Josef Černý (CCC Team) soloed away from the breakaway on stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia 2020 to take his first Grand Tour stage victory.
The Czech rider broke clear of a six-rider group which had formed from a large 14-man breakaway, soloing away with 22.4km to go.
He built up a 40-second gap with 15km to go but looked to be suffering as the time gap fell to around 20 seconds inside the final 5km and it looked like he could be caught.
In the last kilometre Victor Campenaerts made a last-ditch attempt to bridge the gap to Černý, but couldn’t catch the 27-year-old who was able to sit up and celebrate his biggest career victory.
Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) retained his overall lead after finishing safely in the bunch, but had to be wary as Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) attempted to steal some seconds back in the final few hundred metres but was tracked by Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
How it happened
Stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia was meant to be the longest of the entire race at 251km, before a late edition of another 7km by the organisers due to obstructions on the route.
Riders were set for a rainy start in Morbegno and did take to the neutralised start before pulling up in protest. After long discussions, the organiser eventually agreed to shorten the stage to 124.5km, with riders boarding team buses and cars to head further down the route to the new start in Abbiategrasso.
After the chaos of the day’s start, riders finally got underway to start racing in earnest. From the gun Victor Campenaerts (NTT) attacked along Simon Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) and Josef Cerny (CCC Team) and were able to gain a lead of just over a minute into the final 100km.
Bora-Hansgrohe were the only team to set off in pursuit, and controlled the front of the bunch after 11 other riders were able to get away and eventually bridge to the leading trio with 99km to go.
That strong leading group of 11 riders joining the three leaders included Iljo Keisse (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Sander Armée (Lotto-Soudal), Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani), Nathan Haas (Cofidis), Marco Mathis (Cofidis), Simon Clarke (EF Pro Cycling), Lachlan Morton (EF Pro Cycling), Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation), Albert Torres (Movistar), Jacopo Mosca (Trek-Segafredo), and Etienne van Empel (Vini Zabù).
Bora continued to chase to try and bring things back for Peter Sagan, with Arnaud Démare’s FDJ also joining the at points. But with the gap still hanging at around a minute and such a strong group up front, the chase was eventually called off with 56.5km to go.
That saw the breakaway group’s advantage shoot up sharply as the peloton took natural breaks and began to cruise towards the finish.
As the attacking started to begin in the break with 30km to go, the gap back to the peloton was now up to around nine minutes. Campenaerts was the main instigator in attacks, but nothing was able to stick initially.
Six riders then got away on a short ascent with just over 26km to go thanks to an acceleration from Campenaerts, with Mosca, Clarke, Armee, Černý, and Pellaud gaining a 23-second gap along with Campenaerts.
It didn’t take long for subsequent attacks to come from that splinter group, and it was Černý who went solo with 22.4km to go.
No one was able to follow the Czech rider, who immediately established a healthy gap on the chasers.
Behind, Keisse bridged across to first chase group with 16km to go and immediately went on the attack, but by this point Černý had established a 40-second advantage.
His form seemed to fade as the kilometres ticked by, moving a lot on the bike as he tried to keep a big gear rolling.
The chasers were able to work together to pull Černý back to within 20 seconds with 4km to go, and things began to look ominous for him.
But Černý was able to hold on and entered the final kilometre still with 20 seconds in hand, which sparked a late charge from Campenaerts to try and close him down just before the line.
The Belgian couldn’t make the sufficient inroads in time though, and had to settle for second place while Černý celebrated his victory across the line.
Over 11 minutes later the peloton rolled in towards the finish, with the only movement coming from Tao Geoghegan Hart who tried to steal back some seconds to cut his 15-second deficit to race leader Wilco Kelderman.
In the end the GC contenders rolled in together with the race now tantalisingly poised heading into Saturday’s mountain stage, a 190km route from Alba to Sestriere.
Giro d’Italia 2020, stage 19: Abbiategrasso to Asti (124.5km)
1. Josef Černý (Cze) CCC Team, in 2-30-40
2. Victor Campenaerts (Bel) NTT Pro Cycling, at 18 seconds
3. Jacopo Mosca (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 26 seconds
4. Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Pro Cycling
5. Iljo Keisse (Bel) Deceuninck-Quick-Step
6. Sander Armée (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, all at same time
7. Alberto Torres (Esp) Movistar, at 1-10
8. Simon Pellaud (Sui) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec
9. Giovanni Carboni (Ita) Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè
10. Alex Dowsett (GBr) Israel Start-Up Nation, all at same time
General classification after stage 19
1. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, in 80-29-19
2. Jai Hindley (Aus) Sunweb, at 12s
3. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 15s
4. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain-McLaren, at 1-19
5. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck- Quick-Step, at 2-16
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 3-59
7. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5-40
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 5-47
9. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Deceunicnk – Quick-Step, at 6-46
10. Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-McLaren, at 7-23