George Bennett has hung tough as other contenders completely cracked on stage nine of the Giro d'Italia.

The Kiwi climber has crossed the line in seventh place on the mountain-top finish, 12 seconds behind Simon Yates, who won the stage to extend his lead atop the general classification to 32 seconds over teammate Esteban Chaves.

While Bennett will be disappointed to have lost a few seconds, it was nothing compared to two of the overall race favourites.

Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome was worst off, tumbling out of the top 10 after losing 67 seconds on the climb of the Gran Sasso d'Italia. For Froome, it continues a race in which he has never looked particularly strong, and barring a remarkable recovery his chances of winning a third straight Grand Tour look done and dusted.


Likewise, former Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru lost 74 seconds, while two riders who started the day ahead of Bennett - Pello Bilbao and Rohan Dennis - lost 52 and 62 seconds respectively. The end result saw Bennett jump up three spots into seventh overall on the general classification, one minute and 33 seconds behind Yates.

It was Yates who he tried to follow as he employed different tactics to the last mountain stage; a stage which saw him follow all the relevant attacks before not being able to match Yates in the final kilometre.

This time, Bennett hung around at the back of the peloton - only moving up when the final climb hit its toughest gradients. That final climb was a testing beast on a long day, with the 225 kilometre stage ending with 45.4 kilometres of climbing.

The majority was fairly steady at simple gradients, but it kicked up in the last four kilometres at extremely high altitude, with an average gradient of 8.2 per cent, including a max section of 13 per cent.

It was there where Bennett started to show his face, though this time around he tried to stay on the wheel of Yates as attacks flew off the front. It worked to begin with - Bennett stayed in the lead group as attacks from Thibaut Pinot, Miguel Angel Lopez and Giulio Ciccone were all negated.

By then, Froome and Aru were well gone, and just nine riders were left when Domenico Pozzovivo tried his luck with just over 500 metres to go.

At that point, Bennett couldn't keep up, though he had good company, with Lopez and defending champion Tom Dumoulin also finding the pace too high, and the trio crossing the line 12 seconds down.

In the end, it came down to a trio up front as well, and Yates showed why he is the best climber in the race at the moment, accelerating away to edge Pinot and Chaves and take a stage win to add to his overall lead.


Yates' 32 second buffer over second place is the same margin Bennett has over the eighth placed Dennis, and while he is slipping away from the title favourites, Bennett's chances of recording New Zealand's best ever Grand Tour result get better by the day.

The riders will enjoy a rest day tomorrow, before the race resumes with a hilly stage unlikely to create any gaps between the general classification contenders.

Niall Anderson is covering every stage of the Giro d'Italia live for the Herald. He plans to sleep for 20 hours on the rest day.
Niall's Giro d'Italia wraps
Stage eight
Stage seven
Stage six
Stage five
Stage four
Stage three
Stage two
Stage one