Ineos Grenadiers rider Tao Geoghegan Hart is 15 seconds off the lead of the Giro d’Italia with three stages remaining on a day when Team Sunweb’s Jai Hindley won what was the Queen Stage of this year’s race, with his team-mate Wilco Kelderman taking the overall lead from Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Joao Almeida.
This morning, when the 207km stage to Laghi di Cancano began in Pinzolo, Kelderman was 17 seconds behind Almeida, with Hindley lying third overall, 2 minutes 58 seconds off the race lead, and Geoghegan Hart just 1 second behind.
It was a day when Kelderman had been widely expected to take the overall lead, given the strength of his team, Almeida’s inexperience of three-week racing, and the fact he had the best part of 3 minutes over his closest challengers – the closest a team mate, to boot.
No-one could have predicted, however, that by the end of the day, just a quarter of a minute would separate the three men now occupying the overall podium places.
Rohan Dennis did a huge turn on the Stelvio in support of Geoghegan Hart, and coming over the summit only Hindley was still with the Ineos Grenadiers pair, Kelderman more than a minute behind, riding on his own and digging deep to defend what was at that point a virtual maglia rosa.
On the final climb, once Dennis had dropped off, Hindley stayed on Geoghegan Hart’s wheel all the way to the finish, only overhauling him as the line approached.
Perhaps it was the energy that the effort of leading the race up that last ascent that cost the Ineos Grenadiers rider, who has an explosive sprint, the stage win – or perhaps he was content to finish second, knowing that he would thereby avoid the-post race podium and media duties the Team Sunweb pair would have to endure?
Whatever it was, today’s stage does set up a mouth-watering finale to the race with just three stages remaining – one tomorrow that should see the overall contenders mark each other, ahead of a triple ascent to Sestriere on Saturday, and Sunday’s closing individual time trial in Milan.
Stage winner, Jai Hindley
It’s incredible, I have always dreamed of a victory like this. Putting my hands in the air and crossing the line today was massive for me and my career. I still cannot believe it, hopefully, it's the first of many. On the Stelvio, I was told to follow Tao. It's probably not the way I like to race, but this is professional bike racing in the end.
I am here to help Wilco win this Giro, he is the Maglia Rosa and the final ITT suits him. I know what he has been through in the past few years and how hard he's worked to get back to this level, I respect him as a rider and as a person and I want him to win.
Race leader, Wilco Kelderman
Our plan was to go full gas all day and drop João Almeida on the Stelvio. That’s what we did but I could not follow the Ineos Grenadiers riders.
Jai could. He also could have waited for me but the team had different plans. It means a lot to me to take the Maglia Rosa after having had a lot of broken bones. I’m really happy to be back. The fight isn’t over yet. Ineos is really strong but the final time trial is in my favour. I’m confident. I’ll try to do everything to win the Giro.”
Tao Geoghegan Hart, third overall
We didn't really have a specific gameplan going into the stage, other than to try and get one or even two guys up the road. It was a pretty tricky start but we achieved our first primary goal with Swifty and Filippo, first in the big move on the climb – and then when that came back together they managed to get away again – mainly because of Filippo really driving it and forcing the move.
That was super impressive to see, no surprises there I have to say. We were happy to have them up there, knowing they would likely come back to us at some stage and be there if we needed them.
Then it was just a case of seeing how it unfolded on the Stelvio, In the end I think Rohan basically rode 99 per cent of the race off his wheel. It was super, super impressive.
It was kind of tricky to know how the situation was behind and how everything would be after such a hard stage. Congrats to [Jai] for the win. He's a super nice guy and a friend of mine.
In hindsight it was a pretty crazy stage. We set out at the start of the day to take time and we did that. I can only really thank my teammates. I didn't really do much in the end! It was 90 per cent them, I'd say.
It's really unexpected – especially if you look at how the first stage of the race was. I was pretty far behind after a few stages. We can almost smell Milan now so we'll stay focused and see what happens.
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.