Giro d’Italia - Stage 18 as it happened: Big break animates longest stage of the race
It's a last chance for many breakaway specialists and fast men to have a stab at glory on the longest stage of the Giro d'Italia. A flat ride in northern Italy should be spiced up by four small climbs in the final 30km and a big battle for the break is expected. Follow LIVE with Felix Lowe. You can watch the Giro d'Italia live and ad-free on the Eurosport app and Eurosport.co.uk.
Stage 17 Highlights: Bumper day as Bernal cracks, Yates closes, Martin wins
There was no action from the GC favourites as Egan Bernal et al enjoyed a ceasefire in hostilities over those four climbs. They come home 23:30 down on Bettiol ahead of back-to-back summit finishes in the Alps. There'll be no changes in the top 10 with Bernal leading Damiano Caruso by 2'21" and Simon Yates by 3'23".
The Italian caught Nico Roche on the home straight and led home a group of chasers 17 seconds down with the Irishman in third, Nikias Arndt in fourth and Diego Ulissi in fifth. The remaining riders from the break come home in dribs and drabs - and we will now have a long wait before the maglia rosa peloton come in. Remi Cavagna was ninth at 24 seconds after his explosive early attack.
Alberto Bettiol wins Stage 18
The Tuscan rouleur - in the climbing form of his life - wins the stage after his brave pursuit of Remi Cavagna and that's the first Grand Tour stage win for the 2019 Ronde van Vlaanderen winner. It comes one day after he supported Hugh Carthy in the mountains but the Briton slipped to six minutes back on the overall standings... A great boost for EF Education-Nippo.
Here's the moment Bettiol could savour his win...
With the gap stretching above 25 seconds, Alberto Bettiol knows the win is his and is already talking into the radio...
4km to go: Roche can't close the gap
Still 17 seconds for the Irishman as Bettiol masters this scenic descent...
6km to go: Cavagna blows up!
The TGV of Clermont Ferrand hits the wall! He went out early and looked odds-on to take the win today - but it was too much, too soon. He's paying the price now as Roche passes him and drops him for dead. Bettiol's to lose now. What a ride from the EF Education-Nippo rider, who has never fiinished higher than fifth in a stage in his home Tour.
7km to go: Bettiol catches Cavagna
The gap must be under 10 seconds now as Bettiol crushes it on the climb. And Cavagna is running out of gas... he's going to be caught before the top of the climb and we will have a two-up ride to the finish.
8km to go: Cavagna 'wins' sprint at Broni
The leaders animating this finale go through the sprint at Broni and it's Cavagna who picks up the three bonus seconds with Bettiol taking two and Roche one. They're almost instantly onto the final climb, which is where the pendulum will swing back in the Italian's favour. Remember, he's a Tour of Flanders winner and this is the kind of parcours he likes...
10km to go: Bravo, Nico
Roche - who is Sean Kelly's tip for the win today, and has been since before the start of the stage - has managed to fight back onto Bettiol's wheel. They're 15 seconds behind Cavagna who is now back in his element, time trialling along the flat ahead of the final climb. The peloton, meanwhile, is 19'30" back. we presume nothing is kicking off in the battle for pink because we haven't seen any images suggesting otherwise.
14km to go: Game on! Bettiol bites back
Alberto Bettiol made a huge acceleration on the third climb, the Italian riding clear of the chasers with only Nico Roche in pursuit. The Irishman almost got across but the elastic snapped. Bettiol goes over the top 12 seconds down on Cavagna and so it's far from over - especially with these twisting descents either side of the next, and final, climb.
16km to go: 30 seconds for Cavagna
The lone leader is onto the third of these four climbs now and his lead is up to half a minute. This is a textbook ride from Cavagna who clearly plotted this with military precision. He said before the stage that he wanted to get in the break - and he attacked at the perfect moment. I'd be surprised if he's reeled in now.
18km to go: Cavagna overcooks corners
Alberto Bettiol badly judges one of the corners as he leads the pursuit and he has to skid to avoid a crash. Meanwhile, Cavagna is really pushing the envelope himself on the descent - and he has two near misses where he overcooks things. Make that three! He's taking so many risks - but the roads are narrow and twisting, so your window error is so much smaller.
