Five talking points from stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia 2020
The Giro d'Italia 2020 kicked into life on the queen stage over the Stelvio
Geoghegan Hart and Hindley dominate
Two riders who entered this Giro d'Italia expecting to merely ride for their respective team leaders are now both stage winners. Not only that, both are within 15 seconds of winning the Giro overall, something neither Tao Geoghegan Hart nor Jai Hindley could have imagined ahead of the start in Sicily.
>>> Jai Hindley takes unforgettable stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia as João Almeida falls out of race lead
On today's queen stage, Hindley was the eventual victor after outsprinting Geoghegan Hart to the line, but both were super impressive on the pass of the Stelvio where they dropped some of the world's best riders as they held a relentless pace.
Geoghegan Hart's team-mate Rohan Dennis was the rider to set that pace, with Hindley the only one to hold on to the flying Ineos pair up the Stelvio as his Sunweb team-mate Wilco Kelderman drifted behind.
From there, Hindley simply had to stick to his British rival's wheel, and did so up and over the Stelvio and up the final climb to Laghi di Cancano where he was able to fly out from behind Geoghegan Hart to claim the win.
Both finished over two minutes ahead of Kelderman, who moves into pink, but are now within touching distance of the overall victory.
The onus of course will be on Ineos to attack on the final mountain stage on Saturday, with it's changed route (three ascents to Sestriere) unlikely to provide as good a platform for taking back big chunks of time as the original route over the Col d'Izoard and the Colle dell'Agnello.
Nevertheless, the pair's ride today sets up a sensational finale to this Giro that we couldn't have seen coming a week ago, and with that a chance for either of them to take a career-defining victory.
Kelderman clings on to take pink
If Geoghegan Hart is to take overall victory at the Giro though, he'll not only have to lose Hindley but the Australian's team-mate and race leader Wilco Kelderman.
Kelderman now holds the pink jersey, but is only at 15 seconds ahead of Geoghegan Hart despite starting 2-59 ahead of him on today's queen stage.
>>> Giro d'Italia standings: The latest results from the 2020 race
Ahead of the Stelvio, Sunweb were clearly confident the Dutchman could do something on the climb, setting the early pace into the lower slopes before Ineos blew the GC group apart. Initially, Kelderman was able to hold on to the Dennis-led move, but eventually dropped off and had to fight to the end of the stage to stay in contention.
Both he and Hindley almost lost it all as they both struggled to get their jackets on for the Stelvio descent, with Kelderman ditching his jacket midway down as it flapped in the wind after failing to zip it up. The cold felt on that descent may have played a part in what happened next, as his gap drifted from around 40 seconds to well over a minute between the descent and the start of the next climb, and it looked like he could be about to fall out of the running completely.
He was eventually able to find his rhythm as Geoghegan Hart and Hindley pushed on ahead of him, stalling the time to between 1-30 and 1-50 for most of the climb. That again slipped towards the top, but he was able to struggle home within the time required to narrowly take pink.
Ineos will probably feel Kelderman is there for the taking on the final mountain stage with Hindley showing to be the strongest climber in Sunweb so far. But Kelderman will bank on his time trialling capabilities, and should be the best placed to claim the overall win on the final day if he can hold any lead at all or stay within touching distance of Geoghegan Hart.
Almeida's heroic run ends
It was always going to be a tough ask for João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) to hold on to pink after today's stage, despite the grit and fight he's shown in hanging on to the better climbers throughout this Giro.
As expected it was the Stelvio that put paid to his 16-day run in pink, getting midway up the 24.8km climb along with almost everyone else.
But the 22-year-old Portuguese continued to show the fortitude he has done while wearing the maglia rosa, and rode his own pace to finish 4-51 down on stage winner Hindley, slipping down to fifth overall at 2-16.
It's easy to forget it's his debut at a Grand Tour though, in which most riders tend to simply explore how they will perform during the demands of a three-week race, not contest the overall lead.
Hopefully Almeida can stick with those around him in the final mountain stage to stay in the top-five and seal a well-deserved placing on GC after his magnificent stint in pink.
Rohan Dennis: MVP
The rider of the day is undoubtedly Rohan Dennis. The two-time world champion time triallist has always been an exceptional climber - at one point aiming to become an overall contender - but hasn't put in a performance in the mountains like this for a while.
The Australian took it up at the front for his team-mate Geoghegan Hart with around 10km to the top of the Stelvio, and his pace decimated the field behind him, including dropping Wilco Kelderman.
No-one would have blamed him for pulling up ahead of the summit of the climb, but Dennis just continued to pull his team-mate, with Jai Hindley behind, over the summit and then down the descent.
Not only that, he was able to lead Geoghegan Hart to the intermediate sprint point with around 10km to go and bag his team-mate a valuable three-second bonus while taking the two seconds himself ahead of Hindley.
Having lost Geraint Thomas so early on, Ineos have regrouped to take five stage wins in this race which would have been a success in itself. But they are now in with a shout of claiming the overall victory they initially came for, and more incredible performances like Dennis' could be the thing that delivers it for them.
The Giro finally comes to life
Let's not pretend, this Giro has been a slow burner.
We've had very little movement in the GC since Almeida took pink on Sicily in the first week, with any contenders dropping from the top-10 doing so because of bad luck or their own poor performance rather than any entertaining attacking.
But despite that, the top of the GC remained delicately poised with so many questions over how far Almeida could go and with Kelderman breathing down his neck at 17 seconds.
Today flipped the race on its head though, and we now have an extremely tight three-way tussle heading into a mountain stage and a flat time trial at the weekend. We could even see Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren), now fourth at 1-19, pull himself back in with a chance of winning after making a late charge to finish at only 46 seconds down on Hindley today.
This race may not have given us the excitement we'd quite like every day, but the 2020 Giro is crescendoing nicely into a thrilling finale.
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Follow on Twitter: @richwindy
Richard is digital editor of Cycling Weekly. Joining the team in 2013, Richard became editor of the website in 2014 and coordinates site content and strategy, leading the news team in coverage of the world's biggest races and working with the tech editor to deliver comprehensive buying guides, reviews, and the latest product news.
An occasional racer, Richard spends most of his time preparing for long-distance touring rides these days, or getting out to the Surrey Hills on the weekend on his Specialized Tarmac SL6 (with an obligatory pub stop of course).
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