Gilbert Takes Stage 18 of Giro; Contador Further Pads Lead
Philippe Gilbert (BMC) has won his second stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia. The Belgian jumped into and away from the break of the day to win Stage 18, a rugged, 170-km ride from Melide, Switzerland to Verbania, Italy, in 4:04:14. Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani-CSF) finished second at 0:47, and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) outsprinted Matteo Busato (Southeast) for third at 1:01. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) remains the maglia rosa and has extended his overall lead.
The mountainous finale of the stage made a breakaway easy to predict. It took 44 km to establish itself. Gilbert and Amael Moinard (both from BMC), Bongiorno, Chavanel, Busato, Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin), Davide Villella (Cannondale-Garmin protected by POC), Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge), David De La Cruz (Etixx-Quick Step), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky), Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) went off of the front. None of the escapees were a threat to the pink jersey, so Tinkoff-Saxo Bank did not lead a chase. The break’s advantage ballooned to 13 minutes.
With 70 km remaining, Cunego and Ferrari crashed. The 2004 Giro champion abandoned with a broken collarbone, while Ferrari drifted back to the peloton.
With 55 km left, the break trailed the bunch by 12:44, and the latter would obviously produce the winner. Nine km later, at the base of the Category 1 Monte Ologno, Haga was dropped, and Busato followed soon after.
Tinkoff-Saxo Bank led the peloton up the climb in pursuit. A crash occurred, and Mikel Landa (Astana), who was second overall, and most of Sky were caught behind the mishap. Contador, perhaps remembering how Astana and Katusha accelerated when he punctured in Stage 16, ordered his men to press the pace. With 40 km to go, El Pistolero attacked and found himself alone.
Landa chased and joined a group that consisted of most of the top 10 riders. Ahead, the break consisted of four riders at the summit—De La Cruz, Moinard, Bongiorno, and Siutsiu.
Ryder Hesjedal (Team Cannondale-Garmin protected by POC) joined Contador, and they trailed the break by 7:38 at the summit. Villella, who had dropped out of the break, joined the pair, and the two Cannondale-Garmin men led Contador into the descent.
With 19 km remaining, Gilbert, who had taken the climb at his own pace, rejoined the break. He attacked and dropped the break members, forging a 20-second lead immediately and extending it to 0:30 with five km to go. The BMC man had plenty of time to celebrate his victory.
Behind, another reshaping of the general classification took place. At one point, Contador and Hesjedal led the Landa group by nearly two minutes. The members of that group rallied, but at the finish line Contador and Hesjedal had taken 1:13 out of it. The other contenders had still more time to make up during Stages 19 and 20, the Giro’s final mountain stages.
Gilbert and his team had seen this stage as one that a breakaway could win. "This morning on the bus, we talked about how the breakaway might have a chance," Gilbert said. "At the foot of the climb, the rest went full out. But I knew I had to ride my own tempo. When I made contact with the front group, I started to attack immediately. Yes, I took risks on the descent. But you have to if you want to win a stage in the Giro."
Contador denied that he and his teammates had retaliated against Katusha and Astana for the Stage 18 episode. “Today's scenario was a bit different from what happened on the Mortirolo,” the maglia rosa said. “Before the climb, my team was working hard on the front and expending energy because I knew that we had to be at the front going into the climb, and we wanted to avoid problems. In the event, Landa was caught behind, for the first time in the race. Overall, I'm very happy to have gained more time in the GC. I'm tired, because after the last climb it was a time trial, but every day is hard here. We'll see what happens tomorrow and the following day.”
In the overall, Contador leads teammates Landa and Fabio Aru by 5:15 and 6:05, respectively. Stage 19 will be another standing shaker. The 236-km ride from Gravellona Toce to Cervinia will feature three Category 1 ascents in the second half of the stage, including the climb to the finish. Will Contador further pad his lead? Will he take the stage? Will his opponents take time out of him? For the answers to these questions and others, check in at www.roadcycling.com!