Home Sports Attila Valter retains Giro d’Italia lead as riders braced for difficult ninth...

Attila Valter retains Giro d’Italia lead as riders braced for difficult ninth stage

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Victor Lafay – Victor Lafay wins from the break before Attila Valter retains Giro d’Italia lead – REUTERS

A relatively benign first week at the Giro d’Italia, at least for the general classification contenders, will give way to a severe first test of the legs on Sunday. Stage nine features six climbs, two of them uncategorized, and an intriguing finish on the category one Rocca di Cambio, which this year ends with a gravel track that includes sections of 10 percent.

Britain’s Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) and Simon Yates (BikeExchange) will be among those hoping to have emerged unscathed from a stressful few days of poor weather and frequent crashes. Carthy, who finished on the podium of last year’s Vuelta an España, sits fifth overall after eight stages of the race, 38 seconds behind Groupama-FDJ’s maglia rosa Attila Valter.

Yates, who won 2018 Vuelta having gone incredibly close to winning the Giro that year, is a further 11 seconds back in ninth overall. The two best-placed riders of the overall favorites remain Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers). They lie second and third on general classification, respectively, at 11 and 16 seconds.

Evenepoel, a 21-year-old Belgian prodigy racing in his first Grand Tour, only returned to full training in February following a nasty crash at last year’s Tour of Lombardy. There is a lot of interest in seeing how the 2019 world time trial silver medallist will fare over the coming weeks.

Evenepoel gave an intriguing interview ahead of Saturday’s stage in which he claimed he had been feeling “tired” in the evenings post-racing. He did not appear to be suffering unduly, coming home in the group of favorites alongside Bernal, Carthy, and Yates.

But it was difficult to tell whether he had been sandbagging or whether he would have been in trouble had anyone decided to attack him on the final climb to Guardia Sanframondi, which was 3km long at an average of 6.9 percent. None of the leading contenders chose to do so, saving themselves instead of for today’s much more challenging test.

Sean Kelly, commentating on Eurosport, said Evenepoel would crown the King of Belgium if he could pull off a Giro victory for his team. “If he can do something like a podium place or top five, that would be a super performance, but if he does better than that, and if he goes on to challenge or even win this race, the Belgians, my god, will be totally crazy,” Kelly said. “Remco Evenepoel is already a huge name, but this will make him the King of Belgium.” Johan De Muynck was the last Belgian to win the Giro in 1978.

The general classification contenders were a good few minutes down on stage winner, Cofidis’ Victor Lafay, who claimed the team’s first Giro win since 2010. Meanwhile, sprinter Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), winner of stages five and seven, abandoned the race with his crew, claiming he was suffering from knee pain.

The 26-year-old had already said that he was targeting stage wins at each of the three grand tours this year. “I need to do what’s best in preparation for the Tour [de France], “Ewan said on Friday. “Unfortunately, sprinters’ legs don’t recover in the same way that any other riders’ do, and if I finished the Giro now, I would be dying for the next few months.”

Attila Valter

03:07 pm

No change in the general classification

Egan Bernal (Ineso Grenadiers), Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step), and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) all cross the line in the same group as maglia rosa Attila Valter. Simon Yates (BikeExchange) was also in there, as was Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech). Some are no time losses for any of the leading general classification contenders.

03:04 pm

Crash in the peloton!

EF Education-Nippo moves to the front of the pack as it edges up this final climb. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) and Matteo Fabbro (Bora-Hansgrohe) crash, but none of the leading contenders are involved, which is a worrying moment for everybody.

03:01 pm

Lafay wins stage eight at the Giro!

Bravo, Victor Lafay! The young Cofidis rider takes the first win of his career, yet another breakaway that went all the way at the Giro. Speaking immediately after his victory, Lafay said: “I spent a lot of energy already in the first part of the stage to get into the breakaway. There were several attempts, but the peloton didn’t leave much space. Then finally, the breakaway went clear. Once the gap started to increase, I was able to recover some energy.

