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Giro d'Italia: Analysing the GC contenders

Despite a few hills in the opening week, the rolling 40km stage 9 time trial was the first pivotal test in the battle for the maglia rosa in this year's Giro d'Italia. On the second rest day, Cyclingnews takes a look at how the overall contenders fared on the rolling roads through the Chianti vineyards, and how the general classification complexion now appears.

Rider: Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep)
GC Position: Leader
TT performance: Spurred on by the pink skinsuit, Brambilla put in a spirited and nail biting defence of his overall lead, hanging onto it by a solitary second from teammate Bob Jungels - and no doubt helped by Ilnur Zakarin's horror show. His fifth place in the Barolo time trial of 2014 was evidence of his pedigree in such tests and, with the exception of strong rouleurs Jungels and Tom Dumoulin, he got the better of each and every GC contender. 
Bidon half-full or half-empty? Spilling over. The Italian ticked off his goal of taking a stage win on Saturday and in doing so realised a dream he never expected to come true here by taking the pink jersey. He has also ensured that pink won't be confined to one soggy, miserable sub-hour outing and he could feasibly defend it for a few days yet. Brambilla has put himself on course to better his best-ever Grand Tour GC result of top-15 in the 2012 Giro and 2015 Vuelta but, whatever happens next, his Giro has already been a roaring success.

Rider: Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep)
GC Position: 2nd at 1 second
TT performance: From a host of riders with top ten aspirations Jungels came away from the time trial with the broadest smile. The fact that only Mike Landa, Vincenzo Nibali and Andrey Amador – from the gaggle of GC riders – cracked the top twenty made Jungels' sixth place finish all the more important.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? Jungels has been something of a surprise in this year’s race, holding his own in the hills and bringing an air of relative experience to the white jersey with a number of strong rides. He was there or thereabouts on the stage to Roccaraso and only dropped out of the top ten on one occasion – after losing time at Arezzo on stage 8. Realistically Jungels will falter in the second and third weeks – his lack of true Grand Tour experience and climbing capabilities exposed in the high mountains – but the white jersey could remain an ambition all the way to Turin.

Rider: Steven Kruijswijk (Team LottoNL-Jumbo)
GC Position: 4th at 51 seconds
TT performance: During Kruijswijk’s time trial performance television commentators repeatedly informed viewers that the discipline was not the Dutch rider’s forte but that was a massive disservice given his 5th place in last year’s long time trial to Valdobbiadene. Given that he put close to three minutes into Mikel Landa in last year’s equivalent, Kruijswijk may wonder if this year’s ride was a step forward or not, but finishing in the middle of the GC contenders keeps him in the frame.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? Kruijswijk grew in stature as the Giro unfolded last year and he is many peoples’ dark horse for a podium this time around. He leads Nibali, Valverde and Landa – although the margins are slim – but after nine stages the LottoNL rider is well-positioned on GC. The only nagging feeling might be that he failed to extract enough time from some of the pure climbers on Sunday.

Rider: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
GC Position: 5th at 53 seconds
TT performance: Solid, if unspectacular. Nibali took a risk-free approach but was rewarded with the best time of the bona fide GC contenders. While some rivals like Rigoberto Uran and Esteban Chaves were put at arm’s length, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde were not distanced to the extent he might have hoped.
Bidon half-full or half-empty?
Despite an ill-advised attack on stage 6, and the ensuing polemica stoked by the fervent Italian media, Nibali has ridden a solid race so far and has put himself in a strong position. Had he not lost a handful of seconds on that stage, he’d be fourth overall, behind the slightly rogue top-three but ahead of the big names. While Nibali should be confident of getting the better of Valverde over the course of the high mountain stages, it’s Landa, whose startling time trial performance leaves him just 25 seconds in arrears, who perhaps now represents the major headache.

Rider: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
GC Position: 6th at 55 seconds
TT performance: As Valverde himself said, "I did the time trial in pretty much the same time as rivals like Nibali and Landa, and I've managed to put some distance between myself and some very important contenders, like Urán, Zakarin, and Chaves." The Spaniard can be well pleased with his day’s work.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? Having shown considerable aggression on stage eight’s dirt track climb and having come through the all-important time trial in a very strong position - right up there with the two big pre-race favourites – things are looking very bright for Valverde. His position is only strengthened by teammate Andrey Amador’s current occupation of second place overall, which sees his tactical horizons broadened going into the second half of the race.

