'New Portuguese generation' of Guerreiro, Almedia headline Giro's ninth stage

Roccaraso (Italy) (AFP) –

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Ruben Guerreiro hailed a "new generation of Portuguese riders" after he won the ninth stage of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday and compatriot Joao Almeida held the overall leader's pink jersey.

Guerreiro, 26, sealed his first stage win after a tight battle in rainy and cold conditions, crossing eight seconds ahead of Spain's Jonathan Castroviejo in a summit finish at the Aremogna ski resort in the Abruzzo region.

Dane Mikkel Bjerg of UAE Team Emirates finished third at 58sec after the 208km run from from San Salvo to Roccaraso, with Almeida's 19th position, nearly two minutes adrift, enough to keep hold of the overall race lead.

"For Portuguese cycling, it's great," said Education First rider Guerreiro.

"It had been over thirty years since there had been a Portuguese victory in the Giro.

"And Joao is also pink jersey. We know each other very well. There are very talented riders in the new Portuguese generation."

Deceuninck-Quick Step's Almeida faltered on the final 9.6km climb, but limited the damage to hold a 30-second lead on Dutch rider Wilco Kelderman before Monday's rest day.

Spaniard Pello Bilbao is positioned third at 39sec going into Tuesday's 10th stage, still in Abruzzo, over 177km from Lanciano to Tortoreto Lido.

"I'm happy for my compatriot Guerreiro, he deserves the win!" said 22-year-old Almeida.

"The team did an incredible job, they were perfect and it is thanks to my team-mates that now I still wear the Maglia Rosa."

The riders had set a speedy early pace hitting 50.6km an hour in the first hour before a breakaway of eight riders formed including Guerreiro and Castroviejo, with Bjerg joining them later.

Almeida's team controlled the peloton before Vincenzo Nibali's Trek-Segafredo team took over with 40km to go.

The peloton arrived at the foot of the final 9.6km climb with a 5.7 percent gradient with a four-minute gap on the leading group.

- 'Harsh conditions' -

On the final climb to Aremogna, seconds separated the favourites with Dane Jakob Fuglsang and Kelderman gaining the upper hand on Nibali, the only grand tour winner left after the retirement of the British riders Geraint Thomas, through injury, and Simon Yates, after a positive coronavirus test.

Castroviejo followed by Guerreiro attacked with six kilometres to go without being able to shake off his rival who held on to earn the first Giro stage win for a Portuguese rider since Acacio da Silva's triumph 31 years ago.

It was the second stage win for Education First in this year's Giro after Ecuadorian Jonathan Caicedo won last Monday on the summit at Mount Etna.

Sicilian Nibali, Giro winner in 2013 and 2016, lost 14 seconds to Fuglsang in the difficult conditions at 1,658 metres altitude, but crossed in 16th place to sit sixth overall.

"Finally, what a great satisfaction after so many second places," said Guerreiro after narrowly missing out on stage successes of the Tirreno-Adriatico and Vuelta a Espana in the past 13 months.

"The team and I really deserved this victory. It was very difficult to get into the breakaway this morning and it's extraordinary to win today."

"The conditions were very harsh," added the rider from Madeira.

"I still feel the cold now."

Other young riders who impressed were 24-year-old Australian Jay Hindley, who accompanied Team Sunweb leader Kelderman throughout the final ascent, and Bjerg, 21, who placed third.