Hour record holder Victor Campenaerts won his first-ever Grand Tour stage as the breakaway were allowed to fight for the honours on stage 15 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia.
The Belgian outsprinted Alpecin-Fenix's Oscar Riesbeek in a two-up sprint, the pair having broken away from their fellow escapees before the final climb of the day, taking a third win for Qhubeka-Assos this Italian Grand Tour.
DSM's Nikias Arndt took third, seven seconds later, leading the remnants of the breakaway home.
The peloton came across the line 17 minutes later, having taken the day off as the GC riders ready themselves for tomorrow's test, with Ineos Grenadiers' maintaining his minute-and-a-half lead over BikeExchange's Simon Yates.
More to follow...
How it happened
The peloton were literally caught between a rock and a hard place on stage 15, having tackled the big lump of rock called the Zoncolan the day before and with the queen stage of stage 16 coming up tomorrow.
There were worrying moments soon after the off as a big crash caused the race to be neutralised, such was the number of medical staff required to treat the fallen riders that none were left to monitor the race as it went up the road.
For about 20 minutes the peloton stood still, motos having to chase down riders who'd attacked off the front, neither Bora-Hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann unable to continue nor Natneal Berhane (Cofidis) and Jos Van Emden (Jumbo-Visma). EF Education-Nippo’s Ruben Guerreiro tried to carry on but eventually also came to a halt and climbed off.
There was 138km to go when the race restarted, riders going off the front soon after, and crosswinds causing the peloton to be on alert.
Victor Campenaerts, Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix), Dario Cataldo (Movistar), Nikias Arndt (DSM) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) were among those involved and allowed up the road with little protest, the gap moving above nine minutes with 100km remaining.
Soon, the escapees were on the fourth category climb for the first of three times, the ascent 1.7km-long with an average gradient of 8.1 per cent.
Mollema attacked to try and take maximum KOM points but De Bondt had other ideas, Ganna leading the peloton onto the climb lined with crowds around ten minutes later.
The gap was still 11 minutes with 50km to go, stage honours set to be contested by the breakaway, as Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) was forced to stop by the side of the road after suffering with a mechanical.
Attacks started to erupt from the break with about 30km remaining, Victor Campenaerts marking the first one, before Max Walscheid also tried his hand but was brought back, the lack of collaboration with a while to go causing consternation amongst the group.
Alpecin-Fenix launched their move with little over 20km to go, before Campenaerts launched his attack, coming from the back of the group and speeding away up the road, taking Albert Torres and Oscar Riesbeek with him.
The trio began working well together, building their advantage over the larger group behind.
Campenaerts was happy to do the lion’s share of the work, Torres finding himself in difficulty up the final climb, grimacing his way over the gradient. The Spaniard was soon dropped as the rain started falling heavily.
Riesbeek then started losing contact inside the last 10km, then catching back up to Campenaerts, the gap at around 20 seconds.
15 seconds their advantage with 6km left to the line, the duo beginning to look at each other, Riesbeek trying to attack with 5km to go. That helped the gap edge back out again, Riesbeek making a move again near the top of another incline before Campenaerts countered.
Under 3km to go and it was panic stations for the group behind as Bauke Mollema attacked, too little too late, as Riesbeek made it back onto Campenaerts wheel, the time trial specialist testing Riesbeek’s legs again almost immediately and forcing him to chase once more.
They were together onto the cobbles under the flamme rouge, a game of cat and mouse was afoot, but Campenaerts eased his way past the Dutchman to take a first-ever Grand Tour stage victory, Nikias Arndt bringing the rest of the breakaway home seven seconds later.
The peloton also came home without a fuss 17 minutes down, having taken the day off in preparation for tomorrow’s big mountain test.
Giro d'Italia 2021, stage 15: Grado to Gorizia (147km)
1. Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Qhubeka-Assos, in 3-25-25
2. Oscar Riesbeek (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, at same time
3. Nikias Arndt (Ger) DSM, at seven seconds
4. Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis, at same time
5. Quinten Hermans (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert-Matériaux
6. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Movistar, both at same time
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 9s
8. Albert Torres (Esp) Movistar, at 44s
9. Juan Sebastián Molano (Col) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-02
10. Max Walscheid (Ger) Qhubeka-Assos, at same time
General classification after stage 15
1. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 62-13-33
2. Simon Yates (GBr) BikeExchange, at 1-33
3. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1-51
4. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at 1-57
5. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-Nippo, at 2-11
6. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 3-03
7. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 3-52
8. Dani Martínez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 3-54
9. Romain Bardet (Fra) DSM, at 4-31
10. Tobias Foss (Nor) Jumbo-Visma, at 5-37
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