Giro stage 9 report: Kooij wins thriller sprint stage in Naples

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Late attacker Jhonatan Narváez was caught agonizingly close to the line as the sprinters got their chance.

Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a Bike) wins stage 9 of the 2024 Giro d’Italia. Photo: © Cor Vos

Naples delivered an absolute thriller of a finale for the third year in a row as the sprinters snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on the waterfront. With late attacker Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) still clear with 500m to go, the bunch needed the help of race leader Tadej Pogačar in closing down the Ecuadorian in the last 50 meters, leaving points leader Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek) to rock and roll towards the line, but it was Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a Bike) who was quickest, winning his first Grand Tour stage on his first try.

  • In what was expected to be a fierce fight for the early breakaway, a duo from Polti-Kometa was resolved to make their way into the move of the day. Manuele Tarozzi tried to go after them, but he was soon back in the fold as Alpecin-Deceuninck assumed command over the peloton, leaving Mirco Maestri and Andrea Petrobon to their own devices on the second-longest stage of the race.
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  • The platoon rumbled along at a conversational pace for a large chunk of the stage that crossed half the country from Avezzano to Naples, Alpecin-Deceuninck only having to police a couple of fairly half-hearted flurries of acceleration as teams without a sprinter tried to make something of the day.
  • There was a period of stress for the Ineos Grenadiers and the GC competition when Geraint Thomas got caught up in a crash just inside the last 60 km – teammate Tobias Foss and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Max Schachmann also touching the road – which would have been far less troubling if it weren’t so close to the intermediate sprint, which the sprinters’ teams were hurling themselves towards. Fortunately, there was a lull once Tim Merlier had collected maximum points, allowing both the gap for the leaders to stabilize and Thomas to regain contact with the bunch.
  • Drama finally returned to the racing in the hills around Naples in the last 40 km. A lifting put some big names out the back on the first climb, with Fabio Jakobsen one of the first to lose touch, soon followed by Merlier who’s nursing some nasty road rash after crashing during Friday’s time trial.
  • The gap to the leaders was almost closed when, with a little over 25 km left to race, Julian Alaphilippe chose his moment to go on the attack.
  • At first, his only company was the two Italians from the breakaway and Nic Conci who was less than inclined to help the Frenchman with his team so determined to bring Kaden Groves to the finish line for a sprint, but they were soon joined by Kevin Vermaeke , Lewis Askey and Ewen Costiou.
  • Unsurprisingly, it was a tough task to get the group to work together with any sort of efficiency, so Alaphilippe opted to attack again 20 km out, taking Costiou with him for a futile French raid.
  • Alaphilippe was the last man standing going into the last 10 km, but he seemed completely fried by the efforts to break free, such that when Jhonatan Narváez attacked the bunch, Alaphilippe seemed almost to go backwards.
  • Several tried to follow the stage 1 winner, but Narváez stayed alone, his advantage creeping up to 10 seconds and beyond with the finishing straight along the waterfront edging every closer, Lidl-Trek chasing desperately in the reduced bunch behind.
  • Narváez rounded the last U-turn alone and looking very much like he might stay away for his second victory of this Giro, but then Pogačar happened. Working for sprinter Juan Sebastian Molano, the pink jersey came to the front of the charging pack in the last few-hundred meters and he seemed to be the only rider capable of closing the gap. The Ecuadorian was caught perhaps just 20 meters from the line.
  • Milan led from the front after rounding his superlative lead-out man Simone Consonni (also a teammate in the Team Pursuit on the track), but as Milan pulled alongside and passed Narváez, Olav Kooij came sliding up the middle to take a memorable maiden Grand Tour victory.

Quote of the day

Olav Kooij described his stage win, achieved without the guidance of Christophe Laporte who was the second of two Visma-Lease a Bike riders forced to leave the race after Robert Gesink’s crash on the first weekend.

“We knew we had to improvise a bit, especially in the last kilometer. Normally with Christophe [Laporte]we had almost a certainty to get me in position but today we had to just not stick to one plan but see how the race evolved and do what was necessary.

“This was the step I was looking for, at least the win. “I was looking forward to my first grand tour and after some wins, I think this one is one I was really dreaming of.”

Brief analysis

  • Alpecin-Deceuninck did an awful lot of work for seventh place, and were ultimately foiled by an inspired route design and unfortunate positioning in the blisteringly fast finale. Meanwhile, they and all the sprinters all have the race leader to thank him for having a sprint win to fight for at all, his pull him in the finishing straight proving the final nail in Narváez’s coffin. It was a good place for Pogačar to be, at the front and away from danger in a tricky run-in, and once there, he was able to use a burst of his extraordinary power to his teammate’s advantage – Molano ultimately finishing third across the line. Once again, Pogačar writes his name in the story of the stage, win or not.

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