We’ve waited for more than two weeks but today, the GC finally caught fire at Stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia. On a monster 207km-long stage packed with four categorised climbs, including the famed Passo dello Stelvio, INEOS and Sunweb brought the race to life. After masterful work by teammates, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley were left to battle it out on the final climb for the stage. In the sprint to the line, Hindley sailed to victory. Behind, Hindley’s teammate Wilco Kelderman clawed his way to the finish with only 12 seconds in hand to claim the maglia rosa.
How the race was won
With days ticking by, Saturday’s mountain stage forced to be altered, and fans growing impatient with the GC contenders, Thursday’s stage was sure to produce fireworks. Would Joao Almeida and Quickstep be able to pull off the ultimate dream? Could Geoghegan Hart shell Sunweb? Nobody knew!
The race would kick off on the stunningly gorgeous Passo dello Stelvio. Sunweb put their team on the front of the peloton, decimating the group and shrinking the break’s lead at a rapid pace. The Dutch squad continued tightening to the screws up the climb, shedding domestiques like kids do with candy wrappers on Halloween night. Almeida put up a valiant fight to stick with the group but he was in trouble fairly quickly on the climb.
Unfortunately for Sunweb — primarily Wilco Kelderman — Ineos’s Rohan Dennis found himself on a roarer of a day and took to the front of the group next. With just Geoghegan Hart, Hindley, and Kelderman on his wheel, the Aussie went to work on the upper slopes of the Stelvio. His pace was so meaty that Kelderman was ultimately dropped from the group, leaving Sunweb’s DS to choose young Jai over the experienced Wilco.
As Dennis continued working away, Geoghegan Hart and Hindley remained firmly glued to his wheel as they crested the Stelvio, glided down the descent, and rushed to the base of the final climb, the Torre di Fraele. At that point, it was left to Tao and Jai.
With his teammate behind fighting to wear the leader’s jersey at day’s end, Hindley sat on the wheel as Tao slugged his way up the final climb. In the sprint to the line, the result that all had predicted for the previous 45 kilometres rang true as Jai Hindley outsprinted Geoghagen Hart to win his first-ever grand tour stage victory!
In his post-stage interview, Hindley walked through the team plan that capped off with his win:
It’s such a beautiful stage today, with such epic climbs. I’m just over the moon to get the win. I knew Tao was going to ride all the way to the line to try to get as much time as he could, I was told to sit on him and not do any work, which I did, because I knew Wilco was most likely going into the jersey. I saw the opportunity to take a stage and I took it. I think Tao was pretty strong and was also climbing at a really high level here, he’s been super impressive. It wasn’t our tactic to go solo. I followed the plan, got the stage and I’m happy with that.
Rohan the MVP
Like most, I enjoy giving INEOS a hard time. They race on power meter numbers. They buy otherwise exciting riders and use them as super domestiques. Their racing has not always been the most enjoyable. The complaints go on.
BUT. . . credit to them this Giro d’Italia! After losing Geraint Thomas very early on, the team rallied behind stage wins, claiming an astounding five wins in the first fifteen stages. Since then, the team has placed Tao on the podium. No one is quite sure how. It’s been perhaps their best ever team performance over the past decade, and the most recent example is Rohan Dennis.
In addition to that, he is the first Australian to win the Cima Coppi! Nationalities aside, few would have expected a rider of Rohan’s heftiness to claim that prize!
Now, I know I have titled this stage “Unflappable Sunweb,” but we really must talk about the jacket shenanigans on the descent off the Stelvio. After a climb packed with fireworks, fans were already on the edge of their seats as the head of the race prepared to crest the summit. Kelderman would need the descent of his life to regain contact. It was imperative that Hindley stay with Geoghagen Hart through to the finish. Then. . . well, then this happened and we all nearly had a collective heart attack:
Fans watched with bated breath as Jai Hindley struggled to get a second arm through his jacket for what seemed like forever. When the attempt nearly took him out of the stage, hearts momentarily stopped beating.
