By Jonny Long
After three weeks of the 2020 Giro d'Italia, not a single second separates the top two in the general classification heading into the final time trial in Milan, after Tao Geoghegan Hart outsprinted rival Jai Hindley (Sunweb) atop the Sestriere on stage 20.
Crossing the line first, Ineos' Geoghegan Hart moved back on terms with Hindley in the GC, taking the 10 bonus seconds on offer compared to the six for second place, the Sunweb rider moving into the race lead by fractions of a second.
The pair had gone clear alongside Geoghegan Hart's team-mate Rohan Dennis up the penultimate ascent of the Sestriere, dispensing with the maglia rosa and Hindley's team-mate Wilco Kelderman.
Hindley put in a number of digs up the final climb to the Sestriere finish line but was unable to dislodge Geoghegan Hart, who hung on before sprinting for the bonus seconds, mostly content to take Hindley on in the race against the clock tomorrow for the overall victory.
How it happened
With the original route that would have seen the GC riders tackle the Colle dell’Agnello and the Col de l’Izoard cancelled due to French coronavirus restrictions, three ascents of the Sestriere were drafted in to give the overall contenders a final uphill test before the time trial in Milan.
A couple of groups made their way up the road on the opening flat kilometres, with a large breakaway group joining together after 40km had been raced, taking out a big six-minute gap, Sunweb and race leader Wilco Kelderman happy to let them go.
Amongst the 21-strong group were stage winner Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-McLaren), maglia ciclamino Arnaud Démare and UAE Team Emirates' Brandon McNulty, the latter the closest on GC but still half an hour behind Kelderman, the American having lost time in the final week after his stage 14 time trial performance had boosted him into the upper echelons of the GC.
At the intermediate sprint, Arnaud Démare picked up maximum points to extend his advantage over Peter Sagan, with Cofidis' Elia Viviani not bothering to contest the Frenchman, the gap back to the peloton holding at around seven minutes.
Astana put the pressure on with 100km to go, stringing out the peloton, having missed out on the break and potentially trying to set one of their riders up for the stage win or help Jakob Fuglsang climb a few places on GC.
Through the feed zone the peloton split slightly, forcing Ineos to chase back up to Sunweb as the breakaway's advantage began to be chipped away.
As the bunch approached the first ascent of the Sestriere Bahrain-McLaren came to the front, hoping to set things up for Pello Bilbao, the Spaniard a minute down on Kelderman in fourth place.
Up ahead as they started the climb, Trek-Segafredo's Nicola Conci attacked the break, with Démare and Viviani distanced, as the peloton also began to thin out behind.
The breakaway was now down to around 15 riders before Démare got back on and had a little hit out off the front, as Ben Swift came to the front of the bunch with Ineos, as Astana began to drop off.
Ineos then asserted themselves as they looked to make the race harder for Kelderman, putting Salvatore Puccio on the front with 55km to go and the maglia rosa group now down to around 40 or so riders.
As Filippo Fiorelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè) crested the summit first out of the breakaway, having attacked near the summit, the escapees' lead was down to under four minutes. On the following descent, Deceuninck - Quick-Step's Davide Ballerini went off alone, taking 45 seconds back as Démare was caught behind by the peloton.
Filippo Ganna then took over for Ineos on the front of the maglia rosa group with 35km to go, the British team preparing to make their move on the penultimate ascent of the Sestriere. The world time trial champion took 30 seconds back off Ballerini up ahead, with McNulty and Conci present in the chase group in between.
Lotto-Soudal's Matthew Holmes then attacked the remnants of the breakaway group as Rohan Dennis then took over from Ganna on the front of the GC group, Jakob Fuglsang distanced and Sunweb's domestiques shelled out the back, leaving Kelderman and Jai Hindley isolated.
Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), João Almeida (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) were the next to fall away and with under 30km to the finish line Kelderman was detached, as Dennis led Tao Geoghegan Hart and Hindley away from their GC rivals.
Not long after, Hindley moved into the virtual race lead as his Dutch team-mate was going backwards behind. Such was the pace Dennis was setting, he had to keep looking behind to make sure he wasn't dropping his team-mate Geoghegan Hart.
