The stage had been billed as the ‘first real test’ of the tour for maglia rosa aspirants including Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE), who notably moved up to eighth on the general classification. However, the long and gradual climb in Roccaraso did not pack the punch that many anticipated and didn’t really provide an early indication as to who may ultimately shape the general classification.
Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) broke away from a group of escapees to take his inaugural Grand Tour stage victory with overnight leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) retaining the maglia rosa ahead of Friday’s sprint stage.
“There was a bit of a Mexican standoff between the teams about who was going to take control for the final, and the climb wasn’t as hard as the book suggested,” Orica-GreenEdge sports director Matt White said. “It wasn’t as hard so it didn’t have as big a (time) gaps as we expected.”
Orica-GreenEdge had assembled on the front of the main group on the approach to the final climb to peg back the break but White soon called off the chase having been fed information about the finish.
“It could have easily been caught but we’re not going to sit on the front for 30km on our own,” he said. “We didn’t waste energy and Esteban picked up a few seconds so not a bad day out.”
Chaves finished the 157km run that featured two categorised climbs inside the top 10 alongside a small sample of other title contenders including Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff).
White has said Sunday’s individual time trial will be crucial to the campaign of the burgeoning climber, who together with the British Yates brothers represents the face of the team’s relatively new general classification orientation.
“The time trial is crucial for us because it’s certainly not his forte,” White said. “But going off the prologue (where Chaves placed 33 rd) we’re pretty excited. If you can lose minimal time in that time trial it’s going to be very valuable later in the race.
“I’ll probably let Damo (Damien Howson) ride full on (in the time trial) and the other guys will be definitely riding slow. We need to save them, it’s a long three weeks.”
Astana had flexed its muscle in the final but by the finish its leader Vincenzo Nibali had lost time to Dumoulin, as had one of the race favourites in Sky’s Mikel Landa.
“We lost a bit more time than we thought but it’s not as problem at this stage,” Sky sports director Dario Cioni said.
“The climb went up in steps so more for guys like Dumoulin that could time trial and maybe attack in the final as he did. So let’s wait, it’s still a long Giro.”
Perhaps the biggest winner on the day was Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) who grabbed some bonus seconds with his third place. With some strong time trials to his name in the past, the Russian will be looking ahead with confidence to the next big GC stage, the 40.5 kilometre time trial in Chianti.