Good morning and welcome along as we head deeper into the first week of this Giro d'Italia. Today we have a hilly stage but one that should come down to the short, steep final climb in Guardia Sanframondi.
This is the scene at the start in Foggia, where the riders signing on for the stage.
The roll-out is coming up at 12:40 local time (in around 20 minutes), and the start proper is set to be given 10 minutes after that.
Before we get going, now's the time for a re-cap. Full results and standings can be found in our stage 7 report from yesterday.
🙋♂️🙋🙋♂️🙋#Giro pic.twitter.com/4pFJtWc5DCMay 15, 2021
Here's a closer look at the final climb. It's short, but nasty. It's not something that'll create significant gaps between the overall contenders but they'll all have to be on high-alert. Positioning will be important on the run-in.
As for what sort of group contests the finish, it could be another breakaway day at this Giro. It's hard to know who'll want to control the race all day, so we could see another escape stick.
The riders are assembled on the start line. Groupama-FDJ's Attila Valter wears the famous maglia rosa as the overall leader. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) is in the maglia ciclamino as leader of the points classification after his second stage win yesterday, while Gino Mader (Bahrain Victorious) is in blue as leader of the mountains classification and Remco Evenepoel (Deceuncnick-QuickStep) is decked in white as the best young rider.
They're off. A short neutral-zone awaits before the flag is waved and the fight for the break begins.
Valter there. We have a nice interview with him coming up shortly.
Attila à l'heure. ⏰ pic.twitter.com/VxKV4HmoKiMay 15, 2021
The riders are still massed behind the race director's car, waiting for the go-ahead.
The flag drops and the race opens up
The first attack is launched by an Intermarché rider. He looks around and sees multiple reactions behind.
The Intermarché rider now sees the response ebb, and decides himself to drift back to the bunch. Things stall now.
Bardiani-CSF and Eolo-Kometa kick off the next wave of breakaway attempts.
A large group goes clear but the peloton is strung out in chase behind.
The dozen or so riders at the head of the bunch have split off into their own group. There's a bit of wind out there at the moment.
A monster group has formed at the head of affairs. But the peloton is aware of the danger and chasing it down.
Bernal's up there!
The presence of the 2019 Tour de France champion and pre-race favourite is the death of that large break. Others in the group remonstrate with the Colombian, asking what he's doing there. He has killed that group's chances, as they all ease up with the peloton now on their case.
It's splitting again into large chunks. There's a bit of side-wind and all the GC contenders are on alert here, perhaps why Bernal found himself up there.
Deceuncink-QuickStep close a gap for Evenepoel, shutting down another really big group that was in danger of going clear.
The peloton has split in two now.
Filippo Ganna is at the head of the first group, Bernal in his wheel.
Valter caught out
The pink jersey has missed the split and is in the second group on the road
Ewan and Nizzolo are back in the second bunch, but it remains to be seen if any pre-race favourites have been caught out.
Intermarché look to drive this on, as Bahrain did just before, but the second peloton is starting to gain ground.
159km to go
Back together. The second group, lined out, makes contact with the front peloton, which had eased off slightly.
Romain Bardet (Team DSM) had been caught on the wrong side of that split, as had Trek-Segafredo.
The route has turned off the main road and the threat of the wind seems to have ebbed away. It's a full bunch and now we see new breakaway attempts.
Bardiani kick it off again but now it's an Intermarché representative heading up the road.
Riders from Bora and Lotto join in but they're not getting away as the bunch strings out through the town of Lucera.
Back out onto the wide highway and things intensify once more.
151km to go
Still all together, with Bahrain Victorious at the head of the bunch.
Iljo Keisse has been designated to guide Evenepoel through this tense portion of the race.
It was cross-headwind to start with but now it's coming more directly from the right. It's not super strong but it doesn't take long for damage to be done.
Most GC riders are being kept up front out of trouble. No big effort to split the race of break away at this point.
