Buitrago bounces back from crash to fly to victory
Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious) looked surely out of it on stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia. The Colombian crashed on the descent of the opening categorised climb of the day, the Giovo, and was visibly frustrated with himself, shouting with either pain or anguish while he waited for a replacement bike.
He then was behind the first split in the breakaway, as Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) went up the road. He was behind again when Gijs Leemreize (Jumbo-Visma) joined the first group, and when Leemreize and Van der Poel escaped up the road, everyone else looked out of it.
But he didn’t give up. There were tears on Sunday when he missed out on victory in Cogne, but there was a scream of celebration as he crossed the line in Lavarone at the end on Wednesday. The way he powered past Van der Poel and then Leemreize on the Monterovere was clinical, and he never looked back.
Once he had caught the final Dutchman on the road, he attacked again and again to make sure that he was alone over the top, and he tackled the descent perfectly in order to cross the line to victory in the end. At just 22, Buitrago is the latest Colombian star, and Bahrain might have a GC rider for the future in him.
Mikel Landa attacks and attacks, but ends up losing time
It was almost the perfect day for Bahrain-Victorious. While Buitrago flew to victory up the road, their GC leader Mikel Landa looked great on the final climb of the day. He managed to distance João Almeida (UAE-Team Emirates), jumping into his podium place, and looked lively, attempting to split the race up, knowing he had time to make up on Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Jai Hindley ( Bora-Hansgrohe).
There were multiple attacks, with the help of his luxury domestique Wout Poels, who returned to the front to help Landa over the top of that final climb. In the end though, he failed to distance his GC rivals in the end. In fact, the Spaniard ended up losing six seconds to Carapaz and Hindley, which was not the plan as he attempted aggressive moves.
Bahrain will feel good about his podium position now, and he certainly looks one of the top-three riders in the race, but he is now 1-05 behind Carapaz, and 1-02 behind Hindley. He will need to make moves on the final couple of mountain stages in order to make a difference; we will have to wait and see if he can.
Mathieu van der Poel does a Wout van Aert impression
Normally, you do not see the Tour of Flanders winner challenging on tough mountain stages. It is difficult to imagine a Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen or Johan Museeuw at the front of a bike race in the Alps, let alone a crucial stage of the Giro d’Italia. He might not have succeeded, but that is exactly what Van der Poel did on Wednesday.
It brought back memories of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on Alpe d’Huez at last year’s Tour de France, a rider similar to Van der Poel, a fellow winner of Classics. This is the age of the multi-talented rider, of men who can win great one-day races and challenge on stages of Grand Tours too.
Van der Poel was superb on stage 17, and at one point on the Monterovere looked like he was flying away to victory, before he was caught by Leemreize. It is almost unbelievable to see someone who was racing up the Oude Kwaremont just a couple of months ago to be doing similar in the Alps, but the Dutchman has proved that he can almost do it all.
He was not supposed to be as good a climber as Van Aert, his biggest rival, and normally is not, but proved that his talents can be used to power up some of the biggest mountains.
Van der Poel looked absolutely spent at the end. Maybe he will try his luck again at the Tour in just over a month.
João Almeida drops out of contention for the maglia rosa
Almeida kept trying to do his usual trick of slowly, slowly, chasing back on to the group of general classification favourites, as he did on Tuesday. On stage 16, the Portuguese rider clung onto his podium position, limiting his losses to just 14 seconds, despite hanging off the back for a long time on the Valico di Santa Cristina. On stage 17, the elastic snapped.
On the Monterovere, the final first category climb of the day, Almeida dropped off the back with about 12km to go, on some of the steepest sections. The 23-year-old did not give up, keeping his challenge for the podium alive, but it now looks unlikely that he will be wearing pink in Verona on Sunday. His GC rivals were looking to claim time on him ahead of the final day time trial, as Almeida is regarded as a good rider against the clock, and they did just that.
He lost over a minute on his GC rivals on Wednesday, and is now 1-54 behind Richard Carapaz, who leads the race. With two hard mountain stages to come, Almeida will be hoping to find his climbing legs again before the race heads uphill again on Friday.
Is it the Hindley and Carapaz show now?
Three seconds is not a lot. In a time trial, this could be a rider touching his brakes at the wrong point, or misjudging a corner. Will this be how the Giro ends in Verona on Sunday?
Three seconds is all that separates Jai Hindley and Richard Carapaz on the general classification heading into the final four days of the race.
The pair have been inseparable all race so far, Carapaz gaining time on stages one and two, and Hindley bringing some of that back with bonus seconds gain on Blockhaus on stage nine and in Aprica on stage 16. It was much the same story on Wednesday, as Landa attacked them both repeatedly, but the trio stuck together.
Come the end of the stage, Carapaz stretched his legs in an attempt to inch his lead forward by seconds, but Hindley was there, not letting any time be lost. The Australian has been here before, being tight on time with Wilco Kelderman and Tao Geoghegan Hart at the 2020 Giro, where he finished second, but this time might be different.
Landa is a minute behind the pair, and did not look like clawing back the deficit on Wednesday's stage, so do we have a final duo to fight it out over the maglia rosa in the coming days?
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