No joy for Aussie sprinters as Kooij blasts to Giro win

Australia's top sprinters at the Giro d'Italia are still waiting to break their duck in this year's edition, with Kaden Groves and Caleb Ewan both unable to get near soaring Dutch cyclist Olav Kooij as he raced to victory on stage nine.

The 22-year-old Kooij took the bunch sprint to enjoy his first success on his grand tour debut on Sunday, while Tadej Pogacar maintained his substantial overall lead and Australian Ben O'Connor remained fourth place in the standings.

But hopes of a first Aussie victory at the 107th edition of the Italian tour were dashed again, with Alpecin-Deceuninck's Groves finishing seventh and Jayco AlUla's Ewan 11th amid the hectic finale in Naples.

The pair are world-class performers, with 16 stage wins in Grand Tours between them, but amid a particularly loaded field of top sprinters, it is looking increasingly difficult to top Groves's runner's up spot in Tuesday's fourth stage.

Ewan has had an even tougher time, with just one top-10 finish so far in his four sprint stages going into Monday's rest day.

Kooij (Visma-Lease a Bike) edged out Lidl-Trek's Milan by half a wheel at the end of the 214km route from Avezzano - the second longest day of this Giro - with Juan Sebastian Molano was third.

It was a 33rd professional win for Kooij, who's already been building a big reputation before this debut Grand Tour. "This one is really one I was dreaming of," he said.

Jhonatan Narvaez had appeared to be the likely victor as he broke away with 7.7km left, but though he had a gap of 12 seconds heading into the final kilometre, it was race leader Pogacar who spearheaded the chase from a charging peloton to try to lead his sprinter teammate Molano to victory.

Pogacar remains 2 minutes 40 seconds ahead of Dani Martinez overall, with Geraint Thomas 2:58 behind and Perth's O'Connor still fourth at 3:39 going into the rest day.

"It's a comfortable gap to go to the rest day, I'm really looking forward for an easy day tomorrow," Pogacar said. "Just relax and try to not think about the race for one day, but it is going to be hard."

After Monday's break, Tuesday's 10th stage starts in Pompei and is just 142km but features a second-category climb in the middle before a category-one ascent to the finish at Cusano Mutri.

"It's good to be for rest day in Napoli and let's hope for some good pizza and good cappuccino," Pogacar smiled.

With Agencies