One day after EF Education-Nippo leader Hugh Carthy dropped to six minutes down in the general classification, the Briton’s mountain lieutenant was given the green light to go for glory. And didn’t Alberto Bettiol do well.
Taking his opportunity by the scruff of its neck, the 27-year-old Italian fought tooth and nail to get himself into the day’s large 23-man break before keeping his cool on a series of four spiky climbs near the finish of the 231km stage when fellow escapee Remi Cavagna seemed to be riding away to glory.
Frenchman Cavagna blasted clear of his breakaway companions with 25km remaining on the second climb through the picture-perfect vineyards of the Oltrepo Pavese in southern Lombardy. Looking to provide his Deceuninck Quick-Step team their first win one day after Belgian tyro Remco Evenepoel was forced out of his debut Giro, Cavagna built up a lead of 30 seconds as Bettiol led the chase behind with Ireland’s Nico Roche (Team DSM).
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But a huge acceleration on the penultimate climb saw Bettiol drop Roche and close in on the lone leader, with Cavagna finally hitting the wall in the final tortuous kilometre of the fourth climb. There was no looking back for Bettiol, who mastered the final descent before celebrating a maiden win on his home race with gusto in front of the ecstatic crowds in Stradella.

'Brilliant' Bettiol claims Stage 18 victory as Bernal holds pink jersey

Italy’s Simone Consonni (Cofidis) caught Roche on the home straight to take second place at 17 seconds, with Roche finishing ahead of teammate Nikias Arndt and the Italian Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) before the remainder of the breakaway arrived in dribs and drabs. Cavagna, after his herculean effort, took ninth place at 24 seconds.
There followed a long wait for the peloton to come home, with Egan Bernal and his maglia rosa rivals enjoying a ceasefire in hostilities ahead of successive summit finishes in the Alps. The Colombian’s Ineos Grenadiers team led the peloton over the four climbs and over the finish some 23 minutes down on Bettiol for what has been the biggest winning margin of the 104th edition of La Corsa Rosa.
With Ruben Guerreiro and Jonathan Caicedo – EF’s stage winners from last year’s Giro – having both crashed out of the race, it was left to Bettiol, the 2019 winner of the Tour of Flanders, to give his American-based team their first success of this Giro.
It took around 50km and an hour of frantic racing down the Adige Valley south of Rovereto before the right assortment of riders were given the nod from Peter Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team to form the day’s breakaway, the Slovenian happy to retain his narrow lead in the maglia ciclamino competition by ensuring all the points would be taken by none of his rivals.

'Really emotional' - Bettiol reacts to Stage 18 triumph at Giro

Bettiol, Cavagna and Roche found themselves in the break alongside the likes of Stage 12 winner Andrea Vendrame (Ag2R-Citroen), Basque climber Gorka Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech), the Italian veteran Dario Cataldo (Movistar) and Ulissi, an eight-time Giro stage winner.
The gap gradually grew to above 15 minutes as the race zipped down the Po Valley towards the foot of the first of those four climbs peppering the final 30km. A six-man move involving Izagirre, Bettiol, Roche, Patrick Bevin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Stefano Oldani (Lotto Soudal) and Jacopo Mosca (Trek-Segafredo) formed on the descent of the first climb as the break started to fracture.
It was on the fourth-category ascent of Castana where Cavagna made his move, powering clear from the back of a leading group which had just brought those six riders to heel. It was a trademark dig from the TT specialist, who opened up a gap which looked almost impossible to close.
But with the Frenchman showing some nerves on the descent – overcooking at least three of the tight, narrow bends – Bettiol led the charge from behind on the penultimate climb. Roche – who had teammates Arndt and Nico Denz also in the break – couldn’t hold the Italian's wheel as Bettiol, showing the climbing form of his life, dug deep in his pursuit of the so-called "TGV of Clermont Ferrand".

'It was a long day' - Bernal gives reaction to Stage 18 performance

And with six kilometres remaining, Bettiol’s persistence paid off when he drew level with Cavagna and showed no signs of slowing up – forcing the Frenchman to hit the wall. Cavagna would be caught and passed by Roche before the summit after seeing his chances derailed by the indefatigable Bettiol.
“I was scared of Cavagna because he’s a really strong rider,” the Italian later said. “I went deep to catch him and I tried to hit him mentally because it was my last opportunity to drop him and get away.”
Mirroring his ride into Oudenaard ahead of his Ronde triumph two years ago, Bettiol held on after the final climb and kept his cool on the series of sinuous switchbacks on the descent. The 27-year-old had time to savour his victory before switching his focus to the challenges ahead.
“It was a really emotional stage,” he said. “A really hard stage and really warm – finally, the sun has come out. I’ve put a lot of effort over the past months to get this win and this is dedicated to my team who believed in me.
"It was a really tough stage because it took a while for the break to go and the final 40km were really hard. Luckily, I had the legs because I’ve been supporting Hugh Carthy in the mountains and he is still our priority and I’ll now concentrate on that.”
Ineos Grenadiers neutralised the race behind over the four climbs, fronting the peloton as it crossed the line 23’30” down on Bettiol on a day of attrition for the GC favourites. Bernal will head into back-to-back stages in the Alps with a 2’21” lead over Italy’s Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) and 3’21” over Britain’s Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange).

'Saving energy for the next days' - Yates on Stage 18 showing

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