22km to go: 22 seconds for Cavagna
The Frenchman goes over the top of this climb with a decent gap over his nine chasers: Vermeersch, Pellaud, Bettiol, Bevin, Cataldo, Arndt, Roche, Mosca and Ulissi. His attack was so predictable - it's amazing the others weren't quicker to pick it up. This was how he's won previous stages before - and this could well be Deceuninck Quick-Step's first stage win of this race.
25km to go: Cavagna goes clear!
Dario Cataldo leads the chase group back to the five men on the front - and then Remi Cavagna surprises everyone with a huge attack from behind. The Frenchman pings clear and opens up a sizeable gap. He has Roche and Bettiol now in pursuit.
26km to go: Cat.4 Castana
We're onto the only categorised climb in this quartet of hills before the finish. Bettiol is setting a hefty tempo on this 5km ascent with its average gradient of 4.2%. Izagirre must be on a bad day because he's been dropped and caught by the chasers already. Bettiol is really flying on the front.
28km to go: Six clear on descent
The original attackers are back with the main break and we now have six riders off the front: Izagirre, Bettiol, Bevin, Oldani, Roche and Mosca. They have 13 seconds. Beautiful roads these over rolling terrain covered with vines and small hillside settlements. I've ridden in this neck of the Italian woods (the hills just a bit further south have some serious gradients) and it's a lovely experience. Food isn't half bad, either.
31km to go: Denz, Bevin and Oldani join in
Team DSM use one of their cards by sending Nico Denz up the road to join the two leaders. Paddy Bevin then surges clear of the pack with Stefano Oldani in pursuit. There's a real shake out behind as a result of these moves, with Nico Roche digging in to lead the chase and string out the large group of escapees.
33km to go: First attacks!
The breakaway move onto the first of those four climbs and it's Astana's Battistella who throws the dice with an early move. He's followed by compatriot Zana. Dutchman Kreder, meanwhile, is already struggling to keep hold of the back of the break.
40km to go: 3,000km down
Just 410.9km to go, then. Half of which are uphill. This man below will welcome this recovery day, even if it's been a long and hot slog in the saddle...
52km to go: First time since 1994
The last time the Giro came to Stradella the win want to Italy's Max Sciandri ahead of compatriots Fabiano Fontanelli and Enrico Zaina, with a certain Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, the so-called Tashkent Terror, only taking fourth. This was the British-born Sciandri's third and final stage win on the Giro. The gap is still over 14 minutes for our 23 leaders as they continue towards those four climbs which spice up today's finale.
62km to go: Puncture for Bettiol
Alberto Bettiol, one of the big favourites for today's stage, needs a new rear wheel so drops back to his EF Education-Nippo car. And for a disc brake wheel, that was mighty swift. The Italian is now drafting behind his team car as he looks to rejoin the other 22 leaders. Their gap is up to 14 minutes now as they enter Emilia-Romagna and approach the city of Piacenzo - not far from the sight of Hannibal's victory over the Roman army by the River Trebbia during the Second Punic War.
76km to go: 10th win from the break
When one of these 23 riders wins in Sradella it will be the 10th win for a rider from the break during this year's Giro, which will draw level with the numbers from 2019 but with two more stages (and a time trial) to go. It will be only the second time this millennium that 10 breakaways have succeeded in a single Giro. Last year the number was nine while in 2018 it was as few as four.
Over 13 minutes now for the break. Thanks to our friends at ProCyclingStats for that nugget of information above.
88km to go: peloton almost 10km back
Ineos lead the pack through the sprint at Cremona with a deficit of 12'30". Cremona looks to be a lovely town from these aerial images.
During this extended lull, here's a video of Hugh Carthy speaking rather optimistically ahead of today's stage...
Carthy: ‘It’s not over yet’
98km to go: Vermeersch wins sprint
The Belgian Gianni Vermeersch contests the intermediate sprint with the Swiss Simon Pellaud - and comes out on top. That was canny riding for Vermeersch, who was protecting his Alpecin-Fenix teammate Dries De Bondt's lead in the intermediate sprint standings. Pellaud, meanwhile, still leads the 'fuga' breakaway standings - although his kilometres ahead of the peloton won't count today because he's in a break which is too big to qualify (the rules are quite exhaustive).
