Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) comfortably fended off the attacks of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) as Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) took the first Grand Tour win of his career on stage 18 of the 2017 Giro d’Italia.
The Colombian had launched his first attack with three climbs more more than 50km remaining on the short, sharp stage through the Dolomites, a move that looked to be a good one as Dumoulin was distanced.
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Quintana bridged across to a couple of team-mates before being joined by Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), opening a gap of nearly 30 seconds back to Dumoulin.
However the pink jersey paced himself perfectly to close the gap over the next couple of kilometres, with a stalemate then ensuing until the final climb.
Up ahead Tejay van Garderen and Mikel Landa were the final survivors of the early break, holding their one minute advantage over the GC group for most of the first category Pontives climb.
Movistar sat on the front of the group, but were setting a fairly benign pace. The reason for this became clear when Quintana attacked with seven kilometres remaining, an out-of-sorts move that lacked the 27-year-old’s usual ferocity, meaning he was left dangling a hundred metres off the front of the group for a number of minutes.
When he was eventually brought back, Dumoulin decided to have a bit of fun with his rivals, swinging across the road and putting in a couple of teasing accelerations, before sitting up and soft pedalling
That playing around and slackening of the pace meant it was going to be between van Garderen and Landa for the stage win, even as a number of the riders lower down in the top 10 came in pursuit with Dumoulin, Nibali, and Quintana having no need to follow.
With Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) just a hundred metres behind, Landa decided to lead out the sprint, and made the same mistake that had seen him lose out to Nibali on stage 16, letting van Garderen come through the inside of the final corner, the American sprinting across the line to take the biggest win of his career.
Dumoulin eventually led Quintana and Nibali home at more than a minute back, with the only real reshuffling in the GC being the move of Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) up to ninth and into the white jersey after Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) was dropped midway through the stage, losing more than three minutes.
How it happened
At only 137km in length, the 18th stage of the Giro d’Italia from Moena to Ortisei saw aggressive racing from the gun as the peloton started to climb to Passo Pordoi almost immediately after the start.
The first four riders went clear within the first couple of kilometres, with Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data), Manuele Boaro (Bahrain-Merida), Joey Rosskoff (BMC Racing) and Diego Rosa (Team Sky) in the move, but as the first category climb began in earnest after 14km there were numerous riders attempting to bridge across from the peloton.
Rosa set a fast pace on the front of the group, dropping Boaro half way up the climb, taking maximum points at the top of the Pordoi, and leading on to the descent, where the three leaders were joined by considerable reinforcements.
Making it across on the fast descent were Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) Joe Dombrowski, David Villela, and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac), Philip Deignan and Mikel Landa (Team Sky), Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven (Trek -Segafredo), Jan Hirt (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Ruben Plaza (Orica Scott), Dario Cataldo (Astana), Andrey Amador and Winner Anacona (Movistar), Kanstantin Siutsou (Bahrain-Merida), Alexander Foliferov (Gazprom-Rusvelo) and Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), creating n 19-strong group out front which quickly extended its lead over the peloton to three minutes.
The next climb of the day was the Passo Valparola, a steady 12.9km climb at around 6.5 per cent. The wide, well-surfaced roads saw a considerable upping of the pace in the peloton, mainly at the behest of Bahrain-Merida and Orica-Scott.
The racing was also fast in the break where Diego Rosa was setting a searing pace on the front, sending a few riders out of the back. However the effort didn’t set up team-mate and blue jersey Mikel Landa to take maximum points at the top of the climb, with the Spaniard losing out to Omar Fraile.
Orica-Scott continued to lead the peloton up the second half of the climb, leading the main group onto the descent 2-08 behind the leaders.
That gap held steady on the spectacular descent, before Rosa once again moved to the front of the escape to set tempo up the Passo Gardena, a slightly steeper climb than the Valparola, ramping up to 11 per cent near the start.
The gradient was put to good use by Movistar, who accelerated to the front of the peloton to put Laurens Ten Dam (Team Sunweb) in trouble, meaning that Tom Dumoulin would have to race the final 60km of the stage without team support.
Gorka Izagirre, a stage winner earlier in the race, set a searing pace to whittle the group down to around 15 riders as they made their way up the climb, with the white jersey of Bob Jungels being one of those to be put in difficulty.
The Luxembourgish rider was eighth going in to the stage, and faced a lonely ride for the rest of the stage as he tried to limit his losses to Adam Yates who was still in the front group, and had started the stage 2-25 behind Jungels in the young rider standings.
With 55km remaining Izagirre pulled off, and with no one continuing with the high tempo Nairo Quintana launched a fierce acceleration.
The Colombian instantly opened a large gap with no riders even attempting to follow, and within a few second Quintana had ridden across to Andrey Amador who had dropped back from the break to pace his team leader.
The pink jersey of Tom Dumoulin had no choice but to move to the front of the group and set off in pursuit, but the pace wasn’t fast enough for Vincenzo Nibali who launched a counter-attack of his own.
With Amador for company Quintana quickly opened a gap of 25 seconds over Dumoulin, while Nibali found assistance from former team-mate Cataldo to bridge across.
That little group continued to grow nicely as Siutsou and Anacona also dropped back from the break to set the pace.
