Race Report: Maximilian Schachmann (Quick-Step Floors) won from a breakaway on stage 18 from Abbiategrasso to Prato Nevoso over 196 tough kilometers. Ruben Plaza (Israel Cycling Academy) and Mattia Cattaneo (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) finished second and third.
After a battle royal Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) defended his overall race lead, although he lost time to all his rivals and now only has 28 seconds over Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), 2:43 on Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) and 3:22 on Chris Froome (Sky).
The first of the concluding mountain stages is a 196km trek from Abbiategrasso, a southern suburb of Milan, to the summit of Pratonevoso. If you just looked at the first 80% of the stage you’d think it was another flat sprint friendly stage but we’re heading towards the Alps and the finale is the climb of Pratonevoso which gets harder and harder as it goes on. Similar to Mount Etna way way back in the first week, the categorized climb stats say otherwise but the riders will essentially be climbing immediately after the descent of the fourth category Novello climb, more than 50km from the finish.
We might be used to seeing climbing stages with mountain after mountain but stages like this, with a single mountain finish, can be even harder as you end up with a horde of fresh legged riders all hitting the foot of the climb at the same time. My own memories of Pratonevoso are linked to the 2008 Tour de France, a race I still think ranks as one of the finest I’ve ever seen. Having said that, as I was researching this write up in the morning, I forgot that after the epic Alpe d’Huez stage, where Carlos Sastre put two minutes into all his rivals and rode into the yellow jersey, there were four more stages until the end of the race which was slightly anti-climatic. In hindsight probably the thing that I have the fondest memories of was the fact that after finishing my exams I had ten week holiday – largely filled with watching bike races. Anyway, that 2008 stage came from Embrum in France and climbed the 2,744m Col d’Agnel before descending into Italy for a lengthy flat section which led to the climb of Pratonevoso. Simon Gerrans won that day and although Frank Schleck lost time on eventually winner Carlos Sastre, he did enough to move into the yellow jersey. Back in 2008, this stage was the start of Sastre’s surge into yellow, will anybody use Pratonevoso as a springboard to mount a surprise late dash for pink this year?
The One Break
There had been a series of hard starts in the recent stages so the peloton would’ve been happy when a break formed relatively quickly. The break consisted of; Michael Mørkøv & Maximilian Schachmann (Quick-Step Floors), Davide Ballerini and Mattia Cattaneo (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Christoph Pfingsten (Bora-Hansgrohe), Ruben Plaza (Israel Cycling Academy), Vyacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha-Alpecin), Jos van Emden, Boy van Poppel (Trek-Segafredo), Marco Marcato (UAE Emirates), Giuseppe Fonzi and Alex Turrin (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia). Interestingly, Fonzi was the last man on the GC, sitting more than four hours behind Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). Also interestingly, the Bardiani-CSF guys would be getting thirty lashes tonight after they failed to infiltrate the break that was now gaining time at a rate of knots. After 50km of riding they had a gap of more than ten minutes and it was pretty clear that they were riding to the stage win ahead of a placid peloton. The gap continued to rise as they rode through the very pretty, but not overly exciting plains towards the main difficulties of the day.
As the early gradients of the climb began to pinch, the gap was still a very healthy 15 minutes to a main group who hadn’t really woken up yet. The Mitchelton-Scott guys were hogging the front, followed by Sky, but nobody was being put in any difficulty behind them.
In the front group, Boy Van Poppel, not a known climber, went clear from the leaders with 19km left to ride. The Dutchman was the first to hit the climb with a lead of 20 seconds over the rest of the chasers. The Dutch flat rider probably needed the 15.40 back to the peloton to have a chance of staying away. Van Poppel was still alone in the lead but the two Quick Step guys were starting to chase properly from the rest of the break and it was all over for Van Poppel. The Trek-Segafredo rider was straight out the back and he now had to try and stay ahead of the peloton.
The Climb Bites
Van Poppel was the only person to fall away but when Marcato attacked it was the end of the day for Ballerini. Ruben Plaza was also put in difficulty but he emerged again at the back of the group and then attacked. The Spaniard was brought back by Schachmann and Plaza was dropped again. He was yo-yoing around as the young German set a steady tempo on the front.
Back in the peloton, Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) sat up early and eased himself out of the back of the peloton, saving energy for the rest of the race. The drama was up the road though and Plaza’s act of hanging off the back then getting back into the group seemed to be wearing thin, the Spaniard was off the back again and it was looking terminal. That left three riders at the front, Schachmann, Pfingsten and Cattaneo. Nobody was willing to do all the work though and Plaza was back. It was short lived and Pfingsten and Schachmann attacked each other. Cattaneo was slow to react but he managed to swoop round Pfingsten who was immediately in trouble after his effort. That left Schachmann and, surprisingly, Cattaneo leading with 5km left. It wasn’t yet over though for Plaza and Pfingsten, the duo were coming back up to the leaders. As soon as they got back in contact the pace was increased and it was back to just Cattaneo and Schachmann.