Rider: Tom Dumoulin (Giant Alpecin)
GC Position: 7th at 58 seconds
TT performance: Regardless of any possible GC bid the expectation was that Dumoulin would slip back into pink after Sunday’s test. His ride was ultimately hindered by the weather but the meagre time he put into Nibali and the other climbers arguably did more to end his GC hopes than his performance on stage 7.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? Dumoulin effectively bossed the first week of the Giro, winning the opening time trial and going on the attack to Roccaraso in a move that embarrassed Astana and Nibali. Since then the Dutchman has faltered, ditching his brief public sentiments of holding a GC challenge. Even reverting to ‘plan A’ of wining time trials has gone out of the window.

Rider: Mikel Landa (Team Sky)
GC Position: 8th at 1:18
TT performance: Nothing short of incredible when you consider he lost roughly three minutes to the overall contenders in last year’s individual time trial. Finishing seven seconds behind Nibali but ahead of every other genuine contender for pink puts this performance head and shoulders ahead of anything Landa has ever done in a Grand Tour time trial and, to emphasise the improvements the Spaniard has made in such an incredibly short space of time, he lost five minutes to Dumoulin in a time trial in last year’s Vuelta.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? There were brief wobbles on stages 6 and 8 when he lost contact with his rivals but Landa has ridden with a quiet assuredness Team Sky have lacked in previous editions of the Giro. Much has been made of the depth within his team but, unlike Astana and Movistar, the British squad are not relied upon to control the race. All things considered, Landa can been satisfied with his foray into Grand Tour leadership, although sterner tests are on the horizon.

Rider: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)
GC Position: 9th at 1:45
TT performance: Shed 43 seconds to Nibali in the race for pink but came through without major incident.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? He missed Dumoulin’s acceleration on stage 6 but other than that the Pole has held his own in the opening nine stages. A lack of support in the mountains could be an issue later in the race but for now he can be content.

Rider: Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha)
GC Position: 11th at 2:09
TT performance: Nothing short of disastrous. Zakarin was second at the start of the day and as he completed the first half of the course it seemed he was destined for the maglia rosa. A crash and a bike change, however, left him approaching the finish limiting his losses, before another spill on the tight final bend rounded out a sorry afternoon for the Russian. In the end, he was 3:51 down and, of the GC men, only Rigoberto Uran fared worse.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? Half-empty would be putting a positive spin on it. The Russian was many people’s dark horse for this Giro and had he performed in line with his potential in the TT, he’d be in pole position and a true favourite for the overall. As it stands, Zakarin is outside the top 10 with ground to make up. At a little over a minute down on Nibali, all is far from lost – especially heading into his preferred mountainous terrain – but there’s no getting away from the sense that a huge opportunity has been missed.

Rider: Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
GC Position: 12th at 2:28
TT performance: The diminutive Italian has produced a handful of surprisingly impressive results against the clock – third, for example, behind Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin at the Vuelta in 2013 – but Chianti wasn’t one such occasion. He finished 3:39 back, losing over two minutes to the big GC names of Nibali, Landa, and Valverde, though there was mitigation in the proximity of other second-tier GC men like Chaves, Uran, Zakarin, and Majka.
Bidon half-full or half-empty?
After a horrific crash ended his chances last year, Pozzovivo can’t be too unhappy with his progress so far. Two time trials in the first nine days was never going to appeal to him but he hasn’t put a foot wrong on the road stages. He may find himself outside of the top 10 but the uphill time trial and other mountain stages should see him move back in there, while his goal of a top-five GC finish is still an achievable one.

Rider: Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge)
GC Position: 13th at 2:31
TT performance: Chaves came through Sunday’s test relatively unscathed. In the short term he lost a minute and a half to Nibali but he also put time into Zakarin and Uran. Granted, the latter two both crashed but consider that Chaves finished nine minutes down in last year’s Giro TT and you can imagine the relief currently pouring out of the Orica camp.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? Despite dropping out of the top ten Chaves heads into the second rest day with his tail-up. He has navigated a tricky first week, held his own on the hills and survived two individual time trials. The terrain in this year’s Giro has not been as favourable to the Columbian as it was in the Vuelta last year - when he cracked the top five - yet if he can remain in contention until the Dolomites, a repeat performance in the Giro looks likely.

Rider: Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale)
GC Position: 15th at 2:56
TT performance: Was losing time even before his crash but there’s no doubting that Uran, winner of the similar Barolo time trial in 2014, would have targeted this stage as a platform on which to build his overall challenge.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? Assuming that there are no serious injuries Uran must forget the GC picture for the next few stages and take it ‘day-by-day’ before the race reaches the pivotal Dolomites.

Rider: Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo)
GC Position: 16th at 3:29
TT performance: Where you would expect him to finish given that he shed time to Nibali and Valverde, but he distanced some of the pure climbers such as Chaves and Pozzovivo.
Bidon half-full or half-empty? The worrying trend for the Canadian is that he has conceded time nearly every second stage and that any hopes for a top-five will soon evaporate if the pattern continues.

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