Rigoberto Uran is sitting pretty in second overall at the Giro d'Italia as the race goes into its tenth stage and the Colombian now harbours real hope to claim the maglia rosa in Trieste on June 1.
The Omega Pharma–Quick-Step climber is currently 57 seconds behind leader Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and Uran will be optimistic knowing there is some serious climbing still to come.
On stage nine – 172 kilometres from Lugo to Sestola – Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r – La Mondiale) accelerated away from the leading group containing most of the general classification contenders with less than five kilometres to go and gained time on all the favourites.
Pieter Weening (Orica–GreenEDGE) and Davide Malacarne (Team Europcar) competed for the stage win, with the Dutchman getting the better of the Italian to take his second career Giro stage win, but the real struggle was happening behind the duo.
Pozzovivo's successful attack earned him 30 seconds on all of the overall contenders, including Evans in the pink jersey, as the other teams had no answer to the Italian's burst of pace but could only attempt to contain the gap.
"As I said yesterday, you never know how a race can be even if it looks easier on paper," said Urán to reporters. "Even today was a difficult stage. The group took a good tempo until the last climb.
“The steepest part of the climb was between eight and four kilometres from the finish. Pozzovivo attacked on that part. I didn't follow him and I sat in the bunch to see if somebody would react to his attack.
"Nobody followed him, so at that point I tried to accelerate a bit to see the reaction of the other GC guys. Nothing really happened, so I asked Poels to set the tempo and try to contain the gap from Pozzovivo. The team was again great today. I can really count on the guys and I'm happy about it."
Uran is pleased with a Giro that got off to a good start for him and Omega Pharma–Quick-Step team, when their second place in the team time trial put the Colombian climber in a good position to launch a serious attempt for his first grand tour win.
Uran also managed to successfully negotiate all the crashes in a chaotic first week of the Giro and is now aims to make it to the final week still in a strong position in the general classification.
"Today in a certain way the first part of the Giro is closed," Urán said. "I think that so far we rode a good Giro. We are in good GC position. We didn't try to do too much, or too little either.
“We stayed consistent. We survived a few nasty crashes and the most important thing, we have a great atmosphere in the team. The high mountains are still far away, but it was very important in this first part of the Giro to not lose time and not be surprised.
“I think we accomplished our mission so far. We are looking forward to the next stages."
His team management agree with their climber and are satisfied with the rider's progress so far in the race.
“I think if you saw how Uran started this year, he didn't have the easiest approach. But he's getting better and better. He must be feeling good. I think, after a rest day and flat stage, he can get even better than what we've seen so far,” Omega Pharma-Quick-Step directeur sportif Tom Steels said in his blog on the team’s website.
This is the first time in many years that the Belgian team has a serious contender for a grand tour. Michal Kwiatkowski could well become a regular contender in the future but Uran's arrival has meant that the team has had to adjust from the one-day classics of Parix-Roubaix and Flanders to actually taking the front in a grand tour. It has been a steep learning curve.
“I think we can be very happy with how the team is functioning right now as well. We came together quickly. For most of them this is the first time they've had to go for a GC,” said Steels.
“With the way they worked together for one rider, it shows a great team spirit. So, there is plenty we can do to improve our situation. But if you see it as a team, how they've grown and unified, it's really impressive.
“I think as a team we will learn a lot from the Giro in three weeks. To stay in the hunt for the GC you have to always pay attention. The GC is already difficult. There is not one day you can let down the tension of the focus. But I must say, up until now, it's been a great experience.”
Following the rest day after stage 9, the riders face a flat stage best suited for the sprinters. The maglia rosa contenters, however, cannot afford to let their concentration slip as crashes can ruin a rider's chances in an instance.
They then return to the mountains on Wednesday before Thursday's time trial that Steels claims will be crucial in deciding the winner of the Giro.
“I think the time trial will be very decisive. Even with so many mountains,” he said. “You see in the mountains, if no GC guy really goes into crisis, the gaps are not that big. They can all stick together. There can be one that goes ahead and of course, if they are in a breakaway that stays away, you can lose everything.
“That's normal. But I think the time trial will really be where the GC plays out because, if you are 40 seconds in the lead, you can still lose 30 seconds on the climb of the parcours.”
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