By Stephen Puddicombe published
Carapaz a step closer to victory
The expected assault on Richard Carapaz’s pink jersey never really materialised, and the Ecuadorian now looks all but certain to become the first rider from his nation to win a Grand Tour.
Given how strong the Movistar rider has looked in the mountains throughout the race, it always seemed unlikely that he would lose enough time for the leadership to be handed over, but anything was possible on a stage which favoured so much climbing.
When the first move came on the Passo Manghen from Miguel Ángel López (Astana), some 118km from the finish, Carapaz and his teammate Mikel Landa had no problems following his wheel, while their main rivals Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) were dropped.
Although the race quickly came back together on the following descent, the apparent superiority of the Movistar riders appeared to discourage any more early attacks from the GC hopefuls, as the next climb went by with little incident.
On the final climb, Movistar were confident enough to take the initiative by having Landa attack, with Carapaz comfortably following Nibali’s wheel when the Italian set off in pursuit. Once that trio came together and worked with each other to gain time over a dropped Roglič, it was clear that - barring any disaster tomorrow - overall victory was destined for Carapaz.
Pello Bilbao wins another stage
Movistar might have again been the dominant team of the day, but they couldn’t quite set up Landa for victory as Astana’s Pello Bilbao pipped him to the line in the finishing sprint.
Bilbao was one the few survivors of a breakaway that had gone clear on the descent of the Passo Manghen, and spent the final few kilometres desperately trying to hang on as Nibali, Carapaz and Landa set a searing pace at the front.
As a reward for all the loyal work his teammate had provided him throughout the Giro, Carapaz put his all into leading out Landa for the sprint, but the Spaniard was passed in the final metres by Bilbao, who after successfully holding on to the group had managed to place himself onto the third wheel in the sprint.
It’s Bilbao’s second stage win of the Giro following in a breakaway during the first week, and a third in total for Astana, whose race must be considered a success despite the many misfortunes and frustrations surrounding their leader Miguel Angel Lopez’s bid for GC (more on him below).
Miguel Ángel López hits a spectator but avoids punishment
The most dramatic incident of the day came off the bike, when Miguel Ángel López was involved in an altercation with a roadside spectator.
Running recklessly alongside Lopez on the final climb, he managed to accidentally knock him off his bike, prompting the furious Colombian to strike out, hitting him once with one blow and knowing his hat off with a second swipe.
His reaction was understandable, and perhaps even expected from a man who
earned the nickname "superman" from the time in which he fought off a knife-yielding mugger attempting to steal his bike. But it was also unacceptable, although the Colombian managed to escape punishment.
For Lopez it was yet another stroke of misfortune in what has been a frustrating race, in which his evident good form has not been translated into a stage win, or seen him rise further up the rankings than seventh overall.
Roglič falls off the podium...for now
There was little movement in the GC apart from one major change - Primož Roglič finished 54 seconds behind the pink jersey group, meaning he now slips from third to fourth overall behind Mikel Landa.
A further ten second penalty for receiving a prolonged push from a spectator without showing any resistance exacerbates the damage, meaning he now lies 23 seconds behind Landa.
However, there is one stage left, and, fortunately for Roglič, it’s a time trial, a disciple in which the Slovenian is vastly superior in compared with all his rivals, including Landa.
The 1-22 he needs to make up on Nibali will almost certainly be too much, but Roglič shouldn’t have many problems passing Landa on the GC and sealing third overall - unless this final week of mountain stages has really taken it out of him.
Despite high expectations after his exceptional start to the race, a podium should still go down as a good result for Roglič, whose previous best Grand Tour finish was fourth at last year’s Tour de France.
Nibali settles for podium finish
With his history of late turnarounds and all-or-nothing attacks, all eyes were on Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) to try something special this stage.
The Italian himself said before the stage that "finishing second or third doesn’t count for anything", suggesting that he would willingly risk his podium place in an attempt to dethrone Carapaz as overall winner.
However, it appeared the two-time former winner didn’t have the legs to back up his ambition, as he was dropped on the Passo Manghen.
Although he did quickly bridged back up on the descent, it appeared Nibali was by now resigned to having to defend his runner-up place rather than attack for first, and did so on the final climb when he worked together with Carapaz and Landa to put more time into the distanced Roglič.
The Italian did manage a couple of attacks on the Movistar riders during the final climb, but they felt more like token gestures than all-or-nothing attempts, and he never went into the red.
Ultimately, Nibali looks likely to be successful in defeating Roglič, the rider identified as the major threat earlier on in the race, but didn’t quite account for just how much of a threat Carapaz would turn out to be.
Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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