Giro d’Italia stage 9 preview: Peloton faces second tough mountain test on Sunday

After a first hard day in the mountains of southern Italy on Saturday, stage 9 from Benevento to San Giorgio del Sannio will be another big challenge for the Giro d'Italia peloton.

Although the weather is forecast to be better, there will be 4,000 metres of vertical climbing to contest, as well as two second category climbs, one very close to the finish and a mid-stage first category ascent, the Colle Mollella. The stage is 30 kilometres longer than Saturday's, with an extra nine kilometres added in late because of roadwork.

In a route that would not be out of place in Tirreno-Adriatico, the constantly climbing and descending route on narrow roads could make ambushes and splits in the peloton a constant factor. It will be interesting to see if Astana repeat their tactics of stage 4 to La Spezia - a very similar kind of constantly difficult route - whether they leave it to Tinkoff-Saxo to keep the race under control.

The crunch moment, just as La Spezia, could come on the last climb of the stage before a fast descent to the finish. In this case though, the six-kilometre second category ascent of Passo Serra, 12 kilometres from the finish, after a deceptively easy first section is a lot steeper in its second half. Apparently it has a more difficult descent to the finish, too, and it is then followed by a short, steadily rising unclassified ascent to the last three kilometres of flatter roads leading to the finish in the town of San Giorgio del Sannio.

"It's a very hard stage, with a lot of climbing and a lot of tired riders after a very hard fast week, but I think it's more one for breakaways than for an overall battle," Jose Luis Jaimerena, who directs stage 8 winner Beñat Intxausti at Movistar, told Cyclingnews as he watched his rider talk to the media after his victory.

"The race is at a very complicated moment, but this is still the first week. The favourites are going to test each other more on the final climbs a bit rather than go all out for the maglia rosa. I think we'll see another breakaway like today and maybe a bit of sparring at the finish."

Either way, for the peloton, the rest day after stage 9 will not come too soon. 

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.