“In the finale of the stage, there were several attacks. I attacked in the last few kilometers and saw that no one was following me. I cannot believe it; I have just won a stage at the Giro.” Francesco Gavazzi (Eolo-Kometa) is second, while Nikias Arndt (DSM) rolls over third before the focus switches to the leading group that will follow soon with all of the general classification contenders.

02:59 pm

500 meters to go

Big crowds in the home are straight, and they are cheering Victor Lafay.

02:59 pm

1km to go

Victor Lafay peers over his shoulder, looking for Francesco Gavazzi. The young Frenchman looks twitchy, but he may just do this.

02:57 pm

1.5km to go

The rosy-cheeked Victor Lafay is looking suitable for this, rising out of his saddle as the road ramps up. Francesco Gavazzi is pursuing the Cofidis rider, but the Italian may have left it too late.

02:56 pm

2km to go

Victor Lafay is the lone leader, but can the 25-year-old from Lyon hold on and land the first win of his professional career?

Victor Lafay – Giro d’Italia 2021, stage eight – live updates – GETTY IMAGES

02:55 pm

2.5km to go

Victor Lafay is in pursuit. The Cofidis man catches Victor Campenaerts before latching onto the wheel of Giovanni Carboni.

02:54 pm

3km to go

Giovanni Carboni rounds Victor Campenaerts before riding the Belgian off his wheel.

02:53 pm

3.5km to go

Victor Campenaerts slouches over his handlebars, the time trial specialist leading the way into this final climb with Giovanni Carboni on his wheel.

02:51 pm

5km to go

Victor Campenaerts and Giovanni Carboni have managed to escape off the front, with Alexis Gougeard chasing at 10sec back. The peloton trails by 5min 30sec.

02:49 pm

A reminder of what the organizers are saying about the final climb

“The closing climb is approx 3 km long. The gradient hovers around 10% for the first 2km, with sharper peaks. The pitch returns to milder gradients in Guardia Sanframondi and then kicks up again with 400 m to go, after a left-hander. The home straight is on tarmac road and on a slight incline.”

climb

02:48 pm

6.5km to go

Isreal Start-up Nation shifts towards the front of the peloton. Is Dan Martin feeling good today, and is the Irishman going to launch a minor attack on the final climb of the day?

02:46 pm

8km to go

Time for the Portuguese Nelson Oliveira to have a crack. A little like the beginning of today’s frenetic stage, attacks are coming wave after wave. Still, thus far, nobody has been able to snap that invisible elastic that binds them to their breakaway compatriots.

02:44 pm

10km to go

Two Belgians – Victor Campenaerts and Kobe Goossens – attack off the front, while Fernando Gaviria labors at the back. Campenaerts and Goossens’ moves are short-lived, though. Alexis Gougeard attacks again; again the Ag2r-Citroën rider is reined back in.

02:41 pm

11km to go

Game over for Frenchman Alexis Gougeard. For now, at least.

02:40 pm

13km to go

Back in the peloton, the general classification teams are all lined out information as they prepare for the finale to today’s stage, where there is a short climb at the end. At the same time, Alexis Gougeardhasa attacked off the front of the break, pursuing personal glory.

02:37 pm

16km to go

The breakaway – Nikias Arndt (DSM), Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-Assos), Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane), Francesco Gavazzi (Eolo-Kometa), Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), Kobe Goossens (Lotto-Soudal), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-Citroën), Victor Lafay (Cofidis) and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) – is altogether. Still, their lead has dropped below the six-minute mark.

02:33 pm

19km to go . . .

. . . and world hour record holder Victor Campenaerts sets off up the road. The Belgian’s time out in front, however, is short-lived after he is reined back in. Groupama-FDJ, meanwhile, remains sat on the front of the peloton, but will they be able to keep hold of the maglia rosa?

02:32 pm

20km to go . . .

