Damiano Cima stuns sprinters to win stage 18 – Giro d’Italia

Giro d’Italia 2019

Stage 18

Italy’s Damiano Cima produced the seemingly impossible to hold off the rampaging peloton to take a sensational win ahead of Germany’s Pascal Ackermann in Stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia.

Cima was the only rider from a three-man break not to be caught on the home straight, the 25-year-old Giro debutant pulling a proverbial rabbit out of a hat to take the biggest win of his career and deliver a first ever Giro scalp for his second-tier Nippo-Vini Fantini team.

German champion Ackermann slammed his handlebars in frustration after missing out on a hat-trick of wins, although the Bora-Hansgrohe sprinter took some consolation by taking back the maglia ciclamino from rival Arnaud Demare of Groupama-FDJ after the Frenchman could only finish eighth in the thrilling finale.

Italy’s Simone Consonni (UAE Team Emirates), Frenchman Florian Senechal (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and South African Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data) completed the top five, while Cima’s fading breakaway companions, the Italian Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF) and the German Nico Denz (Ag2R-La Mondiale), finished tenth and eleventh.

On a day seemingly destined for a bunch sprint, Cima had only got in the breakaway in a bid to reinstate himself back at the top of the intermediate sprint and Fuga Pinarello breakaway classification. He succeeded on both these counts but then added a cherry on the cake: a maiden WorldTour win.

“I can’t believe what just happened,” said Cima, whose only previous professional win came in the Tour of China and Tour of Xingtai last year.

“I’ve spent so many kilometres in breakaways during this Giro. I thought I’d never make it but I’ve won today. It’s insane. It’s the dream of a lifetime.”

Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz (Movistar) finished safely in the peloton to retain the maglia rosa ahead of the final three decisive stages of the race.

Carapaz will enter the back-to-back stages in the mountains with a 1’54” gap over double Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) and the Slovenian Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma).

The breakaway during today’s stage.

The long and largely downhill 222km stage spirited the riders out of the Dolomites and towards the Adriatic coast via the valley of the river Piave.

With a sprint finish expected, the pace was high as numerous riders and teams looked to be part of a break which could upset the applecart ahead of two days in the mountains and the final time trial.

Numerous attempts were foiled on a long uncategorised climb before the road darted downhill past the plush ski resort of Cortina and a trio of riders – Italians Maestri and Cima and the German Denz – finally managed to extricate themselves.

The gap never moved about the five-minute mark but entering the final 30km of the stage, the three chancers still held a gap of 3’30” and they started to believe.

Earlier, Cima had crested the summit of the only categorised climb in pole position before Maestri took the intermediate sprint either side of a heavy shower.

The raincoats had come off by the time Demare pipped Ackermann for third place in the sprint when the peloton zipped through – adding another point to his lead over the German in the maglia ciclamino standings. Not that this would matter in a couple of hours’ time…

But if the script had Demare and Ackermann renewing their rivalry at the finish in the suburbs of Venice and Padova, the break had not received the memo.

Deceuninck-QuickStep, Bora-Hansgrohe, Dimension Data and Israel Cycling Academy all sent bodies to the front of the pack to lead the chase in the hope of setting up a final bunch sprint: three of those four among the 11 teams still searching for a win in the 102nd edition of La Corsa Rosa.

With Italian champion Elia Viviani and his compatriot Giacomo Nizzolo out of the race, QuickStep and Dimension Data were working for their reserve fastmen Florian Senechal and Ryan Gibbons respectively, while Israel Cycling Academy fancied the chances of their man Davide Cimolai.

In the event of a bunch sprint, however, the main protagonists looked certain to be Bora’s Ackermann and Groupama’s Demare – the German looking for a third win and the Frenchman the second win which would secure him the maglia ciclamino.

And yet, with 20km remaining the trio’s gap still stood at 2’30” – coming down to just over a minute with 10km to go.

Richard Carapaz knows he will have to survive multiple attacks in the coming days to stay in pink.

Starting to believe, the break buried themselves for the common cause as panic set in behind. Bora-Hansgrohe committed four riders to help pull the leaders back, but as they swung onto the 1.7km home straight, the break still held 25 seconds.

It was Denz who opened up the sprint, the 25-year-old hoping to deliver a second win in as many days for Ag2R-La Mondiale following Nans Peters triumph in Stage 17.

As Groupama finally came to the front to launch Demare, Cima powered clear of his fellow escapees with the finish line gaping. The exhausted Denz and Maestri were swallowed up as Ackermann surged clear and left Demare for dead.

But the double stage winner ran out of road and it was the incredulous Cima who held on to win by a over a bike length before punching the air in disbelief and glory.

On top of a stage win he will never forget, Cima now leads the Fuga Pinarello after clocking up 932 breakaway kilometres – more than 100km ahead of his nearest challenger, Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocattoli). Cima also moved above compatriot Fausto Masnada (Androni Giocattoli) in the intermediate sprint standings by five points to cap a perfect day in the office.

Ackermann moved 13 points clear of Demare in their tense duel for the maglia ciclamino, the German benefitting from Groupama-FDJ’s negative tactics in the non-defence of their man’s lead.

“I think the team showed that we are still fighting for the jersey and we are all working 100% for this,” Ackermann said after the dust had settled on his second place. “We didn’t get the win but I got the jersey back so I am happy now.”

The focus now shifts the the battle for pink, white and blue with the back-to-back summit finishes that should decide the outcome of the Giro.

Friday’s 151km Stage 19 from Treviso includes two lower-category climbs and some undulating roads ahead of the finish on the Cat.2 climb to San Martino di Castrozza. Having taken time over his rivals in every hilltop finish so far, Carapaz will be confident or retaining the maglia rosa but cautious of the threat posed by his principal rival Nibali.

It was the corresponding stage in 2016 when the Sicilian, trailing Steven Kruijswijk by almost five minutes in the standings, won the stage with a brutal solo attack before securing the pink one day later in the penultimate stage of the race.

In the other classifications, the Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) leads Russia’s Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos) by 2’04” in the white jersey youth standings, while Italy’s Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) holds an unassailable lead in the maglia azzurra, freeing the exciting climber up to push for a second stage win.

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