Keldermann claims the lead in Giro d’Italia

Fearsome Stelvio climb takes a toll on former leader Almeida as stage winner Hindley and Hart move into contention

 Riders in action during the 18th stage of the  Giro d’Italia  over 207km from Pinzolo to Laghi Di Cancano, Italy. Photograph: Luca Zennaro/EPA

Riders in action during the 18th stage of the Giro d’Italia over 207km from Pinzolo to Laghi Di Cancano, Italy. Photograph: Luca Zennaro/EPA

 

Dutchman Wilco Kelderman took over as leader of the Giro d’Italia as the fearsome Stelvio climb blew the race apart during a brutal and mesmerizing stage 18 battle on Thursday.

Kelderman (Sunweb) began the day 17 seconds behind long-time race leader Joao Almeida (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) whose hopes of wearing the maglia rosa all the way to Milan were shattered.

Portuguese Almeida cracked halfway up the steep and twisty 24km Stelvio and although he dug deep he had lost three minutes before the summit as Kelderman took over as virtual leader with a 20km descent and another tough climb still to come.

Kelderman was also distanced as he picked his way around the 48 hairpins, leaking 47 seconds to eventual stage winner Jai Hindley (Sunweb) and Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart, led brilliantly up the climb by Ineos Grenadiers team mate Rohan Dennis.

After a freezing descent through the snowfields and ahead of the day’s final climb to the finish of the 207km Queen’s stage, Kelderman looked to be going backwards as he desperately snacked on gel bars to recover some energy.

But he had just enough left in the tank up the final 9km Torrri di Fraele to take over the maglia rosa.

His lead looks fragile, though, with Saturday’s 20th stage to Sestriere still looking tough, despite the Colle dell’Agnello and the Col de l’Izoard climbs being scrapped because of the French authorities barring the race from crossing the border because of tightening Covid-19 restrictions.

While Kelderman hung on grimly, up the road his Australian team mate Hindley powered to the stage win just ahead of Geoghegan Hart, both of whom finished two minutes and 18 seconds ahead of Kelderman to launch themselves firmly into contention for the overall victory in Milan.

Kelderman will take a 12-second lead into stage 19 with Geoghegan Hart 15 seconds behind.

“It was a crazy day, super hard, the hardest day of my life. It was a super fight,” the 29-year-old Kelderman said.

Fourth place

“It couldn’t be any better for us with Jai getting the stage win and me in pink. We dropped Almeida quite early on the Stelvio and then it was a race – Ineos was super strong with two guys and I couldn’t hold them.”

The sight of Hindley leaving team-mate Kelderman to fend for himself was odd, but it paid off.

“I saw the opportunity to take a stage and I took it. It wasn’t our tactic to go solo. I followed the plan, got the stage and I’m happy with that.”

Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain McLaren) finished strongly to move into fourth place overall, one minute and 19 seconds back, with Almeida, race leader since stage three, now in fifth spot, having lost almost five minutes on Thursday.

“I’m proud of what I did,” an emotional Almeida said. “I’m happy. On the other hand, I lost the pink jersey. They were just super strong. I’m not at their level.”

He was in good company as former champion Vincenzo Nibali also cracked on the Stelvio to end hopes of an Italian winner when the race concludes in Milan on Sunday.

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