Robert Millar blog: Rating the Giro d'Italia contenders

On the Giro d'Italia's ninth stage to Blockhaus, Nairo Quintana was imperial and it was an exhibition by Movistar in setting up their leader to take the stage and the maglia rosa. Style-wise it was the same Quintana of old with long periods out the saddle: always on top of his gear and always capable of accelerating on the exit of corners.

He started to look at his maximum in the last two kilometers but that's understandable given the previous efforts to get rid of Vincenzo Nibali and Thibaut Pinot. If Quintana had only been interested in the stage win then he'd have waited until inside four kilometres to attack but by placing the first moves while there were more than six kilometres to the finish, he showed Movistar wanted Blockhaus to be a marker for the GC battle.

Tuesday's individual time trial won't be fatal for Quintana’s hopes – although he will surely lose the maglia rosa - but he'll need to keep his losses to Tom Dumoulin to about 3 sec/km. Then Movistar can wait for the third week and pounce.

Thibaut Pinot rode strongly, though he probably paid the price for his exuberance when he decided to try attacking Quintana and Nibali. Maybe he thought they would mark each other and let him go but that wasn't in the Movistar plan. Pinot’s second error was working with Quintana, obviously to distance Dumoulin, but that kept him at his limit, so when Quintana attacked Pinot relied on Nibali to close the gap and assumed wrongly. Pinot didn't crack though and recovered enough when Dumoulin caught him to still raise a sprint. Pinot made a good choice of gearing and held a good position when Winner Anacona was setting the pace. He was just looked a little bit ragged out the saddle but overall he looked good.

Tom Dumoulin rode very intelligently at Blockhaus, but he was already at his maximum when Movistar whittled the group down to 10 or 15 riders. He wisely didn't react to Quintana's accelerations and just kept riding his pace and that meant that he saw the others all go into the red and come back to him. The majority of Blockhaus really didn't suit him at all but it's an ominous sign of his improved climbing that the steeper ramps didn't kill him off like they might have done in the past. Style-wise he kept to a cadence and power output that, though he was obviously at his limit, didn't break him. It was very Wiggins-esque in execution. His rivals will be worried as the time trial will suit him to perfectly.

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As for Bauke Mollema, he rode to stay with Dumoulin, though I suspect more through necessity than a pre-planned choice. He never looked comfortable (does he ever?) and was hanging on for dear life before Quintana put them all out of their misery near the six-kilometre marker. Then it was a matter of finding someone else at his level and staying with them him if he could. Luckily that was super smooth Dumoulin who had a plan that happened to be just at the outer edge of Mollema's capabilities. It looked like it hurt the Trek rider more than he would have if left to his own devices. It was messy, and he used too big a gear, and too often, with too much movement in and out the saddle but he makes it work. It looks painful though. The time trial will suit his big gear pulling, but I doubt he'll recover as well as Dumoulin.

Vincenzo Nibali played and lost. He looked to be at his maximum a couple of times before the big sort out and his needing to eat a gel on the climb showed he'd got his nutrition intake just slightly wrong. Normally you would have all that covered by the base of the last climb so he probably felt the empty warning and knew he had to eat something and hope he didn't completely blow. He certainly used his experience not to follow Quintana immediately and unlike Pinot not to do any work either. Not getting out of the saddle showed it wasn't the grand Nibali we are used to seeing but remember last year and his third week resurrection?

Style-wise there was a subtle change, more a la Froome if I had to describe it, almost always seated, using a very small gear and staying within his limit. It looks like he's been working on his position too because that seemed to be more stretched out and aero than before. However it could be that he was just too far into the red. He had a real bad patch when Dumoulin and Mollema came past him and was lucky to limit the damage in the end. The time trial will be another marker for the defending champion and if he's been on a Froome-copying mission then he'll expect a good performance. If he doesn't, then his morale might be affected.

I actually expected more from Domenico Pozzovvio. The climb suited him but he was never showed himself. He saw the race happening but wasn't involved in any decisions which is kind of what we are used to from the AG2R leader. Style-wise it was same old, same old. Sometimes too big a gear, sometimes too small, and he was positioned in the group such that even if he wanted to react, he couldn’t. The power/aero based TT will confirm what we already know, that he can't time trial.


Best of the rest

Steven Kruijswijk was looking good up until Quintana attacked, then he made the mistake of going into the red trying to follow Nibali. That didn't last long and it shows the form isn't like last year. Maybe he'll come good but the TT will add a couple more minutes to his bill.

Ilnur Zakarin, looked dreadful when he was in the first selection, looked dreadful when he got dropped and continued with that theme to the finish. There'll be a hint of a recovery in the TT but don't be fooled.

Tejay van Garderen was probably the most disappointing of the outsiders. He was well positioned, well protected by his team, and looking good. Then the GC race started. Without him. He'll be watching Tour of California on the TV and thinking, "What if?"

Davide Formolo stepped up a level by just making the front group, and now in the white jersey his morale will be sky high. He looked as comfortable as anyone else on Blockhaus and a decent TT will see him proudly visiting the podium each day.

Team Sky's dilemma and Movistar payback

Will Adam Yates recover enough to challenge in that competition? Well that depends on his time trial. Keep the losses to a couple of minutes and the Orica rider's GC ambitions aren't over. He'll have more leeway if he attacks later in the race which is something Geraint Thomas won't have. Remember the 2012 Vuelta, stage 4 and Valverde fell while in the leaders jersey, Sky kept riding then – so when the crash happened on the way to Blockhaus it was payback time as far as Movistar were concerned. You can cry fairness and whatever but those guys in the cars have long memories.

Now the challenge for Sky is whether Thomas can recover enough for stage wins taken without any favours and a ride back into the top six. Landa is probably a better bet for sneaking off in a break, as he realised the game was up for GC and lost almost half an hour. Team Sky now have decisions to make on whether to have Thomas ride the TT flat out and maybe salvage a GC placing or have a recovery day of sorts and regroup their thoughts.

Don't discount former race leader Bob Jungels. He isn't done with success in this Giro just yet and neither is the winner of the Etna stage, Jan Polanc. As we've seen lots can happen in a three week race and this Giro has only started to get serious.

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