Riding in the rain is something that many cyclists abhor. But to be a rider good enough to start a race like the Giro d'Italia, you have to know how to race in it. Fortunately, or not, racing in the rain is a skill, and some are much better at it.
Rain was the story of today's Stage Nine. While the riders rolled out of Sansepolcro for their 170km (105mi) race to Firenze on dry roads, the rains quickly returned, and the wet weather dominated the day's racing.
Well before the first intermediate sprint was reached at 50km (31mi), a break of twelve established a gap of three minutes. Cannondale Pro Cycling elected to keep their proverbial powder dry, deciding to wait to see how the race would play out. The escapees rode well together over the first big climb of the day, the Passo della Consuma. The attacks began on the biggest obstacle of the day, the category one Vallombrosa, which takes the riders uphill for twelve kilometers. It was here, in the driving rain, with almost 70km (43mi) remaining that the attacks began and the break started to come apart. Robinson Chalapud of Colombia, Stefano Pirazzi of Bardiani, and Maxim Belkov of Katusha rode away. Belkov was the weakest climber of the three, and he was dropped as the other two fought for the points at the top of the mountain. Once over, the two leaders decided to wait for Belkov.
It was a decision they quickly came to regret. Belkov, descending on wet roads as if they were dry, caught and passed the duo on the soaked descent and never looked back. Belkov scooped up the points at the day's second intermediate sprint, huffed his way over the final two climbs, rocketed the descents, and rode alone to the finish.
The race for the pink jersey, while finishing unchanged, was not short of drama. Team Sky's Brad Wiggins, a big race favorite, showed fear on the descents, perhaps owing to his crash two days ago, and got dropped. The Astana team of race leader Vincenzo Nibali, along with Garmin-Sharp riding for Ryder Hesjedal and BMC for Cadel Evans, saw they had gapped the Briton, and drove the pink jersey group away from him, opening the gap up to a minute. Sky dropped back, paced their leader on the descents and the valley roads, and eventually returned him to the slipstream of Nibali. But seeing this chink in the armor, Nibali had his team ride hard all the way to the finish. Their pace yielded a surprise, defending champ Hesjedal was tired, and lost time.
Into the streets of Firenze, with the rain finally yielding to dry skies, Astana ate into Belkov's lead. Sprinting to the line, Evans won the bunch gallop for fifth place, claiming the red points jersey, with Cannondale Pro Cycling's Damiano Caruso in ninth.
A dirty, tired Caruso related his stage after the finish. "We knew the script of the stage. For umpteenth time, the rain was the protagonist of the day. The stage was really hard and dangerous. We had that demonstrated by the gap that some important riders had at the finish. I leave behind another hard day with satisfaction. Tomorrow is scheduled the rest day: the chance to regenerate in view of the mountains."
It is a much-needed rest day: hopefully, riders will dry out. All the same, the riders are going to log in at least two hours on the bike, spinning out the legs and keeping a rhythm that will prevent their bodies from shutting down. The big benefit is the riders will, thanks to the long post-stage transfer today, get to sleep in the same bed for two nights running, a luxury in a Grand Tour.
Those mountain views will help them focus on their future. Racing action returns on Tuesday, May 14, with the first true high mountain stage of the Giro, the 167km trek from Cordenons to Altopiano Del Montasio. Two first-category climbs, the second of which, the Altopiano Del Montasio also hosts the summit finish. Expect another shakeout amongst the top riders. While they're marking each other, opportunists from Cannondale Pro Cycling, as well as other teams, will try to exploit the favorites in their own bid for glory.
Giro d'Italia 2013
Sansepolcro - Firenze 170km
1. Maxim Belkov (Rus) Katusha 4:31:31
2. Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) AG2R LaMondiale 0:00:44
3. Jarlinson Pantano (Col) Colombia 0:00:46
4. Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Team Argos-Shimano 0:00:54
5. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:01:03
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
9. Damiano Caruso (Ita) same time
62. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 0:08:42
69. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 0:10:08
70. Alan Marangoni (Ita) same time
72. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) same time
88. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 0:12:32
121. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) 0:17:45
172. Cameron Wurf (Aus) same time
187. Elia Viviani (Ita) 0:19:34
General classification after stage 9
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 34:19:31
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:29
3. Robert Gesink (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team 0:01:15
4. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:16
5. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:01:24
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
28. Damiano Caruso (Ita) 0:06:51
61. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) 0:31:17
64. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 0:33:26
70. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 0:37:30
111. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 1:02:36
119. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) 1:05:32
127. Alan Marangoni (Ita) 1:08:43
132. Elia Viviani (Ita) 1:09:58
136. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 1:10:24