. . . and the breakaway still holds a decent lead of 6min 12sec.

02:29 pm

21.5km to go

Nikias Arndt (DSM) attacks but is closed down quickly. Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) fell out of the back but got back on.

02:23 pm

25km to go

Fernando Gaviria has managed to get back on, tagging into the back of the breakaway with his tattered rain jacket flapping in the wind.

02:19 pm

30km to go

On the same corner, as Fernando Gaviria crashed, Antione Duchesne (Groupama-FDJ) almost came a cropper. Minutes later, he overcooked another corner as if auditioning to become an Ilnur Zakarin cycling double (the Russian is a notoriously poor descender).

Gaviria, meanwhile, is being helped along by the medical car as one of the doctors attends to his wounds – while also assisting the sprinter up a small climb. The race commissaries may have something to say about that later this afternoon; one suspects the UCI coffers may be getting a few Swiss francs from the Colombian.

02:14 pm

Crash! Gaviria down . . .

Fernando Gaviria just hit the deck after misjudging a bend to the right. For some reason, the sprinter clipped off the front of the break and, once up the road, lost control and skidded into a concrete wall that would have hurt but may have saved him going over the edge. The UAE Team Emirates rider remounted but has lost over 30 seconds on the remaining eight breakaway riders.

02:08 pm

40km to go

The breakaway is descending pretty fast, and, thankfully, the forecast of rain has not come to fruition. There are, however, dark billowy clouds overhead, poised and threatening to empty themselves on the dry road ahead of the peloton’s arrival just shy of six minutes back.

02:01 pm

47km to go

Over the top of the Bocca Della Selva go the breakaway, some riders opting for gilets, others stuff copies of La Gazzetta Dello Sport down the front of their jerseys. The peloton continues climbing.

01:56 pm

Evenepoel admits he may be feeling ‘tired.’

Speaking with Eurosport ahead of today’s stage, Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step) said he was looking forward to Tuesday’s rest day. The young Belgian n riding his first Grand Tour and has not raced since a career-threatening crash at last year’s Il Lombardia. The 21-year-old is front-page news back home in Belgium, where the cycling-mad public and media are convinced that their man will win this year’s Giro d’Italia.

After making waves in the junior ranks in 2018, Evenepoel announced himself to the world in Innsbruck, where he blew away the under-18 fields in both the world championship time trial and road races. The Belgian media wasted little time in comparing him to the greatest of all time. Evenepoel, however, was having none of it. “Being the new Eddy Merckx is not something I want to hear,” he told reporters after winning his second rainbow jersey in Austria. “I want to be somebody new. I’m the new me”.

01:46 pm

Rain on the horizon?

A few riders were just spotted picking up rain jackets from their team cars, suggesting that there may be rain on the other side of this climb. Following the drenchings they have had to deal with earlier in the race, one suspects nobody will welcome another downpour – if, indeed, one is in the post.

01:43 pm

55km to go

A few conversations happened in the breakaway. Anyone’s guesses what is being said, but perhaps Victor Campenaerts is asking the strong-looking Italian Giovanni Carboni to knock it off a click or two given they have a decent lead over the peloton – that’s what Adam Blythe, speaking on Eurosport, reckons anyway.

01:35 pm

58km to go

Dan Martin (Israel Start-up Nation) has had a mechanical issue that came a few minutes after the Kiwi George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) was also held up after appearing to ship his chain. Groupama-FDJ continues pulling on the front of the peloton, the team of the maglia rosa trailing the stage leaders by 7min 25sec.

Groupama-FDJ – GETTY IMAGES

01:27 pm

62km to go

Both the breakaway and the peloton are onto the Bocca Della Selva. It looks like a relatively easy climb – a reasonably shallow gradient that can easily be ridden in the big ring – but one imagines some riders will be hoping to do so to test their rivals on this long slope.

Bocca Della Selva

It is one thing riding a climb like this, but it can be another racing if you have a bad day. A typically mixed surface that weaves up through small villages with plenty of trees lining the road.