Orla said it best – that’s definitely true for me too. Except I cannot say I have ever tried to put on even a vest while moving for the precise fear of slamming myself in the pavement.
Thankfully for all of our hearts, Jai was eventually able to secure his jacket!
Back in the land of Kelderman, similar struggles were occurring. While both men were able to secure their arms in the jackets ahead of the descent, those pesky zippers were a different story. . .
Of course, the horror was not over yet as Kelderman quickly grew tired of the parachute on his back. My apologies for the screaming in advance, but THE MAN TOOK OFF HIS JACKET AND THREW IT INTO THE WIND, SENDING IT FLUTTERING THROUGH THE AIR AND TOWARD A MOTORCYCLE!
All seemed to end okay in that situation, but please, Wilco, be more careful next time!
All Hail Almeida
The drama of the stage wasn’t only up front – we ought not to allow Joao Almeida to slip out of our minds. In a race where no one would have expected him — or the Quicksteppers, for that matter — to flourish in the overall, our new Portuguese fan-favourite wore the maglia rosa with pride for fifteen consecutive stages!
At every point of that, he brought the race to life with his attacks and grinta. He has reinvigorated Portuguese cycling on the world stage and shown what Quickstep can potentially do in the future. Hats off to you, Joao Almeida!
His post-stage comments show even more class and maturity that the young man holds:
I’m proud of what I did. I’m happy. On the other hand, I lost the pink jersey. The other guys were stronger and there’s nothing I could do. I was on the limit and I knew I could not go with that rhythm to the top. Then I took my rhythm in order not to lose too much time. In the end I think I did a good stage. They were just super strong. I’m not at their level. I like the climb of the Stelvio, it’s super hard. I was happy to have my family there at the top of some Portuguese people. I even cried with emotion and I’m very thankful to them.
Where The GC Stands
Alrighty, we all need a deep breath after that stage, don’t we? Take a moment and then we’ll dive into where things stand as we head into the final weekend of racing.
Ready? Good, me too! Here’s how things lay and a brief look at what’s coming up:
Wilco Kelderman holds a slender lead in the GC, wearing the maglia rosa by just 12 seconds over teammate Jai Hindley. Tao Geoghegan Hart‘s pale skin lurks closely behind, 15 seconds off the lead. After a phenomenal performance, which I am only casually mentioning at the end of this review, Pello Bilboa sits fourth at 1:19. With just three stages remaining, this is undoubtedly one of the closest podium fights we have witnessed in a very very long time.
Now, what comes next? Friday brings 250km worth of flat roads for the GC men to rest their legs. Stage 20, on Saturday, takes the peloton back to the mountains. While the race has not been allowed to enter France due to COVID-19 restrictions, plenty of climbing is still on tap with three ascents of the Sestriere. Finally, the Giro concludes Sunday with a pan-flat 15.7km time trial into Milano. (Stage win number 4 for Filippo Ganna?) Might we see something similar to the 2012 Giro, when Ryder Hesjedal dethroned Joaquim Rodriguez in the final time trial? We just might!
The Final Words
Stage 18 Results
1 Jai Hindley (Sunweb-JacketsnZips) 6:03:03
2 Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos-We’reBackToGC) s/t
3 Pello Bilbao (Bahrain McLaren) +0:46
4 Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team) +1:25
5 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb-JacketsnZips) +2:18
GC Top 10
1 Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) 77:46:56
2 Jai Hindley (Team Sunweb) +0:12
3 Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) +0:15
4 Pello Bilbao (Bahrain McLaren) +1:19
5 João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quickstep) +2:16
6 Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team) +3:59
7 Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) +5:40
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) +5:47
9 Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck-Quickstep) +6:46
10 Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) +7:28
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb
Points jersey Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ)
King of the Mountains Ruben Guerreiro (EF Ducks)
Best Young Rider Jai Hindley (Team Sunweb)
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Official race website: Giro d’Italia
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