100km to go: 12 minutes for leaders
The gap continues to grow as the 23 leaders approach Cremona where we'll have the intermediate sprint. Cremona is home to one of the tallest medieval towers in Italy, I'll have you know.
Re-Cycle: When Bartali beat Coppi in the 1946 'Giro of Rebirth'
With his career derailed by World War II, Gino Bartali’s third maglia rosa came 10 years after his first. But he had to battle hard to deny his former apprentice Fausto Coppi overall victory by a margin of just 47 seconds. Their great rivalry came to a head with Italy in turmoil in the wake of conflict and in need of a unifying force, as Felix Lowe recalls, 75 years on...
Re-Cycle: When Bartali beat Coppi in the 1946 post-War ‘Giro of Rebirth’
Image credit: Eurosport
And if you don't have the time to sit down and read this historical Re-Cycle feature, it is also available in a Eurosport podcast format narrated by Graham Wilgoss.
120km to go: 10 minutes for break
With the depleted Bahrain-Victorious team of second-place Damiano Caruso tucked in behind, Ineos Grenadiers continue their coffee ride through Lombardia as the gap stretches to 10 minutes now for the 23 leaders. It's Filippo Ganna - minus his goatee beard - who is tapping out the tempo.
In praise of Dan(i) Martin(ez)
While Dani Martinez did his best to encourage teammate Egan Bernal to the line yesterday, Ireland's Dan Martin was digging deep to hold onto his lead over the chasing duo of Joao Almeida and Simon Yates. In the end, the 34-year-old took the win which saw him complete his Grand Tour grand slam of wins following his brace in both the Vuelta and Tour. With Giulio Ciccone withdrawing this morning after a fever off the back of his crash yesterday, Martin is now up to 10th in the general classification - albeit over 13 minutes down on Bernal.
Here's how he won on the double-digit gradients of Sega di Ala...
Stage 17 Highlights: Bumper day as Bernal cracks, Yates closes, Martin wins
132km to go: almost nine minutes
After the fireworks of that fast, furious and frantic opening hour when it took an age for the right break to go, things have settled into a steady rhythm here as the race enters Lombardy with the sun shining brightly onto the backs of our 23 escapees and the pursuing pack.
145km to go: winner to come from this break
With the gap now above seven minutes it's clear that today's winner will be one of these 23 riders. Vendrame, the Stage 12 winner, is a good bet because he can both climb and sprint. Izagirre, Ulissi and Cataldo have the experience and skill set. Cavagna is a powerhouse who could go from distance. Bettiol is in the climbing form of his life and could really do something today. Covi has come close before in this Giro and has regularly been in breaks. Meanwhile DSM's trio of Nicks is very promising: Denz, Arndt and Roche are all stage winners in Grand Tours and they hold the numerical advantage along with Androni-Giacattoli.
155km to go: five minutes for leaders
The advantage of the 23 leaders grows above five minutes as the peloton eases up through the feed zone. Ineos Grenadiers are back on the front with their full compliment of remaining riders, all huddled around the pink jersey of Egan Bernal. Only one rider in the break - Izagirre - is within one hour of the Colombian on GC and so they're under no pressure whatsoever right now. Although they will be on red alert when those four climbs come along for it remains to be seen if Bernal's back is an issue after his slight wobble yesterday.
Six former Giro stage winners in the break
Vendrame, Izagirre, Cataldo, Arndt, Richeze and Ulissi have all won stages on the Giro before: with eight wins, Ulissi has more wins than anyone else in this race, while Vendrame opened up his account in swashbuckling style earlier in this race.
165km to go: four minutes for 23 leaders
Right, let me bring you this break in full: Andrea Vendrame (Ag2R-Citroen), Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix), Simon Pellaud, Andrii Ponomar and Natnael Tesfatsion (all Androni Giacattoli), Samuele Battistella and Gorka Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech), Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF), Simone Consonni (Cofidis), Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck Quick-Step), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Nippo), Francesco Gavazzi and Samuele Rivi (Eolo-Kometa), Wesley Kreder (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert), Patrick Bevin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Stefano Oldani (Lotto Soudal), Dario Cataldo (Movistar), Nico Denz, Nicolas Roche and Nikias Arndt (all Team DSM), Jacopo Mosca (Trek-Segafredo), and Alessandro Covi and Diego Ulissi (both UAE Team Emirates).
