Breakaway execute their plan to perfection
Four riders, out on their own for 151km, against a rampaging bunch of 150 plus, on a relatively flat parcours. Who wins?
Most of us would plump for the peloton on a day like today, especially as it was the last opportunity for sprinters before the end of the Giro d'Italia. Stage 18 was different, though, as the bunch failed to catch those early escapees, coming in 14 seconds behind them in Treviso.
The men of the breakaway knew they could succeed. They had a plan, as Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) and Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) revealed in post-race interviews. It is one thing having a plan to stay away, but it is another thing to execute it to perfection, proving all the experts wrong in the process.
The pair, along with Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) and Davide Gabburo (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), played with the bunch in order to ensure they had a big enough gap to win from in the end.
The quartet were careful not to put too much time into the peloton, to not spook them into chasing too early, but also maintained a gap that was possible to succeed from. In a way, they lulled the chasers into a false sense of security; let them think that there was always time to catch them. By the time they had realised they needed to work hard, it was too late.
Sprinters' teams mess up final chance
This Giro d'Italia has not been kind on the sprinters. There have only been five bunch sprints in this edition, and in one of those some of the fast men missed out thanks to the amount of climbing.
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has been the pick of them, winning three stages in impressive fashion, but could not challenge on Thursday. In fact, none of the sprinters could, thanks to their teams messing up the chase. They could have started their intense pursuit earlier, as the escapees were never more than three minutes up the road, but instead left it too late.
There is a real sense of desperation in moments of racing like this. The teams going for a sprint are convinced of their right to make it happen, and simply have to make it happen, but that gives no thought to the effort of the riders in the break. As the kilometres tick down, the desperation increases, but this was to no use on Thursday.
The only thing keeping the sprinters in the race was this opportunity, one does not want to think about the conversations that will be happening around dinner tables tonight. This week contained 18,961 metres of climbing and no bunch sprints, hardly an appetising prospect for Démare or Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl).
Alpecin-Fenix might be the team of the Giro
Before this Giro d'Italia, just one member of the eight-man Alpecin-Fenix Giro squad had won a WorldTour race: Mathieu van der Poel. The Dutchman has won quite a few, let's be honest.
With three stages to go in the race, that number is up to three. Stefano Oldani won stage 13 in Genova, before Dries De Bondt won in Treviso on Thursday. 12 teams have won on the 18 stages so far, and Alpecin-Fenix have won three. They have managed this with only one star, in Van der Poel. Other teams have been completely anonymous in this race, but the team in a weird green colour have been very visible. This is despite their camo-like kit.
There are other teams with claims to the title of team of the race, with Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert winning two stages and currently having two riders in the top 10 on general classification, but Alpecin-Fenix have been punching above their weight impressively.
The ProTeam are well inside the top ten cycling teams in the world, and have recently announced their intention to join the WorldTour next year. On this evidence, they will be very much at home there.
Trek-Segafredo caught out in peloton split
Up to stage 18, it had been an almost perfect Giro for Trek-Segafredo. The team had Juan Pedro López in the pink jersey for nine days, the young Spaniard was still in the lead in the young rider stakes, and they won a stage through Giulio Ciccone on stage 15.
At the end of Thursday's stage, López remains in the white jersey, but he and his team were given an almighty scare on the run-in to Treviso. If you look at the results closely, he might still be in ninth place on GC, but he has been leapfrogged by Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert). With João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) heading home, everyone moved up a place, but López lost time and therefore stayed in the same place.
Trek were caught out as the peloton surged towards the line, attempting to catch the break. Positioning might have been at fault, but stage 18 should not have been a threatening stage. López will be cursing his luck tonight.
Jai Hindley saved by 3km rule
On a bunch finish like stage 18, the 3km rule comes into play. This means that any rider who comes a cropper in the final 3000 metres due to things outside their control, like a mechanical or a crash, loses no time.
This came in very handy for Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) on Thursday. The Australian, who trails Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and his pink jersey by just three seconds, punctured with about 2.5km to go. If the 3km rule was not in place, he would have lost well over a minute to his GC rivals, but as it is, he can breathe easily.
Unlike Trek-Segafredo and Juan Pedro López, who were distanced well before the final 3km, Hidley ended up losing no time.
His teammate, Lennard Kämna, explained: "I think he had a mechanical in the last 2.5, so I think he will get the same time, no stress. It was definitely not relaxed, it was a hard day, especially in the last 30k. The mechanical was a pity, but shouldn’t be a problem for us."
Now Hindley can rest and prepare for the next mountain adventure, less than 18 hours away.
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