01:20 pm

Fact or fiction?

01:17 pm

65km to go

Here’s a pretty wonderful picture of Japanese rider Fumiyuki Beppu who isn’t riding at this year’s Giro d’Italia – although he completed four editions of the race between 2011 and 2015 – but presumably is following the progress of his EF Education-Nippo teammates.

The breakaway, by the way, has increased its lead to 7min 19sec.

01:05 pm

75km to go

The riders in the breakaway are working well together, riding through and off with each man doing his turn as they approach the category two Bocca Della Selva. Their lead over the peloton has increased now to 6min 50sec. The peloton looks pretty relaxed, with riders taking the opportunity of a quiet period on the stage to chat with teammates and catch up with their pals from rival squads.

12:52 pm

Gaviria wins the intermediate sprint.

Fernando Gaviria, once again, went for a long one. Still, unlike yesterday when the Colombian sprinter was overhauled by Caleb Ewan et al., he beat the rest of the breakaway riders with relative ease to add 12 points to his account in the, er, points classification.

12:50 pm

85km to go

Victor Campenaerts appears to have not quite caught his breath back following that earlier effort to chase down the breakaway. He will need to regain his composure pretty soon as the first categorized climb of the day, the Bocca Della Selva, is around 15km away.

12:39 pm

90km to go

The nine-man breakaway has now gained a decent-sized advantage on the peloton, holding around the five-minute mark. Race leader Attila Valter has his Groupama-FDJ teammates riding on the front as the French squad work to protect the manila rosa on the shoulders of the young Hungarian, followed closely by Ineos Grenadiers.

Attila Valter – Giro d’Italia 2021, stage eight – live updates – GETTY IMAGES

12:36 pm

Ewan update… of sorts

Various reports ad claimed Caleb Ewan abandoned the race after crashing into a tunnel. However, RAI, tho host broadcaster in Italy, says the Lotto-Soudal sprinter had already been dropped.

Caleb Ewan – Giro d’Italia 2021, stage eight – live updates – GETTY IMAGES

Today, by the way, was the first day Ewan had worn the maglia ciclamino, the cyclamen jersey, as a leader in the points classification at the Giro, which also happened to fall on the 39th anniversary of the first Australian to win a stage at the race – Michael Wilson in Cortona on May 15, 1982. One of Ewan’s key goals this season is winning background in all three grand tours in the same season, and so one suspects he will be heading home to Monaco today or tomorrow before his preparations for the Tour de France start in earnest.

12:17 pm

Fake news!

The organizers apparently got their sums wrong and breakaway gaps in 1min 20sec, not 32sec as previously reported.

A breakaway – Giro d’Italia 2021, stage eight – live updates – GETTY IMAGES

12:16 pm

And then there were nine . . .

Your man Victor Campenaerts has bridged over to the breakaway, which leads the peloton by just 32sec. The Belgian is taking a little breather on the back of the small group, tucked in behind Nikias Arndt (DSM), Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane), Francesco Gavazzi (Eolo-Kometa), Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), Kobe Goossens (Lotto-Soudal), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-Citroën), Victor Lafay (Cofidis) and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar).

Breakaway

12:07 pm

Hello breakaway, we have been expecting you.

It appears to comprise eight riders, and Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) is there. At the same time, Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-Assos) is trapped in no man’s land, the world hour record holder off in pursuit of the late breakaway.

12:00 pm

As it stands . . .

Well, it has been a frenetic start to the day once the 177-man peloton rolled through KM0 at 11.53 am (BST). It was pretty cloudy near the beginning, though at 21°C a decent temperature. The opening 20-25 kilometers were raced on somewhat exposed roads, so the threat of splits in the crosswinds created a nervous environment, particularly for those with general classification ambitions.

