Ineos Grenadiers' East Londoner Tao Geoghegan Hart surged clear of Sunweb's Wilco Kelderman and Jai Hindley in the final metres of a climbers’ day to secure another stage win for his team and announce himself as a serious contender to win the Giro d’Italia.
Geoghegan Hart, 25, went into the day three minutes and 44 seconds down on overall leader Joao Almeida, but produced a performance that suggests he has plenty in the tank ahead of a final week that features three huge mountain stages.
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Almeida suffered in the final part of the day as the race summited the category one Piancavallo for a mountaintop finish in the ski resort, but the overall leader clung on, recovering to a 15-second lead - just enough to stay in the Maglia Rosa going into the final rest day.
However, if Stage 15’s struggles are anything to go by, then the young Portuguese rider is going to have an uphill battle on his hands to remain top of the GC in a hugely difficult final week.
Geoghegan Hart dedicated his stage win to the team's late directeur sportif: "This one was for Nico Portal," he said. "We lost him this spring and it has been difficult for the team, not only that but this season we’ve had some great highs but some big lows in the Tour [de France] and for me personally, and also in this race.
"We have to show the Grenadier spirit that we’re trying to foster in this team and keep bouncing back like we know we can."
He added: "I only had the stage win in mind, I lost some time in the prologue - the plan for the whole team was to support Geraint [Thomas] for the victory and I really believe he would’ve been on the podium if not better. Etna was a strange day for us we spent five or six minutes with Geraint on the floor in the neutral zone and I’ve only won a few races in my career so this is very incredible for me."
Reflecting on a disappointing year for the team, he praised the hard work of team-mates Filippe Ganna and Rohan Dennis in the race so far. When asked if this is just the start for him on the top of the podium, he said: "I don’t know I haven’t seen the results, for me crossing the line first is something truly incredible... I’m really honoured to be in this team to be a Grenadier and in the Giro."
Dennis attacked from the 11-strong lead group with 44km to go dropping Thomas De Gendt who was too late to go with him. The Australian maintained his lead of over a minute until the final climb up the Piancavallo as Deceuninck-Quick-Step who needed to protect their pink leader's jersey pushed on with Sunweb accelerating the pace.
With 10km to go, Dennis' lead dropped to 40 seconds as the chase group was swallowed by the peloton.
As the climb reached its peak gradient of 14 percent, Sunweb had stretched out the lead train, dropping race leader Joao Almeida who was suffering and desperately trying to limit the damage on his race lead, and the rest of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step team.
Geoghegan Hart looked to be tucked away in the group until he made a jump across to the Sunweb leaders in the final stages, and sprinted to the line beating Kelderman by two seconds to collect his first win in 542 days since last year's Tour of the Alps, but now his most precious.
Italy's Giovanni Visconti of Vini Zabu-KTM collected the King of the Mountain points to lead the classification and collect the Maglia Azzurro (blue jersey), and Arnaud Demare retains the Maglia Ciclamino.
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