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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from the Giro d'Italia. Today' it's stage 9 from Messina to Etna.
Europe's most active volcano is the setting for this potential race highlight. The start will be fast as a break tries to form while heading south from Vincenzo Nibali's home city of Messina.
Then the sharp climb to Taormina will warm climbing legs. Soon after comes the first ascent of Etna, rising for nearly 30km to more than 1,600m – not steep but it will be sapping.
The descent to Acireale offers some respite but then the route heads up Etna's steeper southern side. The final 25km towards the Sapienza refuge averages 6 per cent and should provide racing fireworks to suit the location.
The volcano has of course been active over the last few days but it wont affect today's stage.
"Sunday's stage is not at risk. The stretch in question is only that of the last four miles on Etna,” said Giro director Angelo Zomegnan in a statement. “But on-site teams are already working to clear the road. We are calm.”
Highest point: 1,892m
Category: Mountain stage
Here's how GC stands heading into today's stage, which is around 25km old. The bunch are still together:
1 Pieter Weening (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 28:09:49
2 Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad 0:00:02
3 Marco Pinotti (Ita) HTC-Highroad
4 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:05
5 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:13
6 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:00:14
7 Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:22
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:24
9 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:28
10 Jose Rodolfo Serpa Perez (Col) Androni Giocattoli 0:00:33
11 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Sky Procycling 0:00:39
12 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:40
13 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:00:44
14 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana
15 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Pro Team Astana 0:00:52
16 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:00:55
17 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:01:01
18 Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:06
19 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:01:07
20 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:15
We can expect some serious changes on GC today. The question is who will want to strike early? Also who has been bluffing their way so far in the race? There wont be any hiding on today's stage. So while you can't win the Giro today you can certainly lose it.
That's my first and last cliche for the day. I promise.
A lot of teams, riders have ridden the stage or at least the climb, in training. Nibali, of course is the local and he'll be highly motivated for today's stage.
Scarponi has also had a look at the climb. Although his trip didn't go to well. The police stopped by for a quick chat (while also searching his room). You can read about that here.
And what of Contador. An impressive move yesterday saw him move above Scarpon on GC. He's the outright favourite for this race but he'll have to prove it today. He's beatable.
And we've got some action in the bunch. Four riders up the road. Di Luca is there. The rest of the names are coming.
So our four leaders are Di Luca, Kennaugh, Pasamontes and Stortoni.
Well it wouldn't be a real break in the Giro if a rider from Colnago wasn't there
That's an interesting but good move from Katusha. Di Luca, we'll he's a long way down on GC so he'll be given some room to move.
The leaders have 40 seconds on the bunch.
40 seconds isn't much and the bunch aren't letting them get too far up the road.
By the way, we'll be doing complete coverage from the Tour of California later this evening. Stay tuned for that.
Di Luca and co have been caught. Lots of riders trying counter attacks on the front.
A lot of the GC guys will want a man up the road for later in the stage and so that their teams dont have to chase.
Tips for today' stage? Send them in to me at twitter.com/dnlbenson
And we've got another break. This one is a lot bigger and it looks like it's going to stick. One, two, nine riders in total.
And our leaders are, Visconti, Popovych, Cherel, Bakelants, Vanotti, Savini, Frank, Lastras. Sorry 8 men up the road. Not nine.
Ten out of ten for getting in that break.
But the peloton aren't exactly hanging around here either, so the eight riders up the road are doing a fine job to stay away.
Vicsconti must be getting over his knee injury to be in the move today.
Just over 100kms left in the stage and the break will be closing in on the first ascent of Etna.
Meanwhile, back in the bunch Contador is just sitting in and has a teammate with him. No concerns just yet for the Spaniard.
The Spaniard is just moving up the bunch.
Five minute lead for the break now. Lampe, Saxo and Sky on the front just setting a steady pace. The leaders now on the lower slopes of the climb.
Sincere apologies to Horrach. I missed you from the break but you are indeed there. So that is nine riders up the road.
