Who thought Ben O'Connor could go long twice in a row? Not us, that's for sure. The Cycling Mole came close with his pick of Ilnur Zakarin, but in the end the Russian didn't quite have the legs. Further back Deceuninck-Quick Step were able to control things and João Almeida had no difficulties keeping the maglia rosa for a fifteenth consecutive stage. The smart money says he won't go the distance, but the odds on him doing just that are shortening every day.
Today is the big one. After weeks of speculation, it was confirmed that the Giro would be taking on the mighty Passo del Stelvio as planned. Probably more to the relief of the organisers and fans than the riders who have to go up and over, but it wouldn't be the Giro without it. Two of today's starters have conquered the climb before - Vincenzo Nibali won the stage where it featured in 2017, while Thomas de Gendt made his name there four years earlier. That was a pivotal point for the popular Belgian, when he was forced to decide whether to become a GC rider or a stage hunter. We all know which path he took. Will he feature today? One of our panel certainly hopes so.
Pinzolo to Laghi di Cancano
Pello Bilbao Bahrain-McLaren
What an absolute beast of a day in the saddle. More climbing than Sherpa Tenzing on Everest. By the way, if you’ve never ridden the Stelvio, it’s a must – every bit as beautiful as it looks, especially with the snow banked up either side of the road. Breathtaking. Meanwhile, this promises to be a big GC shakedown with winners and losers galore. Bilbao has been solid if unspectacular so far. Here’s hoping he takes a leaf out of team-mate Jan Tratnik’s playbook and bags a stage.
Dario Cataldo - Movistar
A stage hunter biding his time who is a deceptively strong climber on his day. History tells us he loves the Stelvio in bad weather too. Plus, Italy could do with a win.
Tao Geoghegan Hart - Ineos
It was interesting yesterday watching the little tête-à-tête that Almeida had with Hindley after Sunweb briefly got on the front and looked like they’d try to blow the race apart but couldn’t. Once they lost steam it was like Almeida was saying, “well, go ahead and drop me if you can.” Maybe the climb wasn’t hard enough to make a difference, but if that were the case, there would have been more riders finishing in the main peloton. It shows that there just isn’t a team that can hold this race together, which should mean a break can succeed today again. Then again, the guys who want to win this Giro are running out of chances to gain back any time on Almeida or Kelderman, clearly the best time trialists among the GC. I’m tempted to go for a break with someone like Antonio Pedrero. But if Tao Geoghegan Hart is to have a hope of winning this Giro, Ineos is going to have to put its still considerable firepower behind him for this Queen stage.
Thomas De Gendt - Lotto-Soudal
I don't know if Thomas has what it takes to spend all day in the break two days ago, or if it's foolish to bet on him succeeding on the Stelvio stage for the second time in his career. I do know I'll regret not backing him if he manages it, more than if I do and someone else does. Ben O'Connor managed a 2 and then a 1, so why shouldn't the road favour De Gendt?
The Cycling Mole says...
Well, that was close. All the team assumed today was a GC day, but I knew I was right. Such a shame I chose Zakarin, I really should have picked O’Connor. We had a chat after his second place, and he did tell me that the win would come another day, why didn’t I listen?
Stage 18 and the Stelvio, no more is needed. Let me begin with Andy, and his pick of Dario Cataldo. Is big Andy over in Amsterdam? I sense he might be in need of some Monster Munch. Ian is also on the naughty step after picking Bilbao. He’s decided to pick a rider who’s clearly showing signs of fatigue and in danger of losing big time. I can’t argue with Nick’s pick of De Gendt, the man is breakaway royalty. Olivia must have been hanging about with Andy if she thinks Pedrero can win this one. Lucky for her she’s going with Tao instead. As usual, she’s decided to give us War and Peace, I think she’s paid per word.
Will the break take another win? I think that Sunweb and Ineos could well control the stage, both teams have a lot to gain. With Kelderman fully focused on the pink jersey, I agree that this is another day for Tao Geoghegan Hart.