148km to go
Three riders clip off the front now.
There's a response behind from multiple riders.
The responses come to nothing but here come more counter-attack efforts
The three riders are Ruben Guerreiro (EF-Nippo), Stefano Oldani (Lotto Soudal), and Quinten Hermans (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert).
The trio don't seem to be gaining ground here. Fresh moves come from behind.
Six riders have managed to join that front trio, but the peloton is right on their heels and more are trying to make the junction.
That front group swells to 20. Ineos are chasing now.
Ganna is doing a huge turn here, just in front of Keisse.
Ganna drags the race back together. Now it's in one long line.
The back of the peloton is one single-file line, and that's a real danger, but it's easing again up towards the front.
Movistar kick off a new attack but it's soon snuffled out.
We've done almost 30km already. We've been on an extended false flat but the road is about to tilt uphill more severely. It's not categorised but it's still a climb.
A wooded section provides some shelter from the wind and fresh breakaway attempts materialise.
Onto a massive bridge, where the road is narrowed due to roadworks, and we have a couple of small gaps but nothing definitive.
Off the bridge and it's pretty much all together although a number of riders are trying to push this on.
Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation) is up there, trying to get a group clear.
Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo) puts in a bigger acceleration now and gets a gap on his own.
The Italian is joined by a Movistar rider, possibly Jorgenson.
They're joined by a DSM rider but the gaps are slim.
Eight more riders are just behind, but the peloton is still right there.
The riders are still climbing on another raised highway.
It's very fluid in that group just in front of the bunch and now Patrick Bevin takes it on for Israel.
Into a tunnel and we emerge into the darkness to find some bigger splits.
That tunnel was the top of the climb and now it's a fast downhill on wide roads. Gino Mader is away with a rider from Astana.
It's Samuele Battistella for Astana. They're being hunted down by a solo chaser, with the bunch - itself split slightly in the tunnel - just behind.
The peloton reforms behind the two leaders as they head downhill.
130km to go
40km on the clock already and do we finally have a breakaway? Mader and Battistella have opened a handy lead but will they shut up shop behind?
Plenty of riders dropped on that uncategorised climb are fighting to make their way through the cars back to the bunch.
Things haven't eased up behind and the peloton is strung out again under new accelerations.
Mader and Battistella are caught.
Italian TV are reporting that there was a crash in that tunnel, hence the splits.
It's still downhill, although the gradient isn't as pronounced as at the start of this descent.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) has abandoned the race
Not sure what has happened with Ewan - perhaps he was involved in that tunnel crash? - but that's just been announced on race radio.
Ewan was always likely to leave the Giro early, given he's doing the Tour and Vuelta, but not this early. He was caught out in the early splits but was obviously in decent form given his two stage wins. A crash would explain things.
Meanwhile, the race continues in similar vein. A volley of accelerations but nothing opening daylight.
It's still false flat downhill and it's hard for anyone to get a gap here.
The bunch strings out in a line. Nothing sticking but danger is everywhere. Nothing has been allowed clear but it's not like there's a huge amount of control. GC contenders still alert near the front.
Eight riders succeed in going clear now, but some have missed out and now the responses come.
The riders are coming off that slight downhill and the road will tilt up the other way again.
116km to go
The counter-attacks fizzle out and that group eases away. This could be it.
Fernando Gaviria is up there for UAE Team Emirates.
A new counter-attacking trio forms behind.
It's kicking off again. It looked like that gap might be enough, but there are enough riders not happy to see this go.
Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka Assos) is alone in between.
This looks like it could be it. The peloton has eased up. Will it last?
112km to go
That looks to be it. We'll bring you the names in the break shortly.
I spoke too soon. More attacks from the peloton now. They're 25 seconds behind the front of the race. Campenaerts still struggling to close the gap alone.
