• Nine stages down and twelve to go, this year's Giro is still wide open. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
After nine stages we know as much about the eventual winner of the 99th Giro d'Italia as we did before the start, writes Anthony Tan.
By
Source:
Cycling Central
16 May 2016 - 5:01 PM  UPDATED 16 May 2016 - 9:49 PM

"The time trial actually says nothing with this weather. The one who takes the most risks and doesn't crash takes a lot of time. And that's it."

That's how Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) summed up the ninth stage at the Giro d'Italia, having finished the 40.5 kilometre time test in 15th place, 1'58 behind the man we now know as 'former ski jumper Primoz Roglic' of Team LottoNl-Jumbo.

"Then again, the smiling assassin always knew what he would have to do come the high mountains - and that is attack, attack, and attack."

However, in the very next sentence, the Dutchman appeared to contradict himself when speaking about the performance of Bob Jungels (Etixx-Quick Step), the leader of the young riders' classification, who finished sixth on Sunday, 45 seconds behind Roglic: "He was more than a minute faster (than the other GC favourites). I don't think that was only about taking risks. You (must) also have really good legs on the parts (of the course) you can pedal. So, congrats to him."

Having said all along his intention was not to ride for GC but instead target the first two time trials, it's nevertheless been a considerable fall from grace for Dumoulin, who was race leader till Saturday's stage to Arezzo, and was probably hoping to still be in pink at this point. So it's understandable he was feeling a little bitter and twisted when he spoke to journalists Richard Moore and Caley Fretz. (You can listen to the excellent The Cycling Podcast here, generally hosted by Moore.) 

While it's true the adverse weather conditions tempered the performances of the contenders, the Chianti TT was far from irrelevant. That the longest individual time trial Roglic, a second-year WorldTour pro, had done prior to Sunday was 18 kilometres (not 10, as he said in the winner's press conference) at this year's Volta ao Algarve (where he ran 24th, 1'13 behind stage winner Fabian Cancellara) is cause for amazement.

Dumoulin denies maglia rosa hangover cost him in TT
Tom Dumoulin does not believe an impressive stay in the maglia rosa negatively affected his performance in the first time trial of the Giro d’Italia yesterday.
Orica-GreenEDGE pleased with Chaves' TT
Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) remains on track for his Giro d’Italia bid despite slipping seven places down the general classification following the stage nine time trial that came with a fear factor.
Primoz Roglic wins rain-affected Giro d'Italia trial
And the pink jersey fairytale continues for Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quickstep) who held on to the race lead by one second.

Out of the GC favourites Team Sky leader Mikel Landa's performance was exemplary. On an almost identical parcours at the 2014 Giro, the Spaniard was a whopping 6'40 down on stage winner Rigoberto Uran; 12 months later, he showed only marginal improvement against the clock, conceding 4'14 to Vasil Kiryienka in a 59.4km TT. To finish just seven seconds behind 2013 Giro champ Vincenzo Nibali is indicative of the work he's done in this discipline (thanks in part to the boffins at Team Sky), and how much he wants to win a Grand Tour. Uran, by contrast, failed to produce the goods; he now trails a group containing Nibali, Steven Kruijswijk and Alejandro Valverde by two minutes on GC, and on paper, cannot out-climb any of them.

Nibali, 19th at 2'13 to Roglic, was the best of the main contenders, followed by Landa (20th @ 2'20), Kruijswijk (Team LottoNl-Jumbo, 21st @ 2'23), Valverde (Movistar, 22nd @ 2'24), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Team, 31st @ 2'56) and Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo, 33rd @ 2'58) - no surprises there. Perhaps Orica-GreenEDGE's great Colombian hope, Esteban Chaves, who conceded 3'48 to Roglic but more importantly 1'28 to Landa, may have wished for more, or, more accurately, less time lost. Then again, the smiling assassin always knew what he would have to do come the high mountains - and that is attack, attack, and attack. A pure climber like he can make that time up on one stage alone; all his team need to do is shepherd him to the final climbs unscathed, and they have the men to do just that.

Kruijswijk is perhaps the greatest unknown. At this point last year he was 23rd on GC, 10'39 down on the maglia rosa of Alberto Contador. He rode a brilliant final week and conceded only a further 14 seconds by the finish in Milan, to finish seventh on GC. Today, he sits 4th on the classifica generale, 51 seconds adrift of race leader Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quick Step); other than Valverde's team-mate Andrey Amador, he is the best-placed of the GC Men. "I want to be at my very best on the long climbs during the final week of this Giro," he said after the stage to Arezzo, "so it feels great to be able to follow Nibali and Valverde also on a steep and short climb like today's. I'm already in good position and I'm feeling confident."

Who knows how Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Team Katusha), who was on track for a spell in pink before a calamitous chrono dashed any chance, will pull up after his own Sunday in Hell. Interesting how his disastrous ride resembled Michael Rasmussen's final stage TT at the 2005 Tour de France, and, aside from their physiques and lack of prowess in the wet, that both are former dopers.

So, after nine stages, we have about as much idea who will win as we did before the start, which is not much at all. But it is now that Dumoulin's words ring true: "The one who takes the most risks and doesn't crash takes a lot of time."

Who'd thought there'd be such a fight to wear a pink shirt?

Who's your pick to win this year's Giro d'Italia?
Poll
Thanks for voting*
* Please note percentages are rounded to one decimal place.