Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) picked up 14 seconds on Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and four more on the maglia rosa when he accelerated 400m from the summit of Aremogna above Roccaraso, but in the grand scheme of this Giro d'Italia, the handful of seconds won surely mean less than the confidence gained.
The Giro faced some 4,500m of total climbing on a sodden day in the Apennines on stage 9, and although a sizeable group was still intact at the base of the final ascent, the conditions eventually took their toll on the last haul towards the summit. Only Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Sunweb teammate Jai Hindley could stay with Kelderman all the way to the line, while the pink jersey group fragmented behind them.
At the finish, Kelderman took eighth on the stage, 1:38 down on winner and early escapee Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling), but he gained 14 seconds on Nibali, 18 on race leader João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and 21 on his fellow countryman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), who struggled on the last ramps of the climb.
"It was a long day and, especially in the end, it was super cold, but my legs were super good," Kelderman said afterwards. "The team also gave me a lot of confidence. We still had eight guys over the second last climb, so we could hold a really good position. And, actually, in the last part, I felt really good. I just started my sprint from 400m to go or something like that. I just went full to the finish and we could create some gaps."
In the overall standings, Kelderman moves up to second place, just 30 seconds down on Almeida, as the Giro breaks for its first rest day. The Dutchman insisted that he did not have an immediate stint in the pink jersey in mind in the final kilometre here, but he will surely begin to warm to the idea in the second week.
Kelderman now has a 27-second buffer on Nibali and 56 seconds on Kruijswijk, while two of the pre-race favourites – Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates – have already abandoned. The 29-year-old came to Italy targeting a podium finish, but a week into this unusual edition of the Giro, he will feel entitled to revise his ambitions upwards.
"The pink jersey, I never had it in mind today because it was just too short to the finish to get a bigger gap," Kelderman said. "Maybe for the next week, we will look into that. But I am really happy with the feeling now and that's the most important thing. We always look day by day and we make plans. We'll see what is possible in the next week."
Kelderman's talent as a stage race rider has been evident since his entry into the professional ranks with Rabobank in 2012 when he caught the eye at the Critérium du Dauphiné, but the total of his Grand Tour success has never quite added up to the sum of his potential. A fine 4th place in the 2017 Vuelta a España has been countered by repeated bouts of ill-fortune in three-week races.
This season, meanwhile, Kelderman was among the lofty names left out of Sunweb's team for the Tour de France, and the 29-year-old has already signed for Bora-Hansgrohe for 2021. This Giro brings down the curtain on his four-year tenure with Sunweb, and fellow departees Michael Matthews (Mitchelton-Scott) and Sam Oomen (Jumbo-Visma) are also on hand in Italy.
Both men were still in the group of favourites with Kelderman at the base of the final climb, and so too was the impressive Hindley, who remained with his leader all the way to the line. The Australian youngster lies 9th overall, 1:15 off Almeida.
"The team did a great job and Jai was also super good," said Kelderman.
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