#Giro2021 Stage 9: Ascending the Apennines in the Land of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

I love waking up on a Saturday morning, making my tea, and sitting down to watch a good bike race. Thanks to Eurosport/GCN+ I can watch every stage of the Giro d’Italia live: something I couldn’t do before. No worries about spoilers on social media because, for the first time, I’m seeing things as they happen: breakaways, crashes, team tactics playing out.

That makes me oh so happy!

Here’s a quick recap of Saturday’s Stage 8:

Caleb Ewan, winner of two sprint stages thus far, did not start the race. Rumors are he was experiencing knee pain, but no one expected him to ride the Giro to completion. His intention was to win a stage and depart, focusing his energy on training for the Tour de France. It’s a little disappointing because he took the maglia ciclamino with his victory on Stage 7 and he seems to be the fastest man in the peloton at the moment. Let’s hope he recovers soon.

Early on, a few riders broke away from the pack, hoping the peloton would refuse to chase. They were allowed a six-minute leeway before the peloton motored up, led by Team Groupama FDJ, who were defending Attila Valter and his maglia rosa. They were monitored (and sometimes assisted) by the Ineos Grenadiers and Deceuninck teams – who just happen to have the next-highest placed riders in the overall classification (Bernal and Evenepoel).

No real drama in the peloton, though; at the end of the day Valter kept the pink jersey and there were no changes in the standings. But there was some drama emanating from the breakaway!

Fernando Gaviria of Team UAE (and sprinter extraordinaire) sped ahead, hoping to lose everyone on the descent. Turns out he overshot a turn and took a nasty spill into the rock wall barrier. Seemingly no worse for wear, he got back on his bike and caught up with the group again. Then there were attempts by Victor Campenaerts and Alexis Gougeard, to no avail.

The infighting subsided as the group began the final climb to the finish. It was then, after all the others had tried and failed, that Victor Lafay of Team Cofidis made his move. He’d been so quiet that I hadn’t realized he was in the group. Apparently neither had the other riders.

By the time Lafay accelerated, the other riders were incapable of responding. He rode like a champion all the way to the finish. What a great (an unexpected) conclusion to the stage, especially for French cycling fans. Cofidis hasn’t won a grand tour stage in years, and this victory was a feather in their collective cap. I’ll definitely have my eye on Lafay as we move further into the mountains. My bet is the other climbers will, too.

Looking Ahead to Sunday and Stage 9

This will be a long day of climbing: there are four categorized ascents along the route, including the final kilometers up to Rocca di Cambio. The more jagged the profile map, the more pain for the peloton, is what I say. Have a look:

Up and down, all day long. Get ready for the pain! (map: http://www.giroditalia.it.en)

Yes, this stage will have the climbers licking their chops. But it will likely prompt the teams of the top GC contenders (I’m looking at you, Ineos Grenadiers!) to attack Attila Valter in the maglia rosa. Egan Bernal sits just 11 seconds behind Valter in the classification and, in my opinion, has a much stronger team around him. Expect them to bring the pain, led by Filippo Ganna and Gianni Moscon, controlling the pace and launching leg-breaking attacks. This will be the first serious shake-up in the GC race: who’s got the fortitude to last two more weeks?

Bernal, Remco Evenepoel of Deceunick, and Simon Yates of Bike Exchange are good bets to be in the action. And never count out Dan Martin of Israel Start-up Nation.

For a Big Stage We Need a Big Red: Codice Citra Caroso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP Riserva (14.3% abv; $29 SRP)

Grapes for this Riserva come from vines more than 55 years old that cling to steep, coastal slopes nestled among ancient olive trees and fields of wild flowers. The name Caroso reflects the special place this vineyard holds in the heart of the growers: caro means elegant, rich, or valued – an apt description for this wine.

A lot of bang for the buck at $29 retail.

Made from 100% Montepulciano grapes, this wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and then transferred to French oak for 24 months. After bottling, the wine rested an additional 12 months before release.

Color: Unabashedly purple at the core, with glints of violet at the rim.

Nose: A lovely mélange of black fruit – plum, blackberry, and cherry – alongside a savory, herbal element. There’s a little bit of smoke and just a touch of grilled meat.

Palate: The first sip hits you hard, with a rush of acidity and tannin that set about cleansing the palate. And then the fruit arrives, lush and ripe, with blackberry, currant, plum, and a trace of black olive. Over time, spicy notes emerge, and the fruit flavors soften – more dried fruit than fresh.

Pair the Caroso with pizza, steak, or pan-seared duck breast. I opted for the Divine Swine pie from a local restaurant, a hedonistic combo of pepperoni, salami, coppa, bacon, and arugula. All I can say is that the wine was the perfect foil to the salty, fatty goodness. Delizioso!

Smoky, porky goodness! Perfect for a tannic, high-acid wine like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

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