Movistar’s Richard Carapaz is poised to win the 102nd edition of the Giro d’Italia and the first Ecuadorian winner of a Grand Tour following a thrilling penultimate stage of the race, with just tomorrow’s 17-kilometre time trial in Verona to come. His Movistar team-mate, Mikel Landa, led out the sprint at the end of a gruelling day in the Dolomites, but was pipped to the line by Astana’s Pello Bilbao, who wins his second stage of this year’s race.
Carapaz had begun the day with an advantage of 1 minute 54 seconds over Bahrain Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali, with Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma a further 22 seconds back. Roglic is the strongest time trial rider of the three – he has won both timed stages so far in this year’s race – but it would take a dramatic turn of events tomorrow for him to bridge the gap to Carapaz.
With a 3-minute 6 second deficit to to Carapaz, more realistically, he will be targeting getting back on the podium tomorrow, having been leapfrogged by Landa today, who is now 13 seconds ahead of him.
Today’s 194-kilometre Stage 20 from Feltre to Croce d’Aune-Monte Avena featured five categorised climbs including the Passo Manghen, which tops out at more than 2,000 metres, its summit coming with 116 kilometres still to ride, but even by that point there had been action among the overall contenders.
Designated this year’s Cima Coppi after the exclusion of the Passo di Gavia from last Tuesday’s Stage 16, appropriately it was a rider who shares his first name with il Campionissimo – Fausto Masnada of Androni-Sidermec – who was the first man across.
The Italian had been a member of an early break but with movement in the General Classification group on the climb, Masnada was swept up as the road bottomed out at the foot of the descent.
Earlier, on the way up the Passo Manghen, Carapaz and Movistar team-mate, Mikel Landa, plus Astana’s Migiuel Angel Lopez managed to distance Nibali and Roglic, cresting the summit 20 seconds ahead of them, although the pair would rejoin them on the descent, with the front group’s numbers growing as other riders made it back across in the valley below.
Next was the long slog up the Passo Rolle, crested with just over 60 kilometres to go. A group of eight riders went over the top with around two and a half minutes over the GC group, with Trek-Segafredo’s Giulio Ciccone leading the race across the summit to gain yet more points towards what will be an emphatic mountains classification victory.
This time, there was no movement from the group with the overall contenders, but that all changed as the final two climbs, separated by a short downhill section, began with 22 kilometres remaining.
The front group began the first of those, the Croce d’Aune, with the GC group less than two minutes advantage, where Roglic was isolated, as he had been since the Passo Manghen, while Carapaz and Nibali, as well as Lopez, all had team mates to support them.
The summit of the climb, which had a maximum gradient of 16 per cent, came with 10.9 kilometres remaining.
It was again Lopez who made the first move, with Carapaz straight on his wheel as the attack was shut down. Moments later, the pattern was repeated, but immediately Mikel Landa – fourth overall and 47 seconds off the podium, got away on his own, with Roglic, looking to defend his third place, unable to respond.
With fans who had made it across the border from Slovenia massing the climb, the Jumbo-Visma rider received a couple of helpful pushes as he tried to hang on to the back of the group, something that may will attract the scrutiny of the race jury.
Up ahead, the young French rider Valentin Madouas of Groupama-FDJ had attacked from the break and crested the climb with an 18-second margin over what was left of the group.
Coming onto the final climb with 7 kilometres left, Landa had been joined by team-mate and race leader as well as Nibali, with Roglic dropped and left behind.
The trio caught the remains of the break with more than 3 kilometres left, Nibali attacking but unable to dislodge the maglia rosa, crossing the line with Carapaz, four seconds behind the stage winner.
Behind, there was drama as TV coverage caught the aftermath of an incident in which Lopez appeared to have been knocked off his bike by a spectator, the Colombian delivering a couple of slaps to the fan before getting back on his bike.
Stage winner Pello Bilbao
“I was up the road to help Miguel Angel Lopez later. We wanted him to be on the final podium. With 50km to go, I started thinking of the stage win as it would be difficult for the peloton to come across. Towards the end, I thought I’d be faster than the climbers and I knew that Carapaz would work for Mikel Landa to win the stage. When such an opportunity to win a stage occurs, it’s worth trying.”
Maglia Rosa Richard Carapaz
“I’m super happy with the work of the team. Tomorrow, it’ll be mano-a-mano. Nibali’s hug at the finish today was a very beautiful gesture. I’ve seen him very strong today but Mikel [Landa] and I were strong too. I knew Mikel was able to make the final podium, that’s why we dropped Roglic. The other thing we could achieve was the stage win with Mikel. It’s been close.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.