Here are the eight leaders
Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates)
Nelson Oliveira (Movistar)
Kobe Goossens (Lotto Soudal)
Alexis Gougeard (AG2R Citroën)
Nikias Arndt (Team DSM)
Victor Lafay (Cofidis)
Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane)
Francesco Gavazzi (Eolo-Kometa)
Campenaerts is so close. He's seven seconds behind. This is a huge effort.
Things appear to be easing once more in the peloton. That last counter-attack came to nothing and now Valter's Groupama-FDJ's teammates have come to the front to try and impose order.
Here comes the Hour Record holder. Those eight riders were working hard together to get away so that's a great ride to get across.
106km to go
So, we have a breakaway of nine riders, just over a minute behind the peloton, where riders are finally stopping for comfort breaks. At last, the race settles down into a calmer and more familiar pattern.
The road is rising here and will ratchet up all the way to the intermediate sprint at Campobasso with 86km to go. From there, it's a short descent before the day's major climb, the second-category Bocca della Selva (18.9km at 4.6%). A long old descent will then take them down into Castelvenere ready for the short final climb.
There was a crash in the tunnel but not for Ewan, he was dropped or had sat up before then reports RAI. Retired from the raceMay 15, 2021
Here's our story
100km to go
The gap rises to 2:55.
The riders in the peloton are getting musettes from the soigneurs. It was a fast and furious first hour and a half but now they can enjoy some lunch.
Groupama-FDJ allow the gap to drift out to 4:15. There's no big threat from a GC perspective, Oliveira being the best-placed overall, just over 15 minutes down.
Want to know more about our race leader, Attila Valter? Want to know what video games he plays? Here you go...
90km to go
The break's lead rises above five minutes.
For those who haven't read the piece, the major news today is that the leader of the Giro d'Italia plays Spiderman online in his spare time. Now I'm not a 'gamer', but while I can just about understand someone playing something like Call of Duty, I'm really struggling with the idea of a grown man playing Spiderman. Am I just old?
Anyway, in the race we're approaching that intermediate sprint.
Gaviria is likely to be interested in this sprint. He's the only one in there with any real collection of points and of course the points classification leader Ewan has already gone home.
Gaviria pushes through to the front, out of the saddle and on the hoods. Gougeard tracks him.
Gaviria has gone long here and Gougeard is poised in the wheel.
Gougeard decides against trying to spoil the party and Gaviria musters a mini sprint to collect the maximum 12 points.
Here are the new points classification standings, taking into account that sprint and Ewan's exit
1. Tim Merlier - 83 points
2. Giacomo Nizzolo - 76
3. Elia Viviani - 69
4. Davide Cimolai - 66
5. Peter Sagan - 57
6. Fernando Gaviria - 54
82km to go
Groupama-FDJ lead the peloton through the intermediate sprint, 6:45 down now.
Lotto Soudal have confirmed that Ewan was struggling with knee pain.
All calm for now as the gap nudges out towards the seven-minute mark. We have a light descent ahead of the day's major climb.
The nine-man break hits the Bocca della Stelva. A long climb - 18.9km - but with a modest average gradient - 4.6%. There's a steeper section in the middle but otherwise it's a pretty steady ascent and shouldn't cause too much damage.
It depends on how hard the peloton race up this climb, but it's looking promising for the breakaway as they take a lead of 7:15 onto the climb.
Into your tech? Here's an all-new TT bike from De Rosa. It went under the radar at the time, but Elia Viviani rode it on the opening day of this Giro. Here are the details.
Here's a shot from the frantic start earlier. Bernal there, who briefly found himself in a large breakaway group. The rider next to him is Iljo Keisse, who was tasked with protecting Remco Evenepoel amid the chaos.
It's all calm on this climb. The nine breakaway riders are working well together and FDJ are riding tempo in the peloton, 7:30 behind.
It's blustery on this climb, where the peloton continues as one large group. Ineos are set up behind the Groupama-FDJ train.
