Matteo Trentin capped off a remarkable Giro d’Italia for Etixx-Quick Step after taking the team’s fourth stage win at this year’s edition of the race. The Belgian team has also had three riders – Marcel Kittel, Gianluca Brambilla and Bob Jungels – in the pink leader’s jersey in the last two weeks.
But what an impressive ride it was by Trentin to take the win, after he caught breakaway leaders Moreno Moser (Cannondale) and teammate Brambilla within the final kilometre and sprinted ahead of them for victory.
Those three had been part of a large 24 rider group that got away early on in the day, establishing 12 minutes on the peloton with the GC teams happy to let them go with no threats to the top-10.
That gap remained deep into the 244km route and it became clear the winner would come from the main group.
While attacks came out of the large breakaway from several riders, nothing was really able to stick until they reached the first passage through the steep climb in Pinerolo which saw a number of riders go straight out of the back.
Brambilla and Moser then went clear with 21km to go on the major climb of the route, the category two climb Pramartino and quickly established around 30 seconds between them and the four left in pursuit; Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Nikia Ardnt (Giant-Alpecin).
As they took the decent back towards Pinerolo and hit the 450m cobbled climb, hitting a maximum 20% gradient, Moser made a move but wasn’t able to shake Brambilla. It then looked like the winner might come from the two out front.
But the four behind continued their pursuit, shaking Rovny after he misjudged a corner, with Trentin distancing the other two as they took the final descent before the line.
At that point the leaders still had 16 seconds, but as they rounded one of the final corners and began to look at each other before beginning a sprint, Trentin looked to be quickly gaining on them as he sped along behind.
As they got within the final few hundred metres, with Brambilla now sitting on Moser’s wheel after realising his teammate was close behind, Trentin didn’t hesitate as he caught the pair and quickly launched his sprint to finish a couple of bike lengths ahead of Moser and take his team’s fourth Giro stage victory.
The Italian has taken two Grand Tour stages in the Tour de France in his career in 2013 and 2014, but Thursday’s win is his maiden victory in his home race.
Behind the GC riders scrapped for whatever seconds they could take from the difficult finish to the day’s stage, but there was no separating them on the Pramartino, with maglia rosa Steven Kruijswijk looking as strong as has throughout the race.
Third placed Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) made a dig at his rivals on the steep climb in Pinerolo, but wasn’t able to shake any of the top-10 riders before they began the run-in to the finish.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) had a short-lived attack on the descent, but eventually they all rolled in more-or-less together with Valverde leading over 13 minutes down on the winner.
Friday’s stage 19 will see the GC riders tested once again as the race passes the Cima Coppi, the highest point of the race over the Colle Dell’Agnello at 2744m. They’ll then face a category one summit finish to Risoul, France on the 162km stage.
Giro d’Italia 2016, stage 18 Muggiò – Pinerolo (244km)
1. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Etixx-Quick Step, in 5-25-34
2. Moreno Moser (Ita) Cannondale
3. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx-Quick Step, all same time
4. Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida, at 20s
5. Nikias Ardnt (Ger) Giant-Alpecin, at 30s
6. Ivan Rovny (Rus) Tinkoff, at 30s
7. Matteo Busato (Ita) Wilier-Trestina, at 1-10
8. Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky, at 1-16
9. Axel Domont (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 1-24
10. Davide Malcarne (Ita) Astana, at 4-28
Overall standings after stage 18
1. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, 73-50-37
2. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-GreenEdge, at 3-00
3. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 3-23
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, at 4-43
5. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha, at 4-50
6. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff, at 5-34
7. Bob Jungels (Lux) Etixx-Quick Step, at 7-57
8. Andrey Amador (Crc) Movistar, at 8-53
9. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 10-05
10. Kanstantin Siutsou (Blr) Dimension Data, at 11-15