Up ahead, Movistar's Einer Rubio caught up to Ballerini and passed him as Dennis swept up McNulty and other former members of the breakaway, with Nibali and Fuglsang swelling the ranks of the Kelderman group, now more than half a minute behind Geoghegan Hart and Hindley.
Rubio led over the top of the second ascent, as the Dennis group had 41 seconds over Kelderman as they also crested the summit. Minutes later, Démare raised his hands in a mock victory celebration as he passed over the finish line with another ascent still to come, his sense of humour intact despite the uphill gradient.
The gap between the two GC groups was holding at around 35 seconds after the descent, with Rubio holding a minute on the Dennis group, as Holmes got onto the back for a free tow to the start of the final climb.
Pieter Serry (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and Ballerini caught Rubio with 11.5km to go, but Dennis was closing in behind as Kelderman's deficit fell to a minute before the start of the climb.
With 9km to go, Dennis took over at the front of the race, now 1-35 ahead of Kelderman and Geoghegan Hart and Hindley set to battle it out on the final ascent of the Giro d'Italia.
At the intermediate sprint with 7.5km to go, as Dennis, Geoghegan Hart and Hindley left the breakaway riders they'd swept up, Hindley attacking Geoghegan Hart and beating him to an extra bonus second.
Dennis continued to lead up the Sestriere as Geoghegan Hart and Hindley looked at each other, watching, waiting, an unexpected maglia rosa closer than they would have ever imagined three weeks ago in Sicily.
With 5.5km to the line, Hindley was sitting on Dennis' wheel, with Geoghegan Hart behind him, Serry having caught up to make it a leading quartet, as the maglia rosa group made some time back, trailing by 1-26 now.
Serry had dropped a kilometre later, as the maglia rosa group now found themselves only 1-09 in arrears, James Knox (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) setting a fast enough pace to drop Nibali as they fought to get back on terms.
The reason for Knox's work soon became clear, as Almeida attacked the maglia rosa group, smelling weakness in Kelderman and the possibility of a podium place still in sight.
Hindley finally launched his attack with 3.5km to go, Geoghegan Hart getting on his wheel as Dennis took a second to also get back, then moving back to the front to marshal the pace of the trio.
With Serry drifting backwards to help Almeida, the Portuguese had soon gained 25 seconds on Kelderman and Bilbao, who lay ahead of him in the general classification.
Having not put enough gusto into his first attack, Hindley went again with 2.5km to go, this time with more confidence, finally dispensing with Dennis as Geoghegan Hart followed, looking composed. A few hundred metres later, Hindley put in a third dig, Geoghegan Hart remaining on terms, then riding up alongside Hindley and the pair exchanging words.
Hindley was then up and out of his saddle again momentarily, but the pair remained well-matched for now, as remarkably Dennis once again rode back up to the pair. With 1.3km to go Hindley tried again, still unable to dislodge Geoghegan Hart.
Into the final kilometre and the pair rode side by side, Almeida a minute behind with Kelderman a further 25 seconds back.
Hindley led into the finishing straight before Geoghegan Hart attacked, opening his sprint to take the stage win and the 10 bonus seconds to bring him equal with Hindley on the GC, as the Australian moved into the race lead.
Giro d'Italia 2020, stage 20: Alba to Sestriere (190km)
1. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, in 4-52-45
2. Jai Hindley (Aus) Sunweb, at same time
3. Rohan Dennis (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers, at 25 seconds
4. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 1-01
5. Andrea Vendrame (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 1-34
6. Einer Rubio (Col) Movistar, at 1-35
7. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain-McLaren
8. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, both at same time
9. Attila Valter (Hun) CCC, at 1-48
10. James Knox (GBr) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 2-00
General classification after stage 20
1. Jai Hindley (Aus) Sunweb, in 85-22-07
2. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at same time
3. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at 1-32
4. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain-McLaren, at 2-51
5. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 3-14
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 6-32
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 7-46
8. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 8-05
9. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 9-24
10. Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-McLaren, at 10-08
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races. I'm 6'0", 26 years old, have a strong hairline and have an adequate amount of savings for someone my age. I'm very single at the minute so if you know anyone, hit me up.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab, reporting about students evacuating their bowels on nightclub dancefloors and consecrating their love on lecture hall floors. I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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