Van Garderen clinches maiden Grand Tour stage win – Giro d’Italia

Giro d’Italia 2017

Stage 18

American Tejay Van Garderen clinched his maiden Grand Tour scalp on Stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia, edging out Mikel Landa of Spain in a two-way sprint on a dramatic day in the Dolomites.

The BMC all-rounder outfoxed fellow escapee Landa of Team Sky to take an emotional win while the fireworks fizzled behind as the battle for pink intensified at the conclusion of the stunning 137km stage over five beautiful – yet gruelling – climbs.

Frenchman Thibaut Pinot pipped Italy’s Domenico Pozzovivo for third place eight seconds in arrears after the duo took advantage of a stalemate between the maglia rosa, Tom Dumoulin, and his two big rivals, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali, on the final climb.

Dutchman Dumoulin led the trio home 1min 6sec down for ninth place to concede time to most of the general classification outsiders – but deliver a psychological blow to the defending champion, Nibali, and the 2014 winner, Quintana.

Russia’s Illnur Zakarin and Dutchmen Steven Kruijswijk and Bauke Mollema all made inroads after finishing ahead of the big three following numerous attacks as the gradient flattened following the summit of the final climb and Dumoulin toyed with his exhausted opponents.

There was a superb fifth place finish for Slovakia’s Jan Hirt – who was part of the day’s main break alongside Van Garderen and Landa. Britain’s Adam Yates also finished strongly to move back into the top ten and take over the white jersey from Bob Jungels of Luxembourg, who was dropped on the penultimate climb and finished almost four minutes in arrears.

While Van Garderen’s belated win kick-started his career after a series of setbacks, the day belonged to Team Sunweb’s Dumoulin, whose grip on the maglia rosa looks as strong as his rivals look bereft of ideas. Despite stinging attacks from both Quintana and Nibali on the Passo Gardena, Dumoulin was able to ride back in contention and control the race like a future champion.

With three stages remaining of the 100th edition of La Corsa Rosa, Dumoulin leads Movistar’s Quintana by 31 seconds and Bahrain Merida’s Nibali by 1min 12secs. FDJ’s Pinot – the big winner of the day – has closed the gap by over a minute to 1min 36sec while Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin is 1min 58sec down in fifth.

Played out under balmy blue skies around the spectacular terrazza delle Dolomiti – the terrace of the Dolomites – on the resplendent Selle Group of mountains, Stage 18 was pure joy for the spectators, less so for those forced to ride over the succession of five peaks, including three that rose above two-thousand metres.

An early break of four riders opened up a gap on the first climb of the day, the famous Passo Pordoi, while a flurry of attacks came from a main pack that was strung out from the outset. Among those chasing on were Van Garderen, Landa, Hirt of CCC Sprandi Polkowice, Cannondale-Drapac trio Joe Dombrowski, Davide Villella and Stage 17 winner Pierre Rolland, and Movistar duo Andrey Amador and Winner Anacona.

The two leading groups came together on the descent as a large break of 19 riders formed with Landa’s Team Sky colleagues Diego Rosa and Philip Deignan driving the pace as the gap opened up to two minutes going onto the Passo Valparola.

Landa, wearing the maglia azzurra, was denied maximum points going over the summit by fellow Basque rider Omar Fraile of Dimension Data. But despite his setback of missing out on a second possible stage win, Landa did take maximum points over the next three climbs to build up a near unassailable lead in the King of the Mountains classification.

Dumoulin, who had been isolated on the first climb, was now surrounded by all five of his remaining Sunweb team-mates as the pace slowed following the establishment of the day’s road hierarchy. But with Quintana boasting two team-mates in the break, it was clear that Movistar had a plan up their sleeves.

Tom Dumoulin (C) kept hold of his lead by coming home alongside Nairo Quintana (L) and Vincenzo Nibali (R).

And that plan was put into practice on the third climb of the day, the Passo Gardena, when the Colombian danced clear of a select group of GC favourites with 54km of the stage still remaining. By now devoid of team-mates, Dumoulin was put under further pressure when Nibali also put in a big attack near the summit – the Italian managing to bridge over to Quintana, who himself had joined forces with Anacona and Amador up the road.

