Philippe Gilbert (BMC) doubled up on victories at this year's Giro d'Italia after making a solo break from a leading group, as race leader Alberto Contador stengthened his hold on the pink jersey by putting more time into Astana pair Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru.
Gilbert, who took victory earlier in the race on stage 12, made it into the day's breakaway after a fast start to the stage, along with 11 other riders including Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) and teammate Amael Moinard (BMC).
The route's main challenge was the 10.5km climb of Monte Ologno at around 46km remaining, and the break made it to the foot of the category one climb with over 12 minutes on the peloton behind.
Things began to split between the break quickly on the climb, with Moinard, as well as David De la Cruz (Etixx - Quick-Step), Kanstantsin Siutsou (Team Sky) and Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani CSF) racing to almost a minute ahead of a chasing trio including Gilbert, Chavanel and Rinaldo Nocetini (Ag2r-La Mondiale), as they summited the climb.
With small uphill sections on the 30km run-in to Verbania, the Gilbert group was able to chase down the leading quartet, with the Belgian immediately attacking and stretching out a 34 second gap on the final downhill section.
There was no immediate response to the move, and later attempts to chase by the likes of Nocetini, were instantly closed down by Gilbert's teammate Moinard.
In the end, Gilbert was able to roll home comfortably with 47 seconds over Bongiorno, securing his second stage of this year's race and a third career Giro stage victory.
Behind the action out front, Contador showed no signs of fatigue as he danced away from the main bunch on the average 9% slopes of Ologno. Second place Landa attempted to chase, but there was no stopping the Spaniard who distanced the Astana pair by over a minute.
Contador was soon joined by 10th place Ryder Hesjedal, with the pair catching up with his Cannondale-Garmin teammate Davide Villella, who had been part of the early break, on the descent from climb.
The three then worked together to finish over a minute ahead of the Aru-Landa group, leaving Contador with a five minute overall lead as Canadian Hesjedal moved up to ninth in GC.
Friday's stage 19 will see the first of two crucial mountain stages, with three category one climbs en route including a summit finish to Cervinia.
Giro d’Italia 2015, stage 18: Melide – Verbania 172km
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team 4-04-14
2 Francesco Bongiorno (Ita) Bardiani CSF, at 47 seconds
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling, at 1-01
4 Matteo Busato (Ita) Southeast Pro Cycling
5 Amaël Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team
6 David De La Cruz (Esp) Etixx - Quick-Step
7 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
8 Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Team Sky, all same time
9 Chad Haga (USA) Team Giant-Alpecin, at 2-42
10 Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica GreenEdge, at 3-55
Overall classification after stage 18
1 Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff-Saxo 7-23-09
2 Mikel Landa Meana (Esp) Astana Pro Team, at 5-15
3 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team, at 6-05
4 Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team, at 7-01
5 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Team Katusha, at 9-40
6 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Sky, at 10-44
7 Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team, at 11-05
8 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo, at 12-53
9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team, at 13-01
10 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) FDJ, at 14-01
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