Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) secured a shock victory on stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia, after the peloton miscalculated the speed at which the breakaway could finish the race.
Four riders formed a breakaway early in the race, with De Bondt, Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost), Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) and Davide Gabburo (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè) staying two minutes ahead of the peloton for the majority of the race. The final flat 45km looked like this wouldn't come to fruition, but despite a mighty effort from the peloton, it failed to catch up the leaders.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, Groupama-FDJ, Team DSM and UAE Team Emirates all worked especially hard at the head of the peloton during the final 30km to bring their fast-men into play for the finale of the stage, but their efforts were ultimately in vain.
De Bondt's victory is the first Grand Tour stage win of his career, as he outsprinted Affini, Cort and Gabburo. A throw on the line aided his efforts, finishing just half a wheel ahead of Affini.
Meanwhile, Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) had seemingly lost a minute to Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) on GC in the closing kilometres, but a puncture means he won't lose any time and stays just three seconds behind the Ecuadorian.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia presented a much calmer affair for the peloton, after dealing with three mountain days and an intense day in Turin before that, interspersed with a rest day. The ride from Borgo Valsugana to Treviso offered a relatively flat route, meaning stage 18 looked like a day for the sprinters, especially considering the final 45km required no climbing whatsoever.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) came into stage 18 in the maglia rosa, but he had Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) breathing down his neck, the Australian just three seconds behind overall.
The major news at the start of the stage was that João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) had abandoned the race after testing positive for Covid-19. The Portuguese sat 1-54 down on Carapaz on GC, and comfortably led the young classification, but felt unwell yesterday and returned a positive test this morning.
Stage 18 started as expected, with multiple attacks for a breakaway. Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) and Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) were the ones to make their move stick, and were soon joined by Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) and Davide Gabburo (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè).
Groupama-FDJ and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, accompanied by Team DSM, started to control the peloton during the first half of the race, ensuring the break didn't get too far ahead to offer their fast-men - Arnaud Démare, Mark Cavendish and Alberto Dainese - the best opportunity come the end of the race. All three have already won a stage at this year's Giro so far, with Démare searching for his fourth victory.
De Bondt won the Le Scale di Primolano De Bondt KOM sprint, but the fact it only offered three points gave reason as to why mountains classification leader Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) didn't contest it further back. The Dutchman is over 100 points ahead in that classification, and seems to set to wear the blue jersey for the rest of the race.
During the first half of the race, the time gap fluctuated around the two-minute mark. The peloton produced an average pace of 45kmh in the opening 90 minutes, and it seemed like the quartet out front weren't too keen on continuing with the break with such a limited advantage.
Gabburo led De Bondt, Cort and Affini across the Valdobbiadene intermediate sprint point, but they couldn't extend the gap to the bunch, with Groupama-FDJ and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl still keeping the race within their control. UAE Team Emirates also started to get involved, with Fernando Gaviria their sprinter for the day.
Approaching the Muro di Ca' del Poggio, a 1.1km climb at 11.7% average gradient, the breakaway's lead stood at two minutes 30 seconds. De Bondt passed the summit first, but just like the first categorised climb, minimal points was on offer. The peloton also managed to make it up the short, sharp ascent fine, too, with the gap still around the 2-30 mark.
Heading into the final 30km, the speed started to drastically increase, with both groups riding along at 55kmh. The peloton attempted to chase down the break so their sprinters had optimal time, while the break were trying to maintain their distance at the front. Their lead did drop to 1-30 going with 22km remaining, but the speed certainly ensured the bunch had to work hard.
With the pace ever-increasing, the peloton started to reduce. Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) dropped off the back, with his teammates also dropping back to help him back into the peloton a minute and 20 seconds further up the road. Into the final 13km, the breakaway's lead stood at 1-10, as they started the second and final lap of the circuit around Treviso.
Their lead failed to fall below a minute over the next 7km, despite Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, Groupama-FDJ and UAE Team Emirates working extremely hard to bring the peloton into play.
With 4km to go, López was 2-48 back, while the peloton was still 45 seconds behind the breakaway. This kept coming down during the final kilometres, but not enough for the leaders to expect the sprinters to fly past them.
Ultimately, it was Dries De Bondt who took the victory. All four riders gunned for the line around 400m out, but both Cort and Gabburo didn't have the legs to hold on. That left De Bondt and Affini, who finished with just half a wheel between them, but the Alpecin-Fenix rider snatched the win to claim his first-ever Grand Tour victory.
Richard Carapaz looked to have gained time on Jai Hindley in the closing stages of the race, with the Australian falling off the back of the peloton. However, it transpired that Hindley suffered a puncture in the closing kilometres, meaning he won't lose any time, under UCI regulations. Therefore, he still just three seconds behind Carapaz in the hunt for the maglia rosa.
GIRO D'ITALIA 2022, STAGE 18: BORGO VALSUGANA TO TREVISO (156KM)
1. Dries De Bondt (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, in 3-21-21
2. Edoardo Affini (Ita) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
3. Magnus Cort (Den) EF Education-EasyPost
4. Davide Gabburo (Ita) Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè
5. Alberto Dainese (Ita) Team DSM, at 14 seconds
6. Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at same time
7. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Cofidis
8. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
9. Fernando Gaviria (Col) UAE Team Emirates
10. Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 18
1. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, in 76-41-15
2. Jai Hindley (Aus) BORA-hansgrohe, at 3 seconds
3. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1-05
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan Team, at 5-48
5. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain-Victorious, at 6-19
6. Jan Hirt (Cze) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, at 7-12
7. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) BORA-hansgrohe, at 7-13
8. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, at 12-30
9. Juan Pedro López (Spa) Trek-Segafredo, at 15-10
10. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-EasyPost, at 17-03
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