The leaders climb and the gap begins to drop slightly, it's at 4:43
Scarponi still has his men on the front of the bunch. Rabobank and Weening really aren't expected to do much work. Yes, he's the leader of the race but that should all change today. The real GC riders are taking the race by the scruff of the neck.
Gatto, yesterday's stage winner is back with the team cars picking up water bottles.
The slopes on the final climb aren't that steep so potentially we could see a group of around 5-10 riders finish together.
nobody will be dropped in the lower part (first 10km), in places it's virtually flat. after that it climbs a little bit, but there's no point where you'd expect the favourites group to break up.
Another point, it's not that windy on the slopes today either.
Di Luca has a problem with his gears and drops back to the team car.
Scarponi near the front, where he should be. While up the road Cherel takes a long turn on the front. Then Frank.
Rodriguez and Nibali both have men in the break
91km to race and the gap is at 4;50
The first climb is around 19km in length and the leaders are on there now, the bunch a few kms down the road.
Even Petacchi is up there with the Lampre team working on the climb.
Weening has a couple of Rabobank riders with as Vacan send a rider up the road. It's Belkov.
One guy we've not mentioned is Sivtsov. He's only 2 seconds down on Weening and he can climb. He's had good days in this race before. He won two stages in 2009. One a TTT and the other was stage 8. He finished top 20 in grand tours (or thereabouts) a couple of times too.
I get the feeling that Pinotti and Le Mevel may have both missed their chance to take pink but we'll see. A lot of different scenarios could unfold today.
Of course Sivtsov was also part of the TTT win this year. So he has 3 Giro stage wins to his name.
Meanwhile Bakelants is on the front and he's stretching out the break. The gap has been coming down steadily for a while and it's at 3:11 now.
That's the gap to Belkov. The bunch are still nearly five minutes down.
Lampre still on the front setting a steady tempo. We've got 86km to race.
Sky also up there near the front for Lovkvist
Belkov is closing on the leaders. He's 2:41 behind them now.
The leaders have around 8 or 9km of the climb to go.
Belkov now 2:12 down the nine riders up ahead, who are all still together.
Visconti near the back of the leading group now as they approaching the top of the climb.
The leaders have 2km to go and Belkov is 1:34 back.
We've had word that Jackson Rodriguez has abandoned the race.
Belokov has just gone over the top of the climb, he's around 1:40 down on the leaders.
It's a long descent - around 30km - and the leaders are strung out in a line as they tackle it. Scarponi still has his men on the front setting the pace. No help from Saxo yet.
Savini lead over the top of the climb by the way.
It's a very fast downhill. We've got 69km to race.
Belkov will struggle getting up the leaders now. he's around 1:50 down with the bunch roughly 2 minutes further back.
Back with the bunch and Liquigas move up with Nibali and set the pace.
The leaders are going through Milo with 104kms races so far today.
Belkov is now 2minutes down on the leaders.
Frank has slipped off the back of the leaders, only a small gap but he's having to work hard to close it.
Impressive descending from everyone here, especially Belkov who is all on his own.
The leaders have just hit the feed.
Back in the bunch and Weening has just picked up his musette.
The break is just about to hit Santa Venerina.
Back to the Giro and the bunch has the main break at under 4minutes. The gap is 3:52 with Lampre back on the front of affairs.
46km of racing and Belkov is slipping. He's now 2.28 back to the leaders.
Petacchi is on the front again working for Lampre.
Garmin moving up the front as well. They'll be looking after Le Mevel but they've also got a couple of climbers that might try something today.
A lot of the climbers who aren't threats on GC will still be fresh despite 8 days of racing. They'll try and anticipate the major moves once we hit the climb and then try and take advantage of any hesitation from the main favourites. Some like Serpa for example, could be very dangerous today.
Petacchi is drilling it on the front.
Belkov meanwhile is just 40 odd seconds ahead of the Petacchi lead bunch.
42km for the leaders and 45 for the main field.
Popo is at the back of the break shaking his head.