170km to go: breakaway lead grows
Finally, we have some order. Bora-Hansgrohe ensured that any final attempts by Bardiani-CSF came to nothing - with both Sagan and Daniel Oss sticking on riders' wheels and being quite intimidating, to the point of almost forcing them off the road. They don't want anyone else in the move because they're happy for the intermediate sprint and victory to be contested by them because this would essentially ensure Sagan wins the maglia ciclamino.
With Salvatore Puccio and Filippo Ganna now on the front of the pack while their man in pink, Egan Bernal, slips back to answer a call of nature, good luck to anyone who attempts a counter-attack right now...
180km to go: Bouwman bridge thwarted
Dutchman Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) tried to bridge over to the break and it looked like he was given permission to go. But the road widened, some riders - including the indefatigable De Bondt - managed to sneak past the Ineos-Bora road-block, and all of a sudden there was another push for a counter. The upshot was Bouwman was reeled in. Jumbo-Visma having a rotten race with zero wins for their now-departed sprinters, no GC push for George Bennett, and no stage scalps. Tobias Foss is one ray of light with his position in the top 10.
185km to go: two in pursuit
Dries De Bondt - the race's most combative rider - goes clear with Andrea Pasqualon. A Quick-Step rider wants in and so tries to bridge over, eventually dragging two others with him. Another arrives and so we have six in this chase group - but more and more want in and so the peloton continues to be strung out and very active. The breakaway, meanwhile, continues to ride 22 seconds further up the road. I'll bring your their names next.
Groupama-FDJ and Qhubeka-Assos are still trying to get a rider each over to this break. Bora are happy to let them go - but then another Qhubeka rider tries to get involved, sparking interest from others - and all of a sudden, we have another huge counter-push. The break - which is around 20-odd riders - is still only 20 seconds clear.
200km to go: big group goes clear
All of a sudden we have a split, some daylight, and a group forms off the front of the pack... Bora-Hansgrohe are happy with the group and are trying to block the road on the front of the pack, but many riders are still keen to try and yet into this move - either under their own steam or under team orders.
207km to go: a relentless battle
Rider after rider try their luck in what seems like an endless series of umpteen attacks. Still no joy for anyone - and it's no surprise because there is just so much at stake. The race has now entered the Veneto as it continues down the Adige valley towards Lake Garda and, beyond, the flat plain of the river Po.
213km to go: We go again...
That trio were reeled in - as was a subsequent quartet. The pace is so high that it's hard for anyone to make anything stick. We had another three riders go clear just now - but they were joined by four, then three others, then another six. And all of a sudden you have a huge group which, essentially, is the front of the pursuing pack. While this plays out, Sagan and Gaviria watch each other and wait for the right moment to pounce...
Great photo from yesterday
Egan Bernal has his first off day of this Giro when he cracked 3km from the summit of the Sega di Ala climb. He had teammate and compatriot Dani Martinez to thank for encouraging him and dragging him to the line to limit his losses - as you can see in this picture...
Egan Bernal encouragé par Daniel Martinez sur le Giro 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
It's worth adding that, even on his worst day of the race so far, Bernal did increase his lead on practically all his GC rivals, only losing a handful of seconds to Damiano Caruso, his nearest rival, with Simon Yates still over three minutes back...
Remi Cavegna (Deceuninck Quick-Step), Matteo Moschetti (Trek-Segafredo) and Max Richeze (UAE Team Emirates) have gone clear. The gap is good but there are too many riders behind not happy to let this one go and so they will surely be reeled in.
222km to go: No joy so far for break
Belgian champion Dries De Bondt has a dig - of course he does - but it comes to nothing. It's followed by kilometres of tussling with no end product as numerous riders go clear then are pulled back. The maglia ciclamino of Peter Sagan is lurking with intent - but he has rival Fernando Gaviria stuck to his wheel.
"You need to get your calculation right, as I often say, which is why Peter Sagan always hangs back ready to pounce." Wise words from Sean Kelly on Eurosport comms.
