Filippo Zana took the stage win on a thrilling day of racing on stage 18 at the Giro d'Italia, denying Thibaut Pinot victory.
A tough mountain day. The final week of the race is brutal and there will be four difficult ascents on the day where differences can be created. This is the first of three gruesome racing days, however, it may still be hard enough to influence the big riders to make moves and create differences for the overall classification.
In a truly electric start to the stage, INEOS Grenadiers immediately put the pressure on up the first climb, thinning out the peloton and bringing back almost all of the riders who tried to get into an early move.
Once the race had settled down ever so slightly, a group of seven riders were clear at the front including Thibaut Pinot, Aurélien Paret-Peintre and breakaway regular, Derek Gee.
With 70km to go the break has extended their advantage to over four minutes. Pinot, who started the day 6:48 down was suddenly right back into podium contention.
Taking maximum points on the first two climbs of the day, Pinot was also back up to second in the King of the Mountains classification making it a very fruitful day in the breakaway for the Frenchman.
Gee, who is second overall in the points classification, despite not being a true sprinter was able to take maximum points at the first intermediate sprint.
As the breakaway riders neared the start of the third climb and the time gap reached 5:30, BORA - hansgrohe and UAE Team Emirates came to the front of the peloton, taking over from the INEOS Grenadiers.
When INEOS returned to the front through Laurens de Plus however, the peloton began to get ripped apart and that time gap started to drop.
Pinot took the lead in the King of the Mountains classification at the top of the third climb, ensuring he would return to the Maglia Azzura from Ben Healy.
As the Maglia Rosa group reached the top, the time gap had been slashed to 4:25 with only around 20 riders left in the bunch.
With 9km to go, Pinot started to up the pace in the breakaway quickly getting rid of Paret-Peintre and Marco Frigo. Warren Barguil was the next rider to struggle as the gradient ramped up.
With Pinot relentless on the front, Gee was soon dropped leaving just the Groupama - FDJ leader and Filippo Zana at the front of the race.
Behind Sepp Kuss took to the front of the peloton and immediately the GC race blew up once again with Joao Almeida put into difficulty and a select group of Kuss, Primoz Roglic, Geraint Thomas, Eddie Dunbar and Thymen Arensman riding clear.
When Arensman could no longer hold on, just the four remained. Jay Vine meanwhile was working hard to try and bring Almeida back into contention.
Once Kuss's pace dropped, Roglic made his move. Thomas was quickly onto the Slovenian's wheel with Dunbar battling hard to keep close. As is often the case though, the incredible Kuss was soon back at the front pacing again.
Cresting the penultimate climb, Kuss, Roglic and Thomas held a gap of around 15 seconds over Vine, Almeida and Dunbar.
At the front of the race, Pinot and Zana were just over a kilometre from the line and began to play games.
With Pinot stuck on the front, Zana refused to come around. Leading out the sprint, Pinot was overtaken right at the line with the Italian national champion taking victory.
Behind, Roglic and Thomas crossed the line together with Almeida suffering a small loss of time.
"They managed to camouflage for quite a long time that Roglic was not good, but at some point that is no longer possible" - Thijs Zonneveld on Jumbo-Visma
Adam Blythe comments as Mark Cavendish gets involved in an argument following unsuccessful stage 17
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