Belkov is looking back and he's knows that the game is almost up.
Popo is back with the Shack car getting his gears looked at as Lampre continue to do all the work on the front. Saxo haven't had to lift a finger yet. Or Astana for that matter.
Liquigas are content to let their rivals sit on the front and do all the work to. They've got a man up the road so no real need for them to chase.
We've not mentioned Euskatel at all today - a bit like Androni they've got the firepower for stages like today. I'm not sure the climb is steep enough for them to blow the race apart but we will see.
The group now on the lower slopes of the final climb. All still together but I can't imagine that will last too much longer.
Petacchi has done his work for the day and the rest of the Lampre team take over .
36km to race and the gap is back up to 4 minutes.
Weening has a teammate bringing him to the front. A big day for the Rabo rider. He'll be looking to hang on for as long as possible to the jersey. Can he hang on today?
Lots of riders are going back to the team cars and picking up their final bottles for the day's climb.
Pavel Brutt has a puncture and gets a new rear wheel.
The gap goes up and it's now 4:14
Will be see another break survive today?
Will we see another break survive today?
31km to race.
Lampre with everyone bar Petacchi on the front, finally Saxo Bank move up too, Astana as well.
28km to go now and the gap continues to rise. It's at 4:27
Lastras is the highest rider on GC. He's actually 7th, 22 seconds down.
Contador is moving up. Today actually plays into his hands. If Lastras takes the lead that's good for Saxo, Lampre and Liquigas.
Lastras a bit similar to Arroyo's move last year, although the gap is no where near as big. They're just both Spanish, and in the same team.
The real climbing starts with 20km to and we're just 3km from the start.
23km to go. The break still with a more than healthy advantage.
The gap back down under 4 minutes, and it's now 3:47
A couple of gaps appearing in the lead group so we've certainly got some tired legs out there.
Visconti is setting the pace. The gap has come down a bit more. it's 3:30.
Geox now set the pace for Menchov.
The gap is still coming down, it's at 3:16. Maybe the bunch has calculated this perfectly...
Scarponi just takes a look over at Nibali.
Just 20km of racing left.
Androni moving as well. There's Serpa just at the end of their train. The gap to the leaders is still over 3 minutes.
Finally the leaders start the main part of the climb. Vanotti setting the pace with Cherel on the back.
Still no real urgency from the bunch.
Bakelants is the first rider to attack from the break.
He's brought back but Vanotti has slipped off the back and Popovych as well. So we're down to seven up front.
Lastras knows he has to drive the pace if he wants to take pink and he moves to the front and sets the pace. he wont want this group to split up year.
Di Luca back with the team car again. Is he being dropped?
Visconti attacks and Bakelants goes with him.
Scaroni, back in the bunch, looks very strong.
The gap down to 2:40.
Vanotti and Popo have made it back to the leaders, who are again all together.
Lastras moving up and down the group , trying to get them to work together.
Pinotti has been dropped.
Visconti doesn't really care about pink, he just wants the win and again he has a little dig.
Tankink hands Weening a bottle while Frank attacks from the break. he's got a gap with Bakelants on his wheel.
Visconti is trying to come over.
Lastras as well is coming up.
Vanotti and Popo have been dropped. Savini too.
And just as it comes together Bakelants goes again. Frank brings him back, Visconti and Lastras there too. So we have four leaders now. The gap to the bunch is 2:30.
Nibali looks very comfortable but the pace in the bunch isn't high. Lampre are on the front again.
There are around 40 riders in the peloton.
We're hearing conflicting reports on the wind at on the climb. It's either still, a headwind or a sidewind depending on who you listen to.
Anton moving to the front now. Will he try something today? Not sure it's quite hard enough for him but we'll see.
Bakelants has attacked again. That must be his fourth or fifth move. He's finally got a gap on Visconti, Lastras and Frank.
Frank now attacks and Visconti is going after him. Lastras looks cooked.
Frank is one strong guy. He's caught the leader and Visconti has to close the gap.
