Pello Bilbao (Astana) won stage seven of the Giro d’Italia 2019 after breaking clear of a select group with just over one kilometre left to race.
Winning from the day’s breakaway, Bilbao held on through a gradual selection from a group of 12 riders to launch an attack just as José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) was reeled back in to the final group of six.
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Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale) finished second, with Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) third, after the Italian had tried his best to bring Bilbao back in the final kilometre.
Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) held on to the overall lead, with José Rojas moving up into second, 1-32 down on the Italian.
How it happened
Stage seven provided another chance for the breakaway to succeed, after Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) took stage six and Valerio Conti moved up to top spot on GC to take the pink jersey.
The 185km route provided two early intermediate sprints and one second category climb with around 50km left to race.
It was a blistering first hour of racing, with the peloton completing just over 50 kilometres. The race was all strung out as countless attacks came in meaning the breakaway was still yet to form, with Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) left unchallenged to defend his points jersey by taking maximum points at the intermediate sprint.
With 120km, Fernando Gaviria abandoned with knee pain, leaving Valerio Conti in the pink jersey with just four team-mates for support, with Laurens De Plus also abandoning for Jumbo-Visma, a blow to the GC ambitions of Primož Roglič who ceded the overall lead to the Italian on stage six.
After a couple more attempted moves, Davide Formolo attacked, with Tony Gallopin and Pello Bilbao joining as the race ticked under 100km to go. The break extended their lead to 40 seconds as they were joined by Rubén Plaza (Israel Cycling Academy), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), José Joaquín Rojas and Antonio Pedrero (Movistar), Andrey Zeits (Astana), Mattia Cattaneo (Androni Giocattoli0-Sidermec), Sebastian Henao (Ineos), Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott).
With Rojas only 2-12 behind Conti, the reduced UAE Team Emirates worked hard on the front to try and manage the gap, with the break sneaking their advantage up to near the two-minute mark.
As the breakaway hit the categorised climb of the day, Le Svolte di Popoli, Thomas De Gendt dropped from the group, soon to be followed by Plaza. The summit wasn’t contested, though, with the riders focused on staying away from the stage win, so Pedrero was first over the top as they held a 1-10 gap back to the peloton.
The gap crept up to 1-59 with 24km remaining, with UAE Team Emirates working hard to limit the gap as Rojas sat 2-12 down on their man Conti’s overall lead. This proved to be a difficult task after they were left with five riders after Fernando Gaviria had climbed off, making him their third rider to leave the race.
With Trek-Segafredo also sharing the work load, the gap came down to 1-25, with Zeits and Rojas dropping from the leading group as the road went uphill once more.
There were five riders left at the front of the race as it got towards the business end. Gallopin, Cattaneo, Hamilton, Formolo and Bilbao held the gap with 8km to go, meaning it was looking likely their breakaway efforts had been worthwhile and they would duke it out between themselves for the stage win.
With 3km to go, Rojas had recovered after being dropped and chased back up to the front group, immediately going past them as he hunted down the stage victory in place of the pink jersey that at one point looked like it could land on the Spaniard’s shoulders.
Doing well to maintain a gap, Rojas took a hairpin turn badly with 2km to go that allowed the other five riders to come back in.
Pello Bilbao then attacked with 1.5km remaining, the rest of the group stalling and looking around waiting for someone to pick up the chase.
Davide Formolo eventually took it upon himself to chase down the Astana rider, but it was too late, as the Spaniard took his first ever Grand Tour stage victory and his biggest career win to date.
Rojas eventually rolled over the line 30 seconds down on Bilbao, not finishing with the front group, but it was enough to see him move up to second on GC, 1-32 down on Valerio Conti who will hold onto the pink jersey for tomorrow’s flat stage eight.
Giro d’Italia 2019 stage seven: Vasto to L’Aquila (185km)
1. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana, in 4-06-27
2. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 5 seconds
3. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
4. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 9s
5. Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Androni Giocattoli – Sidermec, at same time
6. José Joaquín Rojas (Esp) Movistar, at 30s
7. Sebastian Henao (Col) Team Ineos, at 48s
8. Antonio Pedrero (Esp) Movistar, 1-01
9. Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-07
10. Andrea Vendrame (Ita) Androni Giocattoli – Sidermec, at same time
General classification after stage seven
1. Valerio Conti (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, in 29-29-34
2. José Joaquín Rojas (Esp) Movistar, at 1-32
3. Giovanni Carboni (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, at 1-41
4. Nans Peters (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 2-09
5. Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 2-17
6. Amaro Antunes (Por) CCC Team, at 2-45
7. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, at 3-14
8. Pieter Serry (Bel) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 3-25
9. Andrey Amador (CRC) Movistar, at 3-27
10. Sam Oomen (Ned) Sunweb, at 4-57