His performance on the stiff final climb of stage 9 was enough to earn him a belated invitation to appear on Processo alla Tappa, RAI television’s post-stage analysis show, but once on stage, Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) remained coy about revising his prospects at this Giro d'Italia.
"I'm sticking to my objectives from before the Giro. I want a place in the top five and a stage win," Pozzovivo said quietly. "It's just a pity I didn't manage to win the stage today."
After the previous day’s stage, Pozzovivo had noted that Sestola, though "only" a category 2 climb, still had a wickedly steep section six kilometres from the summit that was very much to his liking. Although he had to settle for third place on the stage – 42 seconds down on winner Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) – Pozzovivo went on the offensive at that very point that he had indentified, and gained 26 seconds on the pink jersey of Cadel Evans in the process.
The Italian climber danced away from the maglia rosa group with disarming facility, having sent his teammate Alexis Vuillermoz up the road a couple of kilometres earlier on expeditionary duty. Pozzovivo made light work of closing the gap to his companion and then continued to pick off riders from the day’s early break. There was no immediate reaction behind, beyond a short-lived dig from Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and by the time the road flattened out with four kilometres remaining, Pozzovivo had stretched his advantage over the other overall contenders to some 35 seconds.
"It was no secret that I liked this climb a lot, at least up to the last four kilometres," Pozzovivo told a group of reporters on emerging from anti-doping at the summit. "I tried to make the difference in the hardest part and looked to save some energy for the flatter roads at the end. The objective was to win the stage. It’s a pity that two riders were left out in front but I’m still happy with how I rode."
Pozzovivo’s solo effort was the only major frisson on a day of stalemate between the principal general classification contenders, and sees him move up to fourth place overall, 1:20 behind Evans. He was careful, however, to downplay expectations that he might challenge Evans, Uran and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) for outright victory.
"For the moment I’m feeling very good but there are still two weeks to go and certainly the others will improve," Pozzovivo said. "I've been in crescendo since the start of the season and the idea was to get to the Giro in top condition. We’ve ridden two good stages as a team. Yesterday in particular, we were on the front a lot, today we were a bit further back but I think that we’re going in the right direction as a team."
Two years ago, of course, Pozzovivo was equally impressive in winning a similar stage at Lago Laceno at the very same point of the Giro, only to fade as the race progressed and finish 8th overall in Milan. He appears quietly confident about his chances of improving on that showing this time around, buoyed by a solid outing at the recent Giro del Trentino and his ease on the climbs so far in this race.
The Giro’s next major rendezvous is Thursday’s time trial from Barbaresco to Barolo, and while Pozzovivo will be on the defensive in that 41.9km test, he was bullish about his prospects of limiting the damage on a rolling course that winds through the hills of the Langhe.
"Next week there’s the time trial and that’s very long but there are some hills on the parcours," he said. "I think I’ll be able to defend myself."