Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) is making something of a speciality of technical, rain-soaked time trials through wine country. His display in the Giro d'Italia's Chianti time trial on stage 9 was perhaps not of quite the same vintage as his fifth place in the Barolo test two years ago, but it was enough for him to keep the maglia rosa by solitary second.
Pleasant Tuscan sunshine gave way to driving rain on Sunday afternoon, as the last man down the start ramp, Brambilla had to endure some of the worst of the day's conditions in order to retain his overall lead.
Through the first two time checks, Brambilla initially seemed destined to lose his lead to Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), who began the day just 23 seconds down in second place. But when the Russian suffered not one, but two crashes in the final section of the course, Brambilla suddenly found himself in a battle with his own teammate, Bob Jungels.
While most of the general classification began quickly on the rippling early hills and then took a more ginger approach in the finale, Brambilla hurled himself into the final descent into Greve in Chianti. By that point, the rain had abated but the descent was hardly much drier. One last, desperate effort on the cobbled rise to the line secured him another day in pink, by the slimmest of margins.
"I'm happy for myself, because this tells me that yesterday the maglia rosa didn't come by chance," said Brambilla, who placed 17th on the stage, 2:05 down on winner Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo). "It was a big effort today. I went out pretty gently at the start and then I went harder at end, but I wanted to stay safe.
"The time trial was very difficult and technical, and then the rain made it even harder and I'm really not a specialist in the rain. Before I started I saw that a lot of riders were falling out there, but thanks to our technical material, we did fine."
Brambilla had seized the overall lead after soloing to victory over the Alpe di Poti on Saturday and his efforts in that day-long break meant that most expected his tenure in pink to last little more than 24 hours. For his part, the Italian was able to approach the day unfettered by pressure: after his Arezzo victory, his Giro was already a resounding success.
"This morning I was very calm and I went to the time trial feeling relaxed," Brambilla said. "It wasn't that I wanted to lose it, but the onus was on the others to go after it and take it away from me."
Although Brambilla opted not to receive time checks from the team car, he was not bereft of information as he hurtled along the 40-kilometre course that dipped and weaved among the rolling hills of Chianti, with directeur sportif Davide Bramati serving as a co-pilot over his radio earpiece.
"I have to compliment Bramati, who knew this course by memory," Brambilla said. "I'd only seen a film of it so I placed my trust in him completely. I even took a few risks and it all went well. He wasn't giving me the times and I didn't know much about the intermediate checks either, but he guided me through the course."
Brambilla will again wear pink when the Giro sets out again from Campi Bisenzo on stage 10 following Monday's rest day in the hinterland of Florence. One second ahead of Jungels but almost a minute clear of the overall favourites, he may approach Tuesday's summit finish at Sestola with optimism, but he was coy about the prospect of holding of bettering his best 13th place overall finish of 2012.
"After the rest day, the next two weeks will be the ‘real' Giro and anything can happen. As I said in Holland, I was always chasing a stage win, and now I've got that and the overall lead," Brambilla said. "We'll just see how long I can go along like this. I'm calm."
More in this story:
- Giro d'Italia stage 9 - Finish line quotes
- Giro d'Italia stage 9 - Video highlights
- Cancellara abandons Giro d'Italia
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.