Stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia saw a smattering of GC action, and a first Grand Tour win for Tejay van Garderen
Dumoulin weathers the storm
Today was the stage touted as being the great test of Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) – if he could survive the five summits on the parcours with his pink jersey still intact, then he should be the favourite to wear it in Milan.
The Dutchman passed with flying colours. He remained in the group of favourites on the final climb, and managed not only to follow attacks made by Nairo Quintana (Movistar), but was even able to toy with his rivals and make his own moves.
Movistar had earlier executed a plan to put Dumoulin under pressure, sending key domestiques Andrey Amador and Winner Anacona into the early break, and then having Quintana attack and bridge up to them on the third climb of the day.
The situation briefly looked very dangerous for Dumoulin, as the Bahrain-Merida duo of Vincenzo Nibali and Kanstantsin Siutsou joining the Movistar trio in the same group which the pink jersey – having already run out of team-mates – was forced to chase on his own. But Dumoulin showed incredible strength and calmness to bring them all back before the summit, while also retaining enough resources for the final two climbs.
The race isn’t over, with two more huge days in the mountains to come prior to the final time trial, but the pendulum has swung firmly in Dumoulin’s favour.
Tejay van Garderen bounces back
The race had, up until now, been disastrous for Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), whose expected bid for GC rapidly fizzled out as early as the second week.
But the American has resiliently shown an eagerness to salvage things by getting into breakaways, and today proved to be the strongest from the large group that went up the road, sprinting ahead of Mikel Landa (Team Sky) for victory.
So disheartened was van Garderen that he even questioned his future as a Grand Tour leader a few days ago. It was clear how much this stage win meant to him, when he emotionally buried his head in his hands after crossing the finish line – even if he does abandon his goal of riding high on GC in the future, he proved today that he has much to offer in Grand Tours.
Groundhog Day for Mikel Landa
Two days ago, Mikel Landa rode at the front for most of the queen stage of the Alps, claimed most of the mountain points, but lost out on the stage win in a two-man sprint after allowing Vincenzo Nibali to sneak ahead of him on the final corner.
Today, Landa rode at the front for most of the stage through the Dolomites, again claimed most of the mountain points, and again lost out on the stage win in a two-man sprint as his competitor – this time van Garderen – used the last corner to get ahead of him.
Watch: Giro d’Italia stage 18 highlights
To lose out in such similar circumstances will come as a bitter disappointment to Team Sky, having worked so well all day to set Landa up for the win. At the start of the day, when the break was being gradually formed, they first sent Diego Rosa up the road, then Philip Deignan, and eventually Landa, who profited from work from that duo before striking out with van Garderen on the descent to the final climb.
There was the consolation that he substantially expanded his lead in the mountains classification, but his attitude suggested that a stage win is what he really wants. He – and Sky – have just three days left to bag one.
Orica-Scott’s continued hard work partially rewarded
Ruben Plaza was particularly impressive with one of the rides of the day, as he spent the section between the third and penultimate climb and in-between descent and valley yo-yoing between being dropped and clawing his way back up for another last ditch turn at the front.
But his work was in vain as Yates was dropped on the final climb.
Or was it? Although Orica-Scott appeared to have a stage win in sight, their work also helped to distance best young rider leader Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) enough for Yates to inherit the white jersey.
That classification ought to be some battle, with Yates needing to gain time on Jungels ahead of the final time trial, and with Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Drapac) also still in the frame.
A spectacular day in the Dolomites
Today was billed as one of the best stages of the Giro, and it lived up to expectation – both in terms of racing and scenery.
There’s much contention and confusion regarding what exactly is a ‘Dolomite’, but there is no argument that today showcased many of the best of them. The views were beautiful all day, with the mountains’ uniquely pleasing look providing the backdrop for the racing.
The racing was great too, with action right from the start line as stage-seeking riders looked to breakaway, the GC race kicking off early thanks to Quintana’s initial attack with over 50km to go, and an absorbing dual on the final climb.
It feels a long time now since the slow trudge through Sardinia – no spectator can claim to feel short changed now.