Jai Hindley (Bora–Hansgrohe), triumphed atop Blockhaus on stage 9 of the Giro d'Italia, beating Romain Bardet (Team DSM) to second place, and Richard Carapaz (Ineos-Grenadiers) into third, in an astoundingly tight sprint atop the summit finish of the race.
Behind them, Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) had an exceptional ride, managing to retain the maglia rosa despite a decisive attack from Carapaz. Meanwhile, Simon Yates (Bike Exchange-Jayco) saw his chances for the general classification diminish as he finished around 11 minutes down on the leading riders.
"I was just trying to survive as best I could," said Jai Hindley after the finish. "I knew it was flattening out in the last kilometres and there was a right-hander before the finish with around 200m to go.
"I wanted to take the corner first and I gave it everything to the line - and here we are," the Australian rider added. "It's pretty incredible. It wasn't the easiest year I had last year. I worked my arse off to get back to the level to compete at the Giro and I'm at a loss for words. It's pretty amazing."
Hindley moved up to fifth position in the overall general classification, only 20 seconds off the race lead, with the ranking elsewhere at the top overall race lead seeing a considerable shake-up - with López, Almeida and Bardet now forming the top three in the GC.
Bardet, meanwhile, felt slightly disheartened by the sprint result. "It's hard to accept," he said after the stage. "I made a big error at the last corner. I didn't want to make the tempo on the climb because I felt I had the sprint. I went too far on the last corner, so it's a shame."
Bardet felt the lead group didn't work together well in the final kilometres, meaning Hindley could make his way back to the leading trio of Bardet, Carapaz and Mikel Landa. "It's a real shame to get in a big group like that and not win," he said. "We didn't really work together, everyone was on the limit. There aren't many chances to win and it's a shame. I am disappointed not to win."
Doubt was cast on Lopez’s overall race lead following the stage, though, when he used his post-race interview to apologise to Sam Oomen (Jumbo-Visma) for an altercation during the race, where he threw a bottle at the rider. His description of the incident caused some to speculate as to whether he may receive a fine and time penalty from the race commissaires. “I want to say sorry to Sam Oomen because after we touched each other and I had to put one foot on the ground, I threw my bottle,” he said.
The exciting mountaintop finish followed a long day in the breakaway for a handful of riders, including Joe Dombrowski (Astana Qazaqstan), Natnael Tesfatsion (Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli) and Diego Rosa (Eolo–Kometa). They stretched their lead out to around six minutes, only to have the main group of general classification contenders tear the lead to shreds on the final ascent to Roccamorice, ahead of the Blockhaus final.
How it unfolded
A 191km stage, with over 5,000m of climbing, stood out as the hardest stage in the Giro d'Italia so far and was certain to tempt only the very strongest climbers to vie for stage victory while providing a battleground for all of the general classification contenders.
Departing straight into the category 3 climb of Valico del Macerone after only a 3.4km neutralised zone, the race saw attacks from the gun.
A crash within the first 15km caused concern for the peloton, with a handful of riders coming down after a touch of wheels. The biggest name to land on the tarmac was Pello Bilbao, but all the riders were able to continue, albeit with a few patches of road rash.
An initial group set off containing eight riders, with Matthew Holmes (Lotto Soudal) taking the KOM points over the first climb. But of those, Diego Rosa (Eolo–Kometa) broke away solo to quickly establish a gap of 20 seconds over the chasing group. He led over the 17.8km Rionero Sannitico, where Rosa took the KOM honours and looked sure to claim the polka dot jersey.
It was Joe Dombrowski (Astana Qazaqstan) and Natnael Tesfatsion (Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli) who managed to bridge across to Rosa with 167km to go and drive a three-man breakaway as they approached the base of Roccaraso.
A chasing group of six managed to bridge up to the leading three as the race reached the 7.7km at 6% ascent of Roccaraso. The break became a group of nine, containing Felix Gall (AG2R Citroën Team), Joe Dombrowski, Jonathan Caicedo (EF Education-EasyPost), Nans Peters (AG2R Citroën Team), James Knox (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team), Tesfatsion, Rosa, Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè) and Eduardo Sepúlveda (Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli).
Gall, 6:48 down in the general classification, was the biggest threat to the overall race leaders, and so the peloton was happy to allow the breakaway to drift away. The gap swelled to 4:30, 35km into the race.
Rosa swept up the KOM points atop Roccaraso, and back in the main peloton Trek-Segafredo kept control of the gap over the next 25km, with the gap growing to a maximum of a little under six minutes.