56km to go
Up front, the breakaway riders are still together on the steeper portion of the climb.
Mechanical problem for Simon Yates, who has to stop for assistance.
Sprinter Dylan Groenewegen loses contact with the bunch now.
Yates is safely brought back to the bunch by his teammates after getting a new rear wheel.
The breakaway are on the upper reaches of the Bocca della Selva. They're still together and have only lost 10 seconds of their lead. They'll be competing for the stage win today.
Problem for Dan Martin
The Israel Start-Up Nation rider has a more panicky stop than Yates as he grabs a spare bike from his team and gets going again.
53km to go
Gaviria, Carboni, and Oliveira grab an extra layer. They're near the top now and are facing almost 40km of descending.
There are a maximum of 18 mountains points at the top of this climb. Gavazzi is the only rider in the break with a stake in that classification so far. Gougeard is the only other one with a point, and it's only a solitary point.
They come to the top now and Goossens is interested in fighting for this.
Arndt also strikes out and is second to the top. Gavazzi is up there but settles for third.
48km to go
The leaders begin the dramatic, sweeping descent.
Oliveira takes on the descent in pole position, applying the pressure.
An increase in pace in the bunch as they near the top now. Teams will want to be in a decent position for the descent. The gap has come down to 6:20 as a result.
Gaviria can follow Oliveira but the rest of the break are straggling.
The peloton come over the top of the climb. FDJ have two riders in front of Valter over the top, as Bora, Movistar, and QuickStep force their way through.
This descent has a couple of brief uphill interruptions and the break have hit the first of them after a rapid first 9km of downhill. They're back together now.
A few little gaps as the peloton tears downhill.
A Bora rider took it on to begin with but now Matej Mohoric, one of the very best descenders, hits the front.
Here's a shot of the break
And here's the Groupama-led peloton a little earlier
Crash. Gaviria is down.
The Colombian attacked on another brief little lip, and he subsequently overcooked a right-hand downhill bend. He was slumped against the concrete roadside barrier but is now back on his bike.
The clouds have darkened overhead but the descent is dry for the moment.
35km to go
Gaviria has lost 30 seconds due to that crash and will struggle to make that back up after that knock to the confidence. Meanwhile the peloton are at just over 6 minutes.
Things have calmed down in the bunch after that frantic first part of the descent. Groupama-FDJ are back dictating for Valter with a number of riders on the front.
Deceuninck-QuickStep now move Evenepoel up en masse.
Oliveira has opened another gap in the break but he's been brought to heel.
Hearts in mouths as FDJ's lead rider overcooks the same corner as Gaviria. He just about keeps it upright.
Gaviria is back with the medical car. He has a bloodied right hand. He's 40 seconds down on the rest of the break.
That is a well-timed visit to the medical car. It's on another of those uphill interruptions to this descent and Gaviria is obviously allowed to hang onto the car as he gets treatment. He's back to within 10 seconds.
Gaviria is back. He sails through the remaining cars and onto the back of the break.
Gaviria takes off his jacket. He has cuts to his shoulder, elbow, hand, and leg on the right-hand side.
25km to go
Into the final 25km and the nine breakaway riders lead the FDJ-led peloton by 6:45.
The breakaway are going to take the day for the fourth time in eight stages (seven road stages) at this Giro. But who will it be? Gaviria tried to attack a little earlier, probably aware he's not going to beat the others on this final climb. Oliveira and Gougeard are strong rouleurs who can climb, while Campenaerts is more of a pure time triallist, and Arndt a former sprinter. Gavazzi and Carboni are more suited to the climbs but ride for second-division teams, and it's arguably Goossens and Lafay who have the best shouts here. Both are young, emerging riders who could take a chance to step up here.
21km to go
Attack in the break. Arndt, probably aware he needs a head start, kicks off the hostilities as they head into the town of Cerreto Sannita.
The break stitches back together. Carboni had to make an effort to shut the gap at the back.
