Nippo-Vini Fantini took their first ever Giro d’Italia stage win on stage 18 of the 2019 race, with Damiano Cima holding on to take victory just ahead of the sprinters.
Cima had been part of a three-man breakaway that had been out front for most of the 222km stage, but had just 15 seconds advantage in the final kilometre.
As Cima, Nico Denz (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF) began to look at each other in the final 800m, it looked as though the sprinters would swallow them up just before the line.
But 25-year-old Cima jumped with 200m to go from behind Denz and Maestri to launch his final effort, with the sprinters now closing in behind.
Denz and Maestri were quickly absorbed, but there was nothing the sprinters could do to stop Cima, who just made it to the line with Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Simone Consonni (UAE Team Emirates) crossing the finish behind him on the same time.
Richard Carapaz (Movistar) held on to the overall lead with no changes in the top-10 on general classification.
How it happened
The Giro d’Italia headed for a rolling rest day for the GC riders on stage 18, with a 222km stage from Valdaora to Santa Maria di Sala that looked set to end in a sprint.
The stage would have a huge say in the final destination of the points competition, with Arnaud Démare (Gorupama-FDJ) leading in the maglia ciclamino over one of the other last remaining sprinters Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) by three points at the start of the day.
After numerous attacks, three riders were able to escape from the grasp of the peloton with 166km remaining. Nico Denz (Ag2r La Mondiale), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF) and Damiano Cima (Nippo-Vini Fantini) were the trio of riders to get away.
They gradually built their advantage up to almost 6-30 with 120km ridden, but the peloton soon began to try and peg that back.
As they reached the first intermediate sprint with 62km remaining, the gap was back down to under 2-30. Démare was able to take six points after sprinting clear of the peloton, with Ackermann taking four behind him but not contesting the sprint in earnest.
The immediate aftermath of the sprint saw the peloton lull in pace, with the breakaway then stepping on the gas to quickly increase their lead again.
With 40km to go the gap was out over four minutes again, with Israel Cycling Academy and Dimension Data the main protagonists in upping the tempo in the bunch to try and bring them back.
As the break rode into the final 30km, still with 3-40 in hand, the peloton were beginning to sweat a little over whether the stage would finish in a sprint finish. With few sprinters left after a number of abandons ahead of the mountains, the firepower of the sprint teams was severely depleted.
Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-Quick-Step then began to chip in with the work, but the break still held 2-30 heading into the final 20km.
Still the three breakers plugged away out front with each of them riding at their limit, holding on to an advantage of 1-10 into the last 10km.
The gap stalled at just under a minute in the final 8km as the peloton struggled to organise at the front, with the catch still in the balance so close to the finish.
Groupama-FDJ and Deceuninck-Quick-Step then began to mass at the front in more prominence, but still the gap refused to come down quick enough to guarantee a bunch finish.
Inside 4km to go the gap stood at 36 seconds, and Nico Denz decided it was time to go out alone, but he couldn’t drop his two companions.
That saw them lose a handful of seconds as they started to look at each other, but they still looked like they could do it as they hit the final 2km with 30 seconds.
Cima led into the final kilometre with 15 seconds but they began to hesitate, with no-one willing to come around Denz as he desperately tried to keep things going between the three.
It then looked like the peloton would heartbreakingly catch them just 200m from the line, but as they were about to make contact, Cima jumped from behind Maestri and Denz in a last attempt to hold on towards the line.
That forced Pascal Ackermann to make his move, but it was too late, with Cima able to celebrate to cross the line to take a huge victory for him and his team.
Ackermann now leads the points classification by 13 points thanks to his second place finish, with Démare finishing down in eighth place.
The Giro heads back into the mountains on Friday on stage 19, with a category two summit finish to the 151km stage from Treviso to San Martino di Castrozza.
Giro d’Italia 2019, stage 18: Valdaora / Olang to Santa Maria di Sala (222km)
1. Damiano Cima (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini, in 4-56-04
2. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. Simone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
4. Florian Senechal (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step
5. Ryan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension Data
6. Manuel Belletti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec
7. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Israel Cycling Academy
8. Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
9. Sean Bennett (USA) EF Education First
10. Mirco Maestri (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, all same time
General classification after stage 18
1. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar, in 79-44-22
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, 1-54
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 2-16
4. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 3-03
5. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 5-07
6. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 6-17
7. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 6-48
8. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 7-13
9. Pavel Sivakov (Rus) Team Ineos, at 8-21
10. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 8-59