With 100km to go, the gap was 4:30 - placing the break in a precarious situation given the likely battles amongst the GC contenders in the main group.
Sepúlveda took the intermediate sprint at Filetto shortly after the 100km mark, where the race clocked an average speed of around 37kph. A fast descent from Filetto from the main group saw the breakaway's gap shrink to under three minutes. It now seemed unlikely the gap would hold, and indeed unlikely to hold their lead over the penultimate climb of the Passo Lanciano (10.3km at 7.6%) which began to turn up its gradients with around 60km remaining in the race.
Peters and Tesfatsion attacked the breakaway as the climb commenced and established around 20 seconds over the lead group, with the main peloton 2:30 behind.
As the leading two groups took to the Passo Lanciano, Sepúlveda quickly managed to bridge up to the race leaders, and with around 50km to go, Rosa also managed to bridge the gap back to the front trio.
He didn't waste much time, attacking moments after joining the leading three, and worked well with Tesfatsion to lead over the summit. The two managed to push the gap to the main group out to 3:20 by the top of the Lanciano.
Tesfatsion attacked Rosa on the descent, but unfortunately misjudged a corner at 36km to go and flew into a roadside hedge. Thankfully his fall was cushioned by thick bushes and was able to remount and continue racing, albeit well out of contention for the stage win.
Rosa reached the base of the climb to Roccamorice solo, with only 1:43 over the main peloton and a daunting continuous ascent to Blockhaus ahead of him.
The battle for Blockhaus
Unsurprisingly, Rosa and the breakaway riders saw their lead cut to shreds within the first few kilometres of the climb to Roccamorice, in the shadow of Blockhaus.
Just under 20km to go, Joe Dombrowski caught and then attacked Rosa, but his lead over the main group was a slim 35 seconds. He enjoyed a brief period out solo in the spotlight but was pulled in with a relentless pace being set by the GC henchmen.
By the 16km to go mark, the peloton was one mass, albeit rapidly spitting domestiques from the rear of the group.
Ineos began to ramp up the pressure as the peloton passed Roccamorice and began the 13.6km, 8.4% climb to the summit finish.
An early casualty of the GC pace was Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) who fell out of the lead group with 12km remaining.
Only minutes later, Simon Yates also found himself off the back of the pack, perhaps struggling with his knee injury picked up on stage 4. Wilco Kelderman lasted only a kilometre or so more before he too fell off the pace of the GC selection.
Yates hovered down around 25 seconds off several kilometres, while Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) also fell off the pace with 8km remaining as a touch of wheels disturbed his rhythm.
With 4.5km to go on the ascent, Carapaz made a major move but was accompanied by a resilient Romain Bardet and Mikel Landa. Yates, meanwhile, drifted back three minutes off the race leaders.
With 2km to go, six riders formed the leading group, with João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), Jai Hindley (Bora–Hansgrohe), and Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) joining the race leaders.
Landa made another aggressive move with 1.5km remaining, but Carapaz reacted quickly, with Bardet also able to keep pace.
From there, the leading group of six came together, with no one able to make a successful attack. Significantly, Jai Hindley was able to make his way back to the front of the race. The six riders approached the line in a sprint finish, with Hindley getting the better of both Carapaz and Bardet in an astoundingly narrow finish.
Results powered by FirstCycling (opens in new tab)
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Peter Stuart has been editor of Cyclingnews since March 2022, overseeing editorial output across all of Cyclingnews' digital touchpoints.
Before joining Cyclingnews, Peter was the digital editor of Rouleur magazine. Starting life as a freelance feature writer, with bylines in The Times and The Telegraph, he first entered cycling journalism in 2012, joining Cyclist magazine as staff writer. Peter has a background as an international rower, representing Great Britain at Under-23 level and at the Junior Rowing World Championships.
Latest on Cyclingnews
Valverde out of hospital after Saturday’s hit and runMovistar rider reportedly faces limited interruption to Vuelta a España preparation
Ellingworth: Geraint Thomas is the best I've ever seen himIneos director says all three leaders 'deserve an opportunity'
AusCycling renewal continues with Bates, Gardner appointed to head coach rolesRae-Szalinski appointed Director of Pathways and new equipment role created after Tokyo Olympic bar break
BikeExchange-Jayco goes wild after Groenewegen’s big Tour de France sprint win'Our resilience paid off and we won' says elated team owner Ryan after squad's screams of joy rang through finish area