Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) won the penultimate stage of the 2018 Giro d’Italia, having attacked and dropped his breakaway companions on the second of three cat one climbs – whilst Chris Froome and Team Sky rode a calculated race to maintain the pink jersey.
Stage 20’s 214 kilometre route from Susa to Cervina opened with over a metric century of flat roads, before a biting final 90km which packed a punch with 4000 metres of elevation gain.
After a major shake up on stage 19 – during which Chris Froome took control of the pink jersey – the lead was still far from cemented for the Team Sky rider.
Despite the maglia rosa resting on new shoulders, Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) still sat in second place on the GC – but now 40s back.
A break formed after around 20km of racing, swelling to contain a total of 27 riders before the climbs slimmed the group down to ten, three, and finally one – Mikel Nieve – who went on to ride solo to the finish.
Behind him, the remains of the break held on – Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Felix Grosschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) rolling in second and third respectively.
In the peloton, Astana kept the pace high for much of the race – riding for Miguel Angel Lopez, who leapfrogged Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) to take third place on the GC, behind Dumoulin.
Team Sky took over on the final climb, and try as he might, Dumoulin was never able to break into Froome’s lead.
How it happened
The first move of the day consisted of five riders: Elia Viviani (Quick-Step FLoors), Matteo Montaguti (AG2R La Mondiale), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Davide Ballerini (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) and Jacopo Mosca (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia).
With 30km to go, they’d created a 23s gap between themselves and the peloton – after which more riders began attempting to bridge – swelling the escapees to 27 in total.
By the time the peloton – driven by Astana – reached the intermediate sprint, there was five minutes gap between the two halves of the race.
When the break entered the early slopes of the first climb – Col Tsecore – its cohesion began to shatter, and riders were shelled from the group.
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) – no longer in the pink jersey he’d held since stage six – was not able to stick with the pace on the climb, reminiscent of his experience the previous day.
Eventually, a selection was made – the new front group featuring Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott), Michael Woods (EF-Drapac), Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates), Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), Laurits Lammertink (Katusha-Alpecin), Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani-CSF), Felix Grossschartner (Bora-hansgrohe), Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Koen Bouwman and Robert Gesink, (LottoNL-Jumbo) – they had 4-45 on the peloton.
Mohric opened up a gap, though was caught before Visconti and Lammertink lost contact. Reaching the top of the day’s first climb, Ciccone came to the front to claim the maximum KOM points – whilst the peloton continued to let the elastic stretch, with a gap of 5-30.
Moving into the descent, Mohoric had another crack at separating himself from the rest of the bunch, this time gaining half a minute – whilst the peloton had lost 6-30 with 44km remaining and still two major climbs.
Mohric’s lead began to dwindle, to 20s as he hit the opening ramps of the Col Saint Pantaleon with 41km to go.
Back in the peloton, Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) – who entered the stage in third on GC – appeared to be struggling with the pace, which was driven by Astana, riding to get best young rider rider Lopez from fourth to a podium position in the overall classification.
Despite the support of three team mates around him, Pinot quickly lost a minute on the peloton – a gap which become elongated as the day went on.
By the final slopes of the Col Saint Pantaleon, with 37km to go, Mohoric had been caught and dropped by the break, with Nieve, Brambilla, and Grosschartner taking charge to form a new front group on the road – now 6-14 ahead of the Astana spearheaded peloton.
Nieve – not content to complete the stage as one part of a trio – made a move with 32km to go, and by 30km he was alone – 7-30 ahead of the GC bunch, and building to over eight minutes on the descent towards the final climb.
The gap held steady, at the 6km to go mark Neive had 8-14 on the peloton. Further back – as Team Sky took over crowd control – Dumoulin attacked, but Froome was immediately on his wheel.
With a select group of riders dangling off the peloton, Dumoulin went for more digs, Froome coming to the fore before another kick from Dumoulin with 5km left.
The battle continued – at 3km Dumoulin tried again, but Froome followed, rode past and the Dutch man appeared to be adrift of the group.
Dumoulin – who still had team mate Sam Oomen alongside him, whilst Froome had Wout Poels – was able to claw his way back, but never managed to ride past and away from the pink jersey as Gesink and Grosschartner rounded off the podium behind Neive’s solo celebration.
Giro d’Italia 2018, stage 20: Susa to Cervina (214km) results
1 Mikel Nieve (Rsp) Mitchelton-Scott in 5-43-38
2 Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 2-17
3 Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 2-41
4 Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Bardiani CSF at 3-45
5 Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 5-23
6 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky at 6-03
7 Chris Froome (GBr) Great Britain at
8 Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe
9 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
10 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar Team, same time
General Classification after stage 20
1 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky in 86-11-50
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb at 46s
3 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team at 4-57
4 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar Team at 5-44
5 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 8-03
6 Pello Bilboa (Esp) Astana Pro Team at 11-50
7 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 13-01
8 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo at 13-17
9 Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb at 14-18
10 Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe at 15-16