An early breakaway went up the road, but once the riders realized Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) was riding alongside them, a few choice words and dramatic gesticulations were tossed in the Colombian’s direction is third in the standings. Shortly after that, Bernal’s teammate Filippo Ganna got on the front, causing panic further back before it all calmed down a little.

However, no sooner had things calmed down than it all started again. Numerous attacks followed, wave after wave. Gino Mäder (Bahrain Victorious) and Samuele Battistella (Astana-Premier Tech) appeared to have escaped from the peloton’s clutches, but the pair were soon reined back in. Next, stage winner Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) was next to give it a go, but again, he could not create a severe advantage.

Giro d’Italia 2021, stage eight – live updates – GETTY IMAGES

Having completed 50km of the stage, the peloton is all together, albeit somewhat stretched out, as riders continue to chip away at the head of the bunch. However, one rider that has managed a lone breakaway is Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), who has abandoned the race.

10:10 am

Highlights from Friday’s stage: Ewan strikes again

Before today’s action starts – remember today’s live coverage from Telegraph Sport gets underway at 1 pm – here’s a brief reminder of what happened yesterday on the long road to Termoli . . .

10:05 am

Possible stage winners?

The stage appears ideally suited to a breakaway, particularly given that the final climb is not incredibly long, and tomorrow seems to be a day more suited to the general classification contenders. Despite 3,400 meters of vertical elevation, much of the climbing is not too steep and will suit those big powerful riders, as opposed to the more natural climber types.

Luis León Sánchez (Astana-Premier Tech) typically gives on stages like this, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spaniard attempted to get in the breakaway. Likewise, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) may have a go, though it remains to be seen if he has recovered from his exertions during Thursday’s stage when the Dutchman put in a considerable shift. Another rider that is looking good is Italian Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Nippo). In all honesty, I could probably list 10 or 20 possible – Tony Gallopin (Ag2r-Citroën), Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious), Diego Ulissi (UAE Emirates), and so forth.

09:50 am

Today’s menu . . .

Today’s stage is due to get underway at 11.50 am (BST), while our live coverage kicks off at 1 pm, by which point we suspect the peloton – and in all likelihood, a decent-sized breakaway – will have reached the first unclassified climb of the day, the Passo del Lupo.

Here’s what the official website says about the day ahead: “This stage across the Apennines features one single lengthy climb and a steep, challenging kick just before the finish. At first, the route runs along fast and mainly straight roads all the way to Campobasso.

Stage eight profile

“The riders then reach the Matese Mountains to negotiate the Bocca Della Selva climb (over 20 km), followed by a long descent that ends 10 km before the finish. The route then rises all the way to the finish with a sharp kick before homing in.

Bocca Della Selva

“The closing climb is approx 3 km long. The gradient hovers around 10% for the first 2km, with sharper peaks. The pitch returns to milder gradients in Guardia Sanframondi and then kicks up again with 400 m to go, after a left-hander. The home straight is on tarmac road and on a slight incline.”

Guardia Sanframondi

09:30 AM

Ciao!

Hello and welcome to our live blog from stage eight at the Giro d’Italia, the 170-kilometer run from Foggia to Guardia Sanframondi. Following yesterday’s set, which was won very impressively by Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), other than the Aussie taking hold of the points jersey, there were no significant changes in the jersey classifications. Here’s what the top threes currently look like . . .

Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ), the 22-year-old Hungarian, holds the top spot in both the general and youth classification and will be dressed in the maglia rosa, or the pink for a second successive day jersey. As mentioned, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) took hold of the points competition after winning his second stage at this year’s Giro d’Italia and today will wear the maglia ciclamino, the cyclamen jersey.

With just one small climb in yesterday’s stage – where the three-man breakaway took the points – Gino Mäder (Bahrain Victorious) kept hold of the top spot and so goes into Saturday’s mountainous stage wearing his second maglia Azzurra, the blue jersey. The top three in the youth classification mirrors that of the overall. So Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step) will wear the maglia Bianca, or the white jersey, on behalf of Valter.