If cracks appeared to be forming in Dumoulin’s bid to win this Giro d’Italia, they were quickly covered over when the powerful 26-year-old kept his cool and managed to drag a group of other top-tenners back to his big rivals just as they crested the summit.

Order was restored on the long descent towards the final climb, which was interrupted only by the short Passo di Pinei Panidersattel with 40km remaining. By now, Jungels had been dropped while the only riders still out ahead were Landa, Van Garderen, Hirt, Dombrowski, Villella and Natnael Berhane of Dimension Data – the only remnant of the initial four-man move at the start of the stage.

With the gap down to just 35 seconds ahead of the final climb, Landa and Van Garderen broke clear of their fellow escapees and opened up a small gap going onto the Cat.1 climb of Pontives.

Movistar duo Amador and Anacona set the tempo in the main pack – but the pace was such that the leaders managed to extend their advantage. Meanwhile, Quintana, frequently speaking into his radio, looked to be struggling. After Amador peeled off, Anacona rode clear before Quintana finally made his move with 7km remaining.

But the Colombian’s attack was thwarted by Pinot and FDJ team-mate Sebastian Reichenbach. After another session on the radio, Quintana dropped back alongside Dumoulin and Nibali as the group swept up Villella, Dombrowski and Berhane.

Following a short-lived surge from Nibali, Dumoulin showed his strength by dancing clear. But the Dutchman, apparently toying with his rivals, then took his foot off the gas and invited the others to come forward. Pinot and Pozzovivo took advantage of the situation before Kruijswijk, Mollema and Zakarin were forced to lead the chase.

As the summit neared, Dumoulin was content to ride alongside Nibali and Quintana as the three came to a near standstill. While this game of cat and mice continued, Pinot and Pozzovivo led their chase on the leaders – and despite catching Hirt on the cobbled home straight, the duo could only come within eight seconds of the two leaders.

Landa clearly did not learn any lessons from his loss to Nibali in Bormio two days earlier, the Spaniard being pickpocketed by Van Garderen who surged over the line to take a belated Grand Tour stage win at the age of 28.

The final few kilometres of false flat could well have suited Dumoulin’s time trialling skills – but the Dutchman seemed content to soft-pedal to the line alongside Nibali and Quintana. If it proves a dangerous game – with Pinot stealing back 1min 2sec – then Dumoulin was quick to point out that Nibali and Quintana potentially stood to lose more than himself.

Tensions indeed simmered after the stage as Dumoulin, growing in stature in pink, belittled his rivals’ tactics as he took another step towards a maiden Grand Tour victory.

The first of two remaining days in the mountains is the 191km Stage 19 from San Candido to Piancavallo which features two categorised climbs, some sizeable descents and a long false flat of a drag ahead of the final Cat.1 climb where this year’s Giro could well be won or lost.

Stage 18 results

1. Tejay van Garderen (US / BMC Racing) 3hr 54min 03sec 2. Mikel Landa (Spain / Team Sky) ST 3. Thibaut Pinot (France / FDJ) +8” 4. Domenico Pozzovivo (Italy / AG2R) 5. Jan Hirt (Czech Republic / CCC) +11” 6. Ilnur Zakarin (Russia / Katusha) +24” 7. Bauke Mollema (Netherlands / Trek) +34” 8. Steven Kruijswijk (Netherlands / LottoNL) 9. Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands / Sunweb) +1:06” 10. Nairo Quintana (Colombia / Movistar)

Overall classification after stage 18

1. Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands / Sunweb) 80hr 00min 48sec 2. Nairo Quintana (Colombia / Movistar) +31” 3. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy / Bahrain) +1:12” 4. Thibaut Pinot (France / FDJ) +1:36” 5. Ilnur Zakarin (Russia / Katusha) +1:58” 6. Filippo Pozzato (Italy / Wilier Triestina) +2:07” 7. Bauke Mollema (Netherlands / Trek) +3:17” 8. Steven Kruijswijk (Netherlands / LottoNL) +5:48” 9. Adam Yates (Britain / Orica) +7:06” 10. Bob Jungels (Luxembourg / Quick-Step) +7:24”

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