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This article originally appeared on Velo News
Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) won Thursday as a four-rider break fended off the sprinters in a wild stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia into Treviso.
The four-rider breakaway pulled away early, and poured everything into the pedals to try to make it to the line by a slender gap to the chasing bunch to upset the sprinters.
De Bondt fended off Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma), with Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) crossing the line third. Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) won the bunch sprint behind, but it didn’t matter.
“I think it was a collaboration until the last K, but we didn’t speculate. I knew Affini would go from far in the sprint and I had to be on his wheel,” De Bondt said. “Magnus had the pressure, so it was logical that he would go first.
“There was no moment of gap, and everyone gave full, full, full to the line. It was written in the stars that the sprinters would win, and we made a plan the four of us to work to the end and we pulled it off.”
The gap went down from just under two minutes with 20km to go to around 30 seconds with 3km to go. It was a question of who had the freshest legs.
Overnight leader Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) finished safely in the bunch to carry the maglia rosa into the final weekend.
Jai Hindley was gapped late in the stage, and early reports say it was a puncture in the closing 3km. The race jury that Hindley did not lose time, and the gap remains at three seconds for the pink jersey.
"Today was a very fast stage, maybe it looked easy, but it was fast," Carapaz said. "We got through the day and that was the most important thing. We have two very important days coming up.
“Everyone was looking to us and there was a lot stress, and there was some nerves it could split. I have to get through these last three stages, and my legs feel good. So we are confident going into the weekend."
With the Dolomites looming on the horizon, Thursday’s was the last respite for the climbers and GC contenders as the breakaway and the sprinters dueled for the honors.
It was a stunning disappoint for the peloton’s fast finishers. With two climbing stages and a time trial on tap, this was the last chance for the likes of Mark Cavendish and Arnaud Demare.
The peloton left it too late, and with a technical finishing circuit coupled with nearly three weeks of racing in the legs, the breakaway had just enough to deny the sprinters.
Thursday’s stage saw a major GC shakeup even before the race started. Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), who was poised in fourth overall and in the best young rider’s jersey, did not start after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Four off the front, and the chase was on
With 45km to go, the gap to a four-rider break was 2:45, and the race was on.
Four riders -- Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix), Davide Gabburo (Bardiani), Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost), and Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) -- pulled clear after a flourish of attacks in the opening 10km.
In what was the last sprinter’s chance, the challenge for the break was to break the elastic, and the challenge for the peloton was to keep everything on a short leash.
The first two-thirds of the stage offered promising terrain, with a pair of rated climbs and a few more without rating assured that the stage was far from routine. The leading quartet dug deep and fully committed to the line to give themselves a chance.
💗 Giro d’Italia 2022 | Stage 1⃣8⃣
⏱️ 1’22” > Gruppo Maglia Rosa
-- Giro d’Italia (@giroditalia) May 26, 2022
Coming at the sharp end of nearly three weeks of racing, there was no guarantee that the break could be safely reeled in. Groupama, Quick-Step, and UAE put legs on the front.
The threat of showers late in the stage and a narrow, twisting urban circuit kept things interesting.
With 12km to go on the last of two laps on a finishing circuit, the gap still hovered at about 1 minute. That gap stood with 7.5km, tipping the favor toward the breakaway to stay clear.
What’s next: Back into the mountains
The 2022 Giro turns back into the mountains Friday for the 178km 19th stage from Marano Lagunare to Santuario di Castelmonte.
With four rated climbs stacked up in the back end of the stage, the ever-increasingly difficult stage will be likely the last chance for breakaway riders.
Saturday’s “queen stage” is expected to be a big GC battle, so most teams know that Friday could be the last chance to win a stage.
The first major climb comes at 74.9km at the Cat. 3 Villanova Grotte, meaning it could take awhile before a real break forms. The Cat. 3 Passo di Tanamea and the first-category Kolovrat are stacked up at 94km and 134km before the final approach to the finishing climb.
The finish climb is a second-category run up to Santuario di Castelmonte. There could be some GC fireworks, but most eyes will be on what could be the Giro’s final breakaway.
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