TREVISO, Italy: Belgian Dries De Bondt won stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday as a quartet of escapees defied a frantic bid from the sprinters to reel them in over the final kilometer.
The final flat stage on this 21-day race around Italy was supposed to be the last chance for sprinters such as Arnaud Demare and Mark Cavendish, but in a rare event the mass bunch sprint was denied by the escape group.
“It’s a we question, not an I question. It was a collaboration (working together) until the last kilometer,” De Bondt said.
“Everyone said Cavendish or Demare or (Alberto) Dainese was going to win — it was written in the stars.
“But there was no moment of doubt, nobody skipped one turn,” he said of the escape.
The powerfully-built 30-year-old De Bondt outsprinted Jumbo’s Edoardo Affini for a photo finish as Magnus Cort of EF was third and Davide Bardiani of CSF fourth after they had worked together over two laps of a tight downtown circuit at Treviso.
The sprint pack started that 20km slog with a deficit of only 2 minutes, and would have caught the quartet on a less technically demanding circuit.
Frenchman Demare of FDJ still leads in the sprint points rankings with a tally of 254 while the 37-year-old Cavendish is second on 132.
Ecuadorian former Giro winner Richard Carapaz of Ineos maintains his 03sec lead in the overall standings on Australian Jai Hindley.
“Today was a fast stage. We thought it was going to be relaxed and easy but it went quickly today,” said Carapaz, who had been hoping for a slower run ahead of the finale.
Hindley had a fright on Thursday when he took a puncture late in the race.
“The rules say if it’s in the last 3km its ok, you don’t lose time,” said a relieved Bora director Jens Zemka.
“We are highly motivated for the run in,” he said.
Bahrain Victorious leader Mikel Landa is third at 1min 05sec.
“If I see any opportunities I’ll attack,” said the Spaniard. “There’s no fear of losing my podium place now (Joao) Almeida is out.”
Almeida’s hopes of finishing on the podium ended overnight as he withdrew after testing positive for Covid-19 when he was just 49 sec off third-placed Mikel Landa.
Friday’s ride from Marano Lagunare to Santuario di Castelmonte features four climbs.
But Saturday’s high altitude affair will be the real showdown as it climbs over 2000m altitude three times.
Sunday’s final stage is a medium length 17.4km individual time-trial into Verona where Carapaz claimed overall victory three years ago.