However Dumoulin has not fluked his way into pink, and by the top of the climb he had clawed his way back, meaning we were back to the status quo, albeit with the gap to the break down to 50 seconds, with 50km still to race.
With Jungels dropped, Ruben Plaza, who had been dropped from the break, led the pink jersey group down the descent as he tried to move team-mate Yates into white, bringing the gap to the break down to just 20 seconds in the process.
By the base of the Passo di Pinei the break was down to just six riders, incredibly still being led by Diego Rosa with the blue jersey of Landa locked in his wheel, pursued by a pink jersey group which itself was down to just 10 riders.
Finally, on the 15 per cent gradients of the mid-point of the climb, Rosa cracked, almost coming to a stop at the side of the road, leaving it up to Landa to go in search of the stage win and further mountain points.
In the GC group Movistar continued to grind away on the front, but Dumoulin looked cool, calm, and collected as he pedalled smoothly in the saddle, and with no attacks forthcoming the fireworks would have to wait for the day’s final climb.
9.3km long and with a maximum gradient of 12 per cent near its summit, the first category Pontives climb was the last obstacle of the day with the finish coming four kilometres after its summit.
Ruben Plaza continued to lead the pink jersey group down the descent, reducing the gap to the leaders on the top half of the descent, before Landa and van Garderen decided to push on on the descent, the two best climbers in the breakaway opening a gap on the rest.
Going on to the final climb, Landa and van Garderen held an advantage of 50 seconds over the pink jersey group, meaning it would be nip and tuck as to whether they could hold on the for the stage win.
Once again it was Movistar who moved to the front of the GC group, Andrey Amador leading Winner Anacona with Quintana content to sit a little further back, locked on to the wheel of Dumoulin.
Amador set a very steady pace that even allowed van Garderen and Landa to extend their gap, which was up to a minute with 10km remaining with Hirt, Villella, Dombrowski, and Berhane sitting halfway between the two groups.
Finally, with seven kilometres remaining, there was a bit of action in the front group as everyone seemed reluctant to follow the pace of Anacona, who simply rode off the front.
Quintana, Nibali, and Dumoulin were all looking at each other, but not for long as Quintana attacked to bridge across to his team-mate.
However it was far from a stinging acceleration as Sebastien Reichenbach (FDJ) calmly tapped away on the front with team-mate Thibaut Pinot sitting in his wheel, while Dumoulin and Nibali were content to hang further back.
At the head of the race van Garderen attacked in an unsuccessful attempt to drop Landa, while Quintana went solo as Anacona dropped back.
But once again Quintana looked on less than stellar form as Reichenbach comfortably kept him with a few seconds, looking up the road to see the Colombian on his radio to send a message back to the team car.
With 5.5km remaining Quintana was caught, and almost immediately Nibali went on the attack. The Shark of Messina’s acceleration was a sharp one, but Dumoulin’s response was equally sharp, locking straight on to the Italian’s wheel.
The Dutchman looked superb, staring into the eye’s of his rival as he went to the front and launched a couple of teasing attacks, before going for a more concerted effort with 4.5km to go.
Quintana had no choice but to respond, and was able to bridge across, before Pozzovivo and Pinot began to push on over the top of the climb.
That duo opened a ten second gap on the pink jersey, but it was up to the riders lower down GC to chase with Dumoulin’s lead not under threat from Pinot nor Pozzovivo.
Zakarin was the first to go, followed by Kruiswijk and Mollema, while Dumoulin, Nibali, and Quintana played cat and mouse, soft pedalling and weaving across the road with none of them prepared the chase. Dumoulin eventually went to the front of the group, but still didn’t inject too much pace.
Meanwhile Landa and van Garderen went under the flamme rouge with a 20 second gap over Pinot and Pozzovivo (who had also picked up Hirt in their pursuit).
For a moment it looked as it they could be caught, but Landa went to the front, leading out the sprint. Already with a second place in the race’s queen stage, Landa made a similar mistake once again, letting van Garderen through the inside of the final corner, with the American sprinting clear to take his first ever Grand Tour win.
Pinot, Pozzovivo, Zakarin Kruiswijk, and Mollema all followed in quick succession, but there was no such urgency for Dumoulin, Quintana, and Nibali, who rolled across the line just over a minute behind van Garderen.
With Adam Yates crossing the line at 1-12, the only other rider to wait for was Bob Jungels, who eventually finished at 3-55, meaning that Yates moved into the white jersey.
Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 18: Moena to Ortisei/St. Ulrich (137km)
1. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing, in 3-54-04
2. Mikel Landa (Esp) Team Sky, at same time
3. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, at 8 secs
4. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale, at same time
5. Jan Hirt (Cze) CCC Sprandi Polkowice, at 11 secs
6. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 24 secs
7. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNl-Jumbo, at 34 secs
8. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at same time
9. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 1-06
10. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at same time
General classification after stage 18
1. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, in 80-00-48
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 31 secs
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-12
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, at 1-36
5. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-58
6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 2-07
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 3-17
8. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNl-Jumbo, at 5-48
9. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 7-06
10. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors, at 7-24