Pieter Weening lost contact with the overall contenders on the penultimate climb of the ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia. The difficult day included four categorised climbs, totalling over 1,200 metres of climbing. ORICA-GreenEDGE had hoped to put Jens Keukeleire into the early break and save Weening for the finish. Despite repeated attempts, Keukeleire missed out on the race-winning escape group, and Weening’s legs called it quits on the penultimate climb.
“On the second to last climb, Pieter just couldn’t do it anymore,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “He wasn’t having a good day, and that’s all there was to it. Unfortunately in this game, if you have a bad day on an easy day, you can sort of fake your way through it, but on a hard day, a bad day is brutal.”
Although the team had not started the three week tour with the intent of targeting the general classification, Weening’s form and results during the first week gave him a reasonable chance of posting a respectable overall result. After yesterday’s time trial left him only 1” outside the top ten, the Australian outfit started stage nine with a duel approach.
“We started today with the idea of doing two things over the next week,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “We wanted to maintain a decent overall results for Pieter and go for stage wins. Any GC hopes we might have had with Pieter are gone now, so we’ll simply readjust our motivation. We hadn’t expected to be riding for the overall and moving forward we’ll focus exclusively on stage wins.”
As he did on stage seven, Keukeleire raised his hand on stage nine for the early break. With several difficult days behind them and the rest day ahead, there was a sense that peloton might allow the escape group to stay away until the finish. If that were the case, Keukeleire was eager to be amongst the action.
“On Friday, we saw Jens get into several moves, and after his last move was brought back, the break of the day went away,” said Stephens. “That’s exactly what happened today. Jens got into a good move that gained maybe 30” over the bunch, but the peloton wasn’t happy with the composition. As soon as Jens’ break was caught, another group went away. Unfortunately, that was the move of the day, and the stage winner today came out of that move.”
Maxim Belkov (Katusha) was part of the 12 rider escape group that received the nod from the peloton late in the first hour of racing. The breakaway gained a maximum advantage of around five minutes ahead of the Vallombrosa. The first category climb shattered the group, and Belkov was one of only three riders who passed the GPM in advance of the peloton. Weening was safely ensconced in the bunch, two minutes behind the lead trio over the top of the second of four climbs.
Belkov made his move on the descent where he steadily built his advantage as he twisted and turned his way down to Pontassieve. Weening began to suffer in the on the lower slopes of the category three Vetta Le Croci. By the time the peloton reached the top of penultimate climb, the battle for the pink jersey had began to intensify and Weening had fallen off pace.
Belkov managed to maintain his solo lead and hold off his chasers that emerged from pack on the run in towards the finish. Cadel Evans (BMC) led home the pink jersey group, 1’03 down on Belkov.
“Pieter will spend the next few days recovering a little bit,” said Stephens. “He went pretty deep over the last couple days and produced a decent time trial yesterday. We’ll have him back off and ride himself back into good legs. I dare say that he may have a good chance for a stage win in the future now that he’s lost some time.”