Race leader Simon Yates launched a devastating attack on the penultimate climb to clinch a fine solo victory on Stage 15 of the 2018 Giro d’Italia – and take another chunk of time out of a weary Tom Dumoulin.
The Brit started the day 1'24" ahead of the defending champion, but again proved too strong on the climbs as he distanced his GC rivals with ease. Yates finished the day with 2'11" on Dumoulin in second, and 2'28" on third-placed Domenico Pozzovivo.
A frustrated Dumoulin crossed the line alongside Pozzovivo, Thibaut Pinot, Richard Carapaz and Miguel Angel Lopez – the Dutchman spotted gesturing wildly at those around him to take stints on the front in the final kilometres.
Things could have been much worse for the Sunweb leader, after he lost contact with the chasing group of favourites when Carapaz attacked 3.5km from home. Eventually, after a Herculean effort, the man from Maastricht regained contact and even managed to bag a handful of bonus seconds in the sprint for second and third.
‘We salute him’ – Yates extends GC lead in style
Miguel Angel Lopez crossed the line in second, after seeming to be the only man capable of keeping with Yates when the Lancashireman attacked for the first time. The Colombian will climb one place on GC, at the expense of Chris Froome.
Froome, meanwhile, saw his euphoria from winning Saturday’s stage on the Zoncolan quickly wiped out as he finished in the third group back to leave his hopes of completing his set of Grand Tour jerseys looking desperately unlikely. When Yates launched his attack 18km out with two climbs remaining Froome was unable to keep contact. He burnt through valuable mountain domestique, Sergio Henao, before taking up the chase himself, eventually limiting his time losses to 1'32", crossing the line with team-mate Wout Poels.
Domenico Pozzovivo finished fourth, with Ecuadorean stage winner Carapaz in fifth. Frenchman Pinot completed the top six, with his compatriot Alex Geniez leading home the second chasing group. Davide Formolo, Pello Bilbao and Sam Oomen rounded out the top ten on the stage.
The top 10 on GC remains largely unchanged, with Froome down two places to seventh, and Lopez and Carapaz bumping up one place each.
The day began at a frenetic pace, with seemingly half the peloton wanting to be in the break. When it did eventually form, the escape consisted of 24 riders. After the race crossed the first categorised climb, Team EF Education First began putting in an almighty shift to try and close the gap, which at that point stood at three minutes. The aim was to bring down the gap enough to launch their mountain man, Michael Woods, on an attack for the stage win. The move did come, with the last of Woods' deputies being exhausted on the Passo Tre Croci's lowers slopes, at which point the Canadian set off to pick off what remained of the break.
While the peloton seemed content to let Woods go, the leading trio of Nico Denz, Mikael Cherel and Dayer Quintana had other ideas. After a punishing 25km in no man's land, Woods gave it up for a bad job and let the peloton swallow him up. From then it was only a matter of time as to when the GC men would overhaul the last escapists.
‘I’m a bit emotional’, says Yates
The catch was finally made in the final 10kms, when a charging Yates blew past the last man from the break, Nico Denz, on the climb up to Sappada. Yates, once again looked absolutely untouchable, skipping away from his rivals with apparent ease, and the balance of power in this year's Giro has swung decisively in his favour. His win marks only the second time that British riders (Yates & Froome) have won back-to-back stages in the Giro, on the only previous occasion it was Mark Cavendish and Mark Cavendish in 2013.
Monday is a rest day, followed by the all-important individual time trial on Tuesday. Dumoulin is expected to claw back around two minutes from Yates over the 34-kilometre course, but as a result of Yates' spectacular efforts today and on Saturday, that is no longer looking like enough time to put the Dutchman in pink. Instead, Yates may still be wearing pink on Wednesday morning, with three summit finish days - days on which he's expected to take more time from Dumoulin - giving him a massive margin for error.
Key Moments, Stage 15: Fabio Aru’s terrible day
It has been an attritional second week at the Giro and the withdrawals of Nicolas Roche (DNS), Loic Vliegen, Manuel Senni and Igor Anton testified to the difficulty of the day. Fabio Aru floundered on the ascent of the Costalissoio and looks a likely candidate for a post-rest day withdrawal, eventually rolling over the line 19'30" down.