20km to go
Into the final 20 and the descent continues, although the gradient is a lot more gentle now and it's punctuated by more and more flatter sections. They have a lead of 6:12 and it's about the plays for the stage win now.
Gougeard drags it back.
A little more on Lafay. The Frenchman turned pro with Cofidis towards the end of 2018. He hasn't won yet but a few weeks ago finished fourth overall at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, where he was second to Enric Mas (and ahead of Oliveira) on the key summit finish.
Goossens, meanwhile, is also 25 but only turned pro with Lotto last year. He was 24th overall at the Vuelta on his Grand Tour debut and is a growing prospect. He showed his pre-Giro form by winning the mountains classification at the Tour de Romandie.
Campenaerts tries again but nothing doing.
15km to go
15km to go and we have around 5km until the bottom of this descent. The road then pitches up through an intermediate sprint before the final climb really starts to bite in the final few kilometres.
There's a quick response but it tails off. A moment's hesitation allows Gougeard to open a gap.
Oliveira now reaches out to shut it down.
And Gougeard is brought to heel as they head into the town of Castelvenere.
That's the end of the long descent. Now it's uphill, gently at first, then steeply towards the finish. We'll have the battle for the stage win then we'll see what action unfolds with the GC contenders.
The Belgian decides not to wait for the final climb. Campenaerts goes after him.
10km to go
Lafay then sets off to drag the rest of the break back together.
Gaviria loses contact.
Gougeard goes again. It's not the most explosive of moves and the rest of the break can respond. Gaviria was almost back on and indeed another lull now allows him to rejoin.
8.5km to go
It's cagey up front as Arndt takes it up, looking around all the time.
Oliveira goes next. Lafay is on the case and the rest of them are fully alive to it.
The intermediate sprint is coming up. It carries bonus seconds but that won't be of any relevance now.
Campenaerts goes again. Carboni responds.
Campenaerts leads over the sprint, with Carboni in attendance. A small gap to the rest.
A bit of looking around as Campenaerts and Carboni ease clear. Gougeard is going after them now.
Back in the bunch, Israel have started riding. This final climb will suit their leader Dan Martin.
5.5km to go
Gougeard is clawing his way across this gap.
The road is ramping up already but the worst is to come.
Here's a closer look at the finale.
Arndt leads the rest of the break and they're 11 seconds behind at the moment.
Oliveira accelerates behind.
4km to go and Gougeard is flagging and about to be caught. Campenaerts and Carboni have 10 seconds in hand.
Gaviria has been dropped more definitively now.
Gougeard caught with 3.4km to go. Oliveira accelerates again.
Gougeard dropped, paying for his efforts.
Carboni accelerates up front!
Campenaerts can't follow!
3km to go and Carboni leads solo heading onto the final climb proper.
Can Carboni claim a famous win for Bardiani? It depends on legs behind. Goossens was gapped a little just then, so not sure he has it. What about Lafay?
Speak of the devil... Lafay attacks!
Lafay quickly gets away, breezing past Campenaerts.
Lafay is working his way across to Carboni.
2.3km to go
Lafay reaches Carboni.
Lafay stays in the slipstream for the briefest moment before rising from the saddle and leaving him behind.
Lafay surges clear of Carboni. He looks comfortably the strongest here.
Under the 2km-to-go banner and Lafay has opened a lead of several seconds already. Has he paced this right?
Back in the bunch, QuickStep have taken it up.
Gavazzi has attacked from behind.
Gavazzi has worked his way across to Carboni. They're 16 seconds down on Lafay.
Lafay - blushed, bloodshot cheeks and wide elbows - looks in control here.
1km to go
Flamme rouge! Lafay has 20 seconds in hand now and looks to be heading for a breakthrough victory.
Gavazzi drops Carboni but it's going to be for second place.
Lafay looks around and sees no one. He's into the final 500 metres and is still pedalling smoothly.
