Stage 18: Belluno to Rifugio Panarotta, 171 km
Julian Arredondo all but guaranteed himself the blue jersey with a solo victory atop Rifugio Panarotta ahead of Fabio Duarte. Meanwhile the GC underwent a major reshuffle as Pierre Rolland moved into a podium position and Cadel Evans slipped from third to ninth.
With the Monte Grappa time trial and the Zoncolan to come over the next two days, this was a slow-burner of a stage, which only came to life on the final climb of Rifugio Panarotta, last visited by the Giro in 1966.
After Julian Arredondo (Trek) had consolidated his mountains classification position by leading over the day’s first two summits, it was Thomas De Gendt (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) who launched the first big attack from the day’s 14-man breakaway on the final 16km climb. Behind him, a group of five containing Sky’s Philip Deignan, Fabio Duarte (Colombia) and Arredondo gave chase.
Arredondo made the catch 6km from home and eased away from Duarte, who recorded his second second-place, and Deignan, The Sky rider became the first Irishman to achieve a top-three finish at the Giro since Stephen Roche, 25 years ago tomorrow. (Thanks to Cillian Kelly for that stat.)
The GC group were consumed in a race of their own. Europcar were the main agitators, with Pierre Rolland launching a series of moves which put several rivals in trouble, in particular Cadel Evans (BMC). With the group strung out by multiple riders’ attacks, a canny defensive ride by Nairo Quintana saw him match or beat all his rivals other than Astana’s Fabio Aru, to whom he conceded just three seconds. If he can ride a solid time trial tomorrow he’s almost home, even with the Zoncolan still to come.
Going up, going down, on the way out?
With only 55 seconds separating third from ninth at the start of the day, small gaps were always likely to have a major impact today.
Cadel Evans lost the best part of two minutes to his nearest rivals to drop from third to ninth. It’s been all downhill for the Aussie ever since last week’s time trial, which is ironic as it’s been going uphill where he has struggled most. He seems to be fading with every climb, showing every one of his 37 years.
It’s a sad way to go for one of the peloton’s biggest battlers, but it’s hard to imagine him returning for more grand tour punishment next year.
Cannondale’s Ivan Basso turns 37 in November. Like Evans, he has never been an explosive climber. Unlike Cadel, who manhandles his bike up mountains, Basso is elegance personified in the saddle.
Today he got himself into the decisive break, and at one point early on the final climb it looked like he was ready to grind that big gear and ride everyone off his wheel. Alas, it wasn’t to be, and although a seventh-place finish was still impressive, it was also a fair reflection of his true level nowadays – always thereabouts, never quite there.
On a more positive note, Pierre Rolland continues his rise up the GC, benefitting from Evans’ decline to move up from fourth to third. The former Alpe d’Huez winner has been a delight to watch over the past week, attacking at every opportunity and largely succeeding.
Similarly, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) jumped from ninth to seventh and appears to be getting stronger. If not for the unmitigated disaster that was the team time trial, where he lost three minutes to many of his rivals, the 2012 champion would now be sitting second.
Although things have stretched out slightly, just 90 seconds now separate third from ninth. It’s still all to play for.
The Colombian invasion
Is this the Giro d’Italia or the Giro di Colombia? With Arredondo and Duarte, we had a Colombian one-two today to match the one-two of compatriots Quintana and Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) at the top of the GC.
In total, there are five Colombian riders in the top 30 overall, including Sky’s best placed rider Sebastian Henao who, at 20, is the youngest rider in the race. In the mountains classification, Colombians occupy five of the top seven spots. And Arredondo’s victory made him the third Colombian winner so far.
Colombian cycling had been in the doldrums until recently. Not any more. Can Quintana and Uran cap it off with a one-two finish on GC?
VeloVoices rider of the day
Julian Arredondo is the latest in a long line of Colombian climbers to grab the headlines. He’s won an army of fans during this Giro by animating most of the mountain stages.
Today was the 25-year-old’s third win since joining Trek from Continental team Nippo-De Rosa, with whom he won three mountains jerseys in two years on the UCI Asia Tour. I remember him from highlights of last year’s Tour de Langkawi, where he won the queen stage in the Genting Highlands and took overall victory.
Having taken the lead of the king of the mountains competition on stage eight, he’s exerted an iron grip ever since. He gained maximum points at all three summits today and now has more than double the points (173 vs 86) of his nearest rival, Sky’s Dario Cataldo. Barring a miraculous performance by Cataldo in tomorrow’s time trial, Arredondo needs only to finish to clinch his blue jersey in Trieste on Sunday.
Stage 18 result
1. Julian Arredondo (Trek) 4:49:51
2. Fabio Duarte (Colombia) +0:17
3. Philip Deignan (Sky) +0:37
4: Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli) +1:20
5. Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF) +1:24
1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 77:58:08
2. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +1:41
3. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +3:29
4. Fabio Aru (Astana) +3:31
5. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) same time
6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +3:52
7. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) +4:32
8. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) +4:37
9. Cadel Evans (BMC) +4:59
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Trek) +8:33
Points leader: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ).
Mountains classification: Julian Arredondo (Trek).
Best young rider: Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Team classification: Ag2r La Mondiale.