Vanotti has just been caught by the bunch. Good job from him, he's made Lampre do a lot of work.
First thing Vanotti does is look back, spot his leader and then give him a bottle.
Lastras on his own and just setting his own pace. He has to keep going. He's still the leader on the road. Remember he's 22 seconds down.
11km to go and the gap is 2:18
Visconti had made it up to the duo and does a turn on the front.
Weening is still in the peloton.
Savini is next on the road, then Lastras. Big gaps between the groups though.
The day's break has totally blown apart.
10km for the leaders, their advantage is 1:57
Weening has cracked. Big time.
Lampre driving the pace and it's too much for the maglia rosa. We will have a new leader today. Is Sivtsov in that main group? he was 2 seconds down on GC. He may have dropped back with Pinotti earlier.
Lampre are really driving up the pace now. Maybe 30 riders left in the main field. No Weening, he's dropped. Lastras the leader on the road as Bakelants goes again!
Rujano attacks. Now Euskatel attack
That's a bit attack from Rujano. He's got around 100 meters but Lampre continue to set the pace behind him.
Lastras is caught. Game over for the Spaniard. Rujano goes passed him. 8.5km to go.
Bakelants still out on the front.
Scarponi has just one man left with Nibali on his wheel.
Bakelants is struggling but he's still out there. He's got just over a minute on the Lampre led field.
34 riders left in the peloton.
And Contador has attacked with 6.7km to go.
Nibali, Arroyo, Garzelli and Roman K all distanced. Sivtsov is there too.
Contador has caught Frank. Scarponi is with him.
It's Contador vs Scarponi
Rujano looks back. he knows what's coming.
Scarponi just sitting in, Astana is leading the chase behind. Contador does look strong.
Rujano is caught and he sits in with Contador.
Nibali takes up the chase, he has Arroyo and Garzelli with him.
Visconti caught and dropped and Contador has dropped Scarponi!
It's Contador and Rujano. I cant see Scarponi coming back from that. Bakelants is caught and Contador is flying.
Visconti is dropping Scarponi.
One word: carnage.
Contador leading the race and heading for pink, Rujano just sitting it. And Sivtsov has made a dig.
It looks like Scarponi has been caught Nibali and now Contador is dropping Rujano.
No, the pint sized climber makes it back.
Scarponi back with the other favourites. Will Nibali attack him?
Sivtsov is caught too.
Scarponi is leading the chase but Contador continues to set the pace, Rujano sitting on his wheel. They do look like an odd couple and Contador's not even that tall.
Le Mevel is with the chasers.
Contador has 4km to go. Rujano hasn't done a turn yet.
Scarponi did all that work earlier with his team and now he only has one man left.
Gadret is with the other main favourites. Roman K, Anton, Carrara all there too as Contador continues to set the pace. It's like watching Armstrong and Pantani on Ventoux.
Contador has 59 seconds on the chasers.
Just over 2km to and Contador is urging for help. Roman K has not attacked.
not a big gap but he's got everyone stretched out and Scarponi is in big trouble.
Scarponi's last man has now been dropped.
Contador and Rujano have 56 seconds. with 1.8km to go.
Scarponi is in big trouble and Contador goes again. Rujano has been distanced.
Contador has a gap of 50 meters.
And Nibali has attacked from behind. Huge attack. Contador has a km to go
Nibali has a gap!
Contador out of the saddle sprinting for every second as Nibali continues behind.
Contador coming to the line.
Contador wins. Rujano second.
Nibali was caught and is with a chase group.
Garzelli will get third, then Roman K. Arroyo and Sivtsov also there. Le Mevel in the next group.
Well Contador simply put the hammer down with around 7km to and no one had an answer. Scarponi thought he did but then blew. Rujano was close but not good enough, he couldn't even do a turn on the front.
I don't even think Scarponi was in the next group. No he wasn't.
A big result for Contador today but his biggest test is still to come and it's off the bike when he will have his CAS hearing.
Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow is a rest day but we'll be back tomorrow with stage 10.