231km to go: Stage 18 under way
Attacks come thick and fast after Stefano waves his flag from the sunroof... No surprise for today is the last chance of success for a certain type of rider, what with the next two stages featuring back-to-back summit finishes before Sunday's final time trial in Milan.
Evenepoel, Ciccone and Schultz out
The Giro continues to take its toll and after that crash on the final descent yesterday, Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck Quick-Step) and Nick Schultz (Team BikeExchange) are all out of the race. All three riders completed Stage 17 but have decided to play no further part.
Italy's Ciccone was battling back after a puncture when the incident occurred. He was one of the first riders back on his bike, but he struggled on the final climb and dropped from sixth to 10th on GC at the finish. He was hit hard in the back and took a knock to his hand in the fall, which also saw teammates Vincenzo Nibali and Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier hit the deck. They continue, but Ciccone doesn't.
The departure of Australian Schultz will be a blow to teammate Simon Yates after he moved back into the podium positions yesterday with his strong ride on Sega di Ala. Schultz fractured his hand. Meanwhile, Belgian tyro Evenepoel went over the guardrail after trying to avoid the sprawling bodies ahead of him - a crash reminiscent of his terrible Il Lombardia fall but not, thankfully, as bad.
Ciao regazzi! Good morning and welcome to live coverage of this 231km slog across the Padan plain from Rovereto to Stradella. It's pretty flat until the final 30km where four hills should spice things up. And with so few sprinters remaining, it could well be a difficult one to control - with many riders no doubt keen to get into the break. Here's the profile...
'Yates is the one they’ve got to watch' - Is Bernal in trouble?
Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) is the man Ineos Grenadiers must watch out for if they are to help Egan Bernal keep the maglia rosa into Milan, says Eurosport expert Dan Lloyd.
Bernal showed the first signs of weakness on the final Cat. 1 climb on Stage 17 at the Giro d'Italia as teammate Daniel Martinez dropped back in support.
The Colombian arrived at the Giro with huge question marks over his fitness after being troubled by a back injury for over a season, but appeared to have put those doubts behind him with a brilliant run in Italy until Wednesday's run to Sega di Ala.
Yates clawed back 53 seconds in the general classification battle to move within 3:23 of Bernal, with Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) sandwiched between them at 2:21.
'Yates is the one they’ve got to watch' - Is Bernal in trouble?
“We’ve heard Dave Brailsford talking about how good team morale is, how motivated everybody is. And that’s easy when you’re leading the race and not putting a foot wrong. This will be the big test,” said Lloyd.
I think Dave could be quite key to that. He’s always good at rallying the troops. That’s a really important thing to do tonight because he’s still got a really big margin over his closest rival in the general classification.
“Caruso is there, but he’s the rider we keep saying will be quite happy to salvage second place, that would be easily the best result of his career.
“Yates is the one they’ve got to watch out for. If Bernal has another day like that with the days that have multiple mountains that we’ve still got to come [the GC battle may not be over].
“Tomorrow is flat-ish until the end, but it’s still 230km. If it is an accumulation of fatigue over the course of three weeks, rather than just his back, that’s going to be another six hours in the saddle before the big mountains.”
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Stage 17 recap - Martin wins Stage 17 as Bernal shows first signs of weakness
A day of drama on the Giro d’Italia saw Colombia’s Egan Bernal show his first signs of weakness in the pink jersey, losing 57 seconds to Simon Yates; Ireland’s Dan Martin complete a Grand Tour clean sweep; British duo Yates and Hugh Carthy trade places once again in the top five; and Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel crash over the guardrail in an incident which would have brought back memories of his terrible fall in last year’s Il Lombardia.
If Bernal cracking on the steep 17 per cent section of the Sega di Ala climb was the big story of the day, Martin’s gutsy stage win as all this chaos played out in his wake will go down as one of the standout moments of the 104th edition of the Giro.
The Israel Start-Up Nation rider proved the strongest of a 19-man breakaway, arriving at the foot of the final climb in a whittled-down group of six riders before going solo with 10km remaining while the GC fireworks were set off behind.
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Re-Cycle: When Bartali beat Coppi in the 1946 post-War ‘Giro of Rebirth’