He punches the air now. Into the final 200m.
He's smiling as he rounds the final bend. Another early air punch and now he nears the line.
Lafay zips up the jersey, sits up, raises his arms, points to the sponsor on that jersey, and crosses the line.
Victor Lafay (Cofidis) wins stage 8 of the Giro d'Italia
Gavazzi soft-pedals to the finish and he could get caught by Arndt
Gavazzi takes second, Arndt is third. Oliveira fourth, Carboni fifth.
Goossens finishes ahead of Campenaerts several seconds further back.
Gougeard is even further back in eighth, while Gaviria will come home in ninth. But now for the bunch and the GC riders.
EF lead the peloton onto the climb
Carthy is second wheel, poised.
Pello Bilbao is down, as it Matteo Fabbro.
Valter just avoided that.
Into the final kilometre and Ineos take it up!
No big attacks here.
Moscon leads them into the final few hundred metres
Bernal is in the wheel with Evenepoel just behind.
They're coming into the finish straight now.
Almeida leads them across the line but no gaps between the overall contenders.
Jai Hindley was the only GC rider who lost a few seconds after being caught up behind that crash, but he had already lost a chunk of time on stage 6.
That's the first win of Lafay's young career and also the first for Cofidis at the Giro since 2010 (not that they've done it every year since then). They've endured a similar wait at the Tour de France, although they did have a Grand Tour stage win more recently at the 2019 Vuelta. Either way, it's huge for rider and team.
Let's hear from the winner
"It's incredible. It was a very tough day. To make the break was very difficult but when it went, the peloton gave us seven minutes so it was good, we could recover a little. The finish was hard but it was about a 10-minute effort, which is where I'm best. I was focused all day for this effort and I'm really happy I did that.
"I knew the others were not climbers but Oliveira I think was the best one so I kept an eye on him. I was confident with my legs and I attacked 3km to go, and I don't believe it now that I won."
1. Victor Lafay (Fra) Cofidis 4:06:47
2. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Eolo-Kometa Cycling Team 0:0:36
3. Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team DSM 0:0:37
4. Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar Team 0:0:41
5. Giovanni Carboni (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane 0:0:44
6. Kobe Goossens (Bel) Lotto Soudal 0:0:58
7. Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Team Qhubeka Assos 0:01:00
8. Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team 0:01:54
9. Fernando Gaviria Rendon (Col) UAE Team Emirates 0:03:04
10. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:04:48
General Classification after stage 8
1. Attila Valter (Hun) Groupama-FDJ 26:59:18
2. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:00:11
3. Egan Bernal Gomez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers 0:00:16
4. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech 0:00:24
5. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-Nippo 0:00:38
6. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain Victorious 0:00:39
7. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo 0:00:41
8. Daniel Martin (Irl) Israel Start-up Nation 0:00:47
9. Simon Yates (GBr) Team BikeExchange 0:00:49
10. Louis Vervaeke (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix 0:00:50
Only one change at the top of the GC there, as Vervaeke loses 25 seconds and slips from fifth to 10th.
And now we can hear from Valter, who successfully defended the pink jersey.
"I hope I never get used to this feeling. In the first days, I was wondering what it feels like to be Filippo Ganna in Italy and now a little bit I get this feeling, with many people shouting my name. It was a hard day but I enjoyed every moment of it.
"Like the grandmaster Alejandro Valverde says, tactically we were perfect today. Wet the perfect break go with nine riders well down on GC, then we controlled all day, stayed out of trouble, in front, and arriving quite fresh to the final climb. I just had to survive that one but I'm happy that happened and I stay one more day in the maglia rosa."
🇮🇹 #Giro@LouisVervaeke suffered a crash early on the stage today, resulting in pain on his hand, hip and back. Hang on Louis, only 2 days until the rest day. pic.twitter.com/eD9wGYC3k7May 15, 2021
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