed in rapid succession, first by Charlie Quartermann (Corratec-Selle Italia), then by teammate Alex Kirsch, Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) and finally Michael Hepburn (Jayco-AlUla), who stopped the clock at 42:37.
Hepburn's average speed of 49.28kph would not prove to be quick enough with the Giro d'Italia general classification on the line. The Australian seemed to have found the sweet spot in terms of pacing, however, as Jasha Sütterlin (Bahrain Victorious) was quicker in the first and second intermediate check but faded in the last stretch, falling just shy of landing in the hot seat.
Hepburn could finally go to the team bus for a shower when Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) came through 29 seconds faster but the Dutchman looked sure to be overtaken when Bruno Armirail and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) came through the first check 34 seconds faster. Armirail beat Mollema's time by 51 seconds but was rapidly surpassed by Küng who was 4 seconds quicker.
With Küng in the hot seat, the general classification contenders took to the course and soon began to eclipse the Swiss rider's effort. Geraint Thomas (Ineos) enhanced his status as a GC contender with a stunning fastest first split, four seconds faster than Küng. Thomas' teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart was also on a respectable pace, three seconds in arrears.
However, when Evenepoel came through the check it was clear that he would soon be back in the maglia rosa on the back of his superior time-trialing skills. He passed the first check 11 seconds faster than Thomas,
Roglič, however, was on the other end of good fortune, despite looking solid he conceded a massive 31 seconds in the first check alone.
Leknessund, meanwhile, lost 47 seconds in the same section and it became clear his time in pink would end.
The sun began to peak through the clouds as Evenepoel passed the halfway point but the wind seemed to pick up, and the Belgian champion came through the second check only two seconds faster than Thomas.
Geoghegan Hart came through the finish two seconds faster than Küng to take the hot seat as more drama unfolded behind. Thomas went one second quicker at the finish to unseat his teammate, while Roglič appeared to be picking up steam and Evenepoel showed signs that he may have gone out to hard.
João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) gave up 34 seconds to Thomas and slipped down the overall standings.
Roglič picked up four seconds slower than Evenepoel by the second check. By the finish, he was just 16 seconds behind Thomas.
It only remained to see how Evenepoel managed the last section of the course. His lead at the third check was down to only two seconds quicker than Thomas' time and there was a tense wait to see what the Belgian would do.
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