Simon Yates lost time on a relentless stage 13 of the Giro d’Italia as Ilnur Zakarin was peerless to take stage honours and ride himself back into the fight for the maglia rosa.
Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) joined the day’s 28-rider breakaway early in the stage and waited patiently for the toughest slopes of the final Lago Serru climb before making his move.
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Yates had defended his position on the lower ramps of the last summit, but lost contact as the general classification favourites took countless opportunities to attack.
The Brit lost five minutes to the stage winner and around two minutes to Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) holds onto the race lead for another day after fighting valiantly and struggling over the last two climbs of the day.
How it happened
The first summit finish of the 2019 Giro d’Italia promised an electric continuation of the general classification fight, after we saw the first hints of the drama to come on stage 12.
Running over 196km from Pinerolo to Ceresole Reale in northern Italy, not far from Turin, stage 13 was a return to the savage mountain stages that have come to characterise the Giro.
The stage opened with more undulating terrain in the first 25km, before the fast run to the foot of the first of three classified mountains the peloton would take on.
At 40km, the road tilted upward on the Colle de Lys, at 13.7km-long first category climb at 6.8 per cent average.
The long descent from the top of the climb took the peloton to a rolling valley floor lasting for around 30km, before the second major challenge of the day.
Pian del Lupo came 117km into the stage, lasting 14.5km at 7.1 per cent, and was likely to see attacks as the GC favourites tested their rivals before the intimidating mountain that awaited.
After the 16km descent from that second category climb, the road immediately turned skyward, with the false flat section starting 44km from home with the road ramping up sharply in the final 20km.
Lago Serru, making its debut in the Giro d’Italia, took the race to 2,247m above sea level on narrow roads with nine per cent slopes at the hairpins.
The climb averages 5.9 per cent with ramps at 14 per cent early on, setting the stage for a slow motion battle and threatening to upend the GC.
Racing started almost immediately as the peloton departed from Pinerolo, with riders being dropped under the pressure.
On the slopes of the Colle del Lys, the first hints of a breakaway began to form as four riders went clear, quickly swelling to 20 as the likes of Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) jumped across.
Finally a 28-rider group formed, including sixth place overall Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) as well as Eddie Dunbar and Tao Geoghagen Hart (Team Ineos).
Overall favourites Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) all had riders in the front group, in the hopes of relying on them at the sharp end.
Breakaway artist Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) had made the break but lost contact after suffering a mechanical.
With 120km left to race, news surfaced that Geoghegan Hart had crashed, with Team Ineos confirming the Brit had been forced to abandon the race not long after.
Behind, a reduced peloton kept the breakaway within a manageable distance as Jumbo-Visma took on much of the responsibility for setting the pace, with UAE Team Emirates also offering support.
When the break hit the slopes of the Pian del Lupo, riders began to slip back.
By the top of the climb, 17 riders held onto their place in the breakaway, while the gradients of the penultimate climb also took their toll on the bunch and an 11-rider elite group formed, including all of the GC favourites.
Bob Jungels (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) was one of the casualties on the climb, rapidly slipping away from the GC group.
The collection of hitters included Yates, Roglič, Nibali, Miguel Ángel López (Astana), Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos) and leader of the young rider classification Hugh Carthy (EF Education First).
Polanc lost contact on the climb, but with a 4-07 advantage over Roglič at the top of the day he had sliding room.
As the race hit the descent, with around 50km left to ride, the front group held one-minute advantage over the GC group behind, with a reduced peloton 26 seconds further back.
Then on uncategorised lower slopes of the final climb, with around 40km to race, the large chasing group re-joined the unit of GC favourites, as the 15 riders remaining in the breakaway held a 15-second advantage.
With 25km left of the climb, the gap back to the main group at 27 seconds, Fausto Masnada (Adroni Giocattoli-Sidermec) opened the throttle on his breakaway companions, with Guilio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) the first to chase him down, Ion Izagirre (Astana), Joe Dombrowski (EF Education First) and Héctor Carretero (Movistar) also making the move.
Those five looked promising as the gradients ramped up, pulling out 45 seconds over the chasers and 1-42 over the larger group of GC favourites with 20km left to race.
Mikel Landa (Movistar) was the first to launch a move from the main group, attacking inside 20km, pulling out a slight gap as Astana tried to close him down. The Spaniard attacked again as Polanc lost contact with the group once more, with Jungels also slipping back.
It also became clear that Yates was in trouble as he was with back with Polanc and looked to be struggling even there.
Landa bridged across to his team-mate Andrey Amador, who had spent the day in the break and the pair worked to extend their advantage.
López was struck by a mechanical and was forced to join the Polanc-Yates group after losing contact with the GC frontrunners.
Roglič, Sivakov and Nibali found themselves in a six-rider group chasing Landa.
By this point the breakaway move had seen a change of protagonists, as Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott), Zakarin, Mollema and Ciccone pressed on at the front of the race.
Next on the road was Landa, Amador and Dombrowski, who were 1-38 behind with 8km left to ride.
The Nibali-Roglič group were 20 seconds further back, with the Yates-López group another 30 seconds in arrears.
Amador finally popped on the climb and Landa attacked once more, riding alone onto the final 5km of the climb.
At the front of the race Ciccone was the next to blow, losing the wheel from the front group, which prompted Zakarin to attack Mollema and Nieve.
The Russian pulled out an advantage as Mollema exploded, with Nieve strong enough to chase but not immediately closing the gap.
Next to attack was Nibali, but he was followed Roglič, Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sivakov, with Majka then putting in his own attack, with Sivakov also putting in a dog. Nibali and Roglič remained together.
At the 3km mark, groups were split across the road but the main contenders were Nieve and Zakarin out front, Landa 1-11 back, with Roglič and Nibali 10 seconds further down the road, and Yates with race leader Polanc around two minutes down.
With an effort worthy of his ‘superman’ nickname, López came within touching distance of Nibali and Roglič, but the Slovenian attacked with Nibali following, the pair then marking each other for the new few kilometres with López unable to follow.
Landa caught Mollema, the pair riding together briefly before Landa went once again as he tried to ride himself back into contention.
At the head of affairs Zakarin rode away from Nieve with just 1.5km left to race.
After a seemingly-endless day in the breakaway, Zakarin crawled across the line first, with Nieve finishing second and Landa taking the final podium spot 80 seconds later.
Roglič and Nibali finished together 2-57 down on Zakarin, López 4-19, and Yates five minutes.
Jan Polanc held onto the race lead for another day, coming in 4-39 down on the winner and still holding a 2-25 advantage over Roglič who sits in second.
Zakarin now moves into third overall at 2-26 down on Polanc.
Landa moves up 13 places on GC into eighth at 5-08 back, with Yates now 12th at 8-14.
The Giro d’Italia continues on stage 14 with another savage mountain day, taking in 131km from Saint Vincent to Courmayeur with four categorised climbs, the last of which, the Colle San Carlo cresting 30km from the finish.
Giro d’Italia 2019, stage 13: Pinerolo to Ceresole Reale (196km)
1. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, in 5-34-40
2. Mikel Nieve (Esp) Mitchelton-Scott, at 35 seconds
3. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 1-20
4. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar, at 1-38
5. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-45
6. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2-07
7. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 2-57
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at same time
9. Pavel Sivakov (Rus) Team Ineos, at 3-24
10. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 3-50
17. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott
General classification after stage 13
1. Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 54-28-59
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 2-25
3. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 2-56
4. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 3-06
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 4-09
6. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar, at 4-22
7. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 4-28
8. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 5-08
9. Pavel Sivakov (Rus) Team Ineos, at 7-13
10. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 7-48
12. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 8-14