Giulio Ciccone survived horrendous conditions on stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia to take victory from a day-long breakaway.
The Trek-Segafredo rider had been chasing points to extend his mountains classification lead, but found himself in front along with Astana’s Jan Hirt (Astana) over top of the monstrous Mortirolo.
It came down to a two-rider sprint for the line between Ciccone and Hirt, with the Italian hitting out from the front to take the second Giro d’Italia stage win of his career.
General classification favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) lost out on the thrilling stage, after being dropped on the Mortirolo and being unable to catch maglia rosa Richard Carapaz, Mikel Landa (Movistar), and Vincenzo Nibali.
Roglič and Yates crossed the line together after losing 1-22 to the other favourites.
How it happened
The return to racing after the second rest day was expected to be a thrilling battle, despite the highest point of the race being removed from the route due to snow and ice causing safety concerns.
A redesigned parcours for stage 16 of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, running over 194km instead of the planned 226km, still ran from Lovere to Ponte di Legno but missed out the Gavia which was replaced with the less intimidating Cevo and Aprica.
The course opened with climbing from kilometre zero, with two uncategorised climbs in the opening 50km.
After a sharp descent, the road began to wind up in a gentle slope before hitting the foot of the Cevo – a third category climb 10.6km-long with an average gradient of 5.9 per cent and a maximum of 10 per cent.
The crest of that climb came 89km into the stage, followed by another steep descent carrying the peloton to the 14km-long Aprica climb, at an average of 3.4 per cent but with serious ramps up to 15 per cent in the opening kilometre.
Aprica topped out 70km from the line, setting up the race for the most daunting mountain so far – the legendary Mortirolo.
At 11.9km long with an average gradient of 10.9 per cent, the monstrous climb was expected to be the springboard for major attacks, with an easier final taking the riders to the line.
From the summit of the Mortirolo with 30km left to race, the route then descended the mountain before hitting the final uncategorised climb to the line, lasting 8km with gradients around two and three per cent – not thought to be tough enough for a decisive move but certainly enough to motivate anyone who had attacked from the Mortirolo.
A 21-rider breakaway set the tone early in the stage, with lieutenants for Nibali, Roglič, Yates, López and Carapaz going up the rode to offer support later in the stage, along with Giulio Ciccone and Jan Hirt.
At the Cevo, the break had pulled out a 4-30 advantage as Movistar took on the responsibility of setting the pace in the peloton.
Fran Ventoso (CCC Team) attacked the breakaway on the descent from the summit of the Aprica, with the gap sitting at around five minutes, as some others slipped back to the peloton after cracking under the pressure of the day.
The race then hit the cobbled foot of the Mortirolo, the remaining escapees holding a 5-40 advantage.
Movistar set the tempo for the bunch on the lower slopes, while further up the road Hirt (Astana) attacked the break and was followed by mountains classification leader Ciccone.
López and Yates looked to be in difficulty early which sparked Nibali into life as he was first of the favourites to launch his attack with 34km of the stage remaining,
Hugh Carthy (EF Education First) went with the Italian, as maglia rosa Carapaz and Mikel Landa upped the pace in pursuit of Nibali.
López was able to come back after being dropped and made it into the Carapaz group, but the slew of attacks took their toll on Primož Roglič who was dropped by Carapaz and company.
With 31km left to race, Hirt, Ciccone and Nibali’s wingman Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Merida) were at the front of the race with the remains of the break further back, Nibali and Carthy were 4-44 behind the front trio, Carapaz, Landa and López at 5-02, with Roglič and Yates then 5-38 from the front of the race.
Carapaz, Landa and López made it across to Nibali and Carthy inside 30km, with López moving straight to the front of the group.
Movistar looked imperious as the maglia rosa then hit wind, with Landa also assisting to set the pace.
Ciccone and Hirt had left Caruso behind by the top of the climb, with 4-09 over the maglia rosa group, as Roglič and Yates suffered 90 seconds further down the mountain.
López attacked near the summit and linked up with team-mate Pello Bilbao, who had dropped back from the breakaway, the pair pulling out 10-second advantage as they hit the treacherous descent.
The atmosphere at the front of the race grew hostile as Hirt refused to work with Ciccone when the pair hit the bottom of the descent, still holding 4-38 over the maglia rosa group with 13km to the line.
López and Bilbao still held strong in front of Carapaz, Landa, Nibali, Landa and Carthy, their advantage extending to 20 seconds as they hit the flat stretch.
With 9km left to the line Roglič, Yates and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) started to work together on the flats and narrowed the advantage down to 45 seconds on the maglia rosa group, which had just swept up López.
But the Roglič group lost momentum at the 4km mark as the gap to Nibali and Carapaz grew once again to 1-15.
Hirt had began to pull on the front as Ciccone looked to be suffering in the cold, the pair entering the final 2km with a 2-22 gap over the nearest chasers.
Ciccone led from the from inside the final kilometre, waiting for Hirt to launch his sprint, but after feign from his rival Ciccone opened up the power.
Hirt tried to follow but couldn’t get on terms as Ciccone pulled away and took the win.
Nibali, Carthy, Carapaz, and Landa crossed the line at 1-41 back on the winner, with Yates and Roglič losing 1-23 to that group.
Carapaz holds his maglia rosa for another day as Nibali moves up into second on general classification at 1-47 back, and Roglič slips back to third at 2-09.
Simon Yates holds his eighth place overall but slips back to 6-46 down.
The race continues with an undulating day that could go in favour of a breakaway on stage 17, over 181km from Commezzadura (Val di Sole) to Anterselva/Antholz over 181km, and featuring fourth and second category climbs before the final category three ascent to the line.
Giro d’Italia 2019, stage 16: Lovere to Ponte di Legno (194km)
1. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek Segafredo, in 5-35-24
2. Jan Hirt (Cze) Astana, at same time
3. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, at 1-20
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-41
5. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education First
6. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar
7. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar
8. Joe Dombrowski (USA) EF Education First, at same time
9. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-49
10. Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, at 2-03
14. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 3-03
15. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
General classification after stage 16
1. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar, in 70-02-05
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain Merida, at 1-47
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 2-09
4. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 3-15
5. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 5-00
6. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5-40
7. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 6-17
8. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 6-46
9. Pavel Sivakov (Rus) Team Ineos, at 7-51
10. Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 8-06