Plaza was doing his yo-yo act but was managing to hang on, but it was curtains for Pfingsten. Down the road in the peloton; Movistar were putting the pressure on in the peloton for their man Richard Carapaz.
As the leaders hit the two K to go, Schachmann and Cattaneo trade punches as Plaza grips on by the skin of his teeth. As the flamme rouge comes into sight Cattaneo puts in his last chance jump, but Schachmann is too good and closes the move down and Plaza is still there. Into the finish straight and Schachmann attacks to gain enough to win the stage with the ever stubborn Plaza second and the unlucky Catteneo in third.
Meanwhile the peloton; Pello Bilbao (Astana) attacks to be chased by Wout Poels (Sky) and Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data). Poels eventually goes solo as Lopez and Carapaz try to get to the Dutchman. Lopez makes contact, but Carapaz is left in between. Groupama-FDJ set the pace in the peloton as Lopez is a threat to Thibaut Pinot on the overall. The pink jersey of Simon Yates was watching Tom Dumoulin, Domenico Pozzovivo and Chris Froome, the top men were not making any moves just yet.
Dumoulin is the first to attack, Yates was on his wheel with Pozzovivo, but Froome was in trouble. Froome digs in and catches the pink jersey group and puts in an attack that Yates can’t follow. Froome, Dumoulin and Pozzovivo join Poels, as Yates loses ground, but has help from teammate Mikel Nieve. The GC men power on to the finish with Pozzovivo crossing the line first and everyone looks at their watches to see how much time Simon Yates will lose. At the line it’s around half a minute and the jersey is safe by 28 seconds.
The climb seemed to suit the big Dutchman, but Yates could have had sore legs from yesterday’s time trial. The 2018 Giro d’Italia is far from over.
Stage winner, Maximilian Schachmann (Quick-Step Floors): “I couldn’t imagine more than what I’ve achieved in the Giro so far. After the first rest day, I suffered a respiratory infection. I recovered on the second rest day. We knew we had a chance today. I have to say a huge thank you to Michael Mørkøv. The breakaway was already gone and he bridged over with me. I was confident to win against my final rivals.”
Race leader, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott): “I just had no legs at the end. But it’s ok. I did the best I could and I’m still happy with the remaining lead I have. I’m still ahead so it’s fine with me.”
Giro d’Italia Stage 18 Result:
1. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors in 4:55:42
2. Ruben Plaza (Spa) Israel Cycling Academy at 0:10
3. Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec at 0:16
4. Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe at 1:10
5. Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates at 1:26
6. Michael Mørkøv (Den) Quick-Step Floors at 1:36
7. Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 1:52
8. Jos van Emden (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 3:22
9. Alex Turrin (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia at 3:29
10. Davide Ballerini (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec at 5:09
11. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana at 10:48
12. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 11:03
13. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Sunweb
14. Chris Froome (GB) Sky
15. Wout Poels (Ned) Sky at 11:07
16. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 11:23
17. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana
18. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar
19. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott at 11:31
20. Simon Yates (GB) Mitchelton-Scott
21. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe
22. George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo at 11:36
23. Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) Groupama-FDJ
24. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
25. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC.
Giro d’Italia Overall After Stage 18:
1. Simon Yates (GB) Mitchelton-Scott in 75:06:24
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Sunweb at 0:28
3. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 2:43
4. Chris Froome (GB) Sky at 3:22
5. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 4:24
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana at 4:54
7. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC at 5:09
8. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana at 5:54
9. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar at 5:59
10. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 7:05
11. George Bennett (NZ) LottoNL-Jumbo at 7:06
12. Ben O’Connor (Aus) Dimension Data at 7:45
13. Sam Oomen (Ned) Sunweb at 9:04
14. Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar at 9:28
15. Wout Poels (Ned) Sky at 9:40
16. Alexandre Geniez (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 9:53
17. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe at 10:03
18. José Gonçalves (Por) Katusha-Alpecin at 16:30
19. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky at 18:02
20. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors at 26:25
21. Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 26:52
22. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott at 28:47
23. Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 32:00
24. Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) Groupama-FDJ at 32:25
25. Georg Preidler (Aut) Groupama-FDJ at 37:32.