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Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) claimed a breakaway victory on stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia, as Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) snatched three seconds back from race leader Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) at Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
Buitrago was part of a 15-man breakaway that formed after a breathless start to a high-altitude Dolomite affair that was billed as the queen stage but was subdued from a pink jersey perspective until the steep final ramps of the finishing climb.
The Colombian used those double-digit gradients to ride across to and drop the irrepressible Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech), who was forced to swallow his fourth second-place of this Giro. Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) clung on for third place from the break, taking bonus seconds out of the GC equation as Roglič and Thomas fought for the line in his shadow.
The top two traded blows in the final couple of kilometres, once again distinguishing themselves from third-placed João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), who conceded another 20 seconds.
Almeida had opened hostilities just under 2km from the top of the final climb, which averaged 11.7% in the final 4km, but Roglič soon jumped and Thomas nipped across to it. Almeida ground his way back under the flamme rouge but then Thomas issued his first true attack of this Giro with 500 metres to go and Almeida was properly distanced. It looked like Thomas was also drawing blood from Roglič, who didn’t quite latch onto the wheel and then started to lost contact as the pink jersey squeezed again with 250 metres to go. But just as the Giro looked to be tilting one way, it swung back the other, as Roglič came roaring back in the final burst to the line, sprinting past and even finishing three seconds to the good.
In the overall standings, Roglič reduced his arrears to Thomas to 26 seconds ahead of Saturday’s decisive mountain time trial, with Almeida now at 59 seconds and needing a miracle.
Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) was the next finisher in seventh, moving up to fourth overall at the expense of Eddie Dunbar (Jayco-AlUla) who got into trouble 2km from the top and conceded more than a minute to Roglič and Thomas. Thymen Arensman finished strongly alongside Caruso after pacing most of the final climb for Thomas, moving up two places to seventh overall, with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) next home to move to sixth as Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Andreas Leknessund (DSM) both suffered.
Buitrago himself moved up five places to 12th but he won’t care too much about the GC as he celebrates his second stage victory in as many editions of the Giro.
The Colombian climber snuck into a move during a chaotic opening couple of hours in which Jumbo-Visma tried to sneak men into the breakaway and Ineos struggled to keep a lid on proceedings. As a big group containing three Jumbo riders was snuffed out, Buitrago shot out the front of it and made his way into a break that eventually swelled to 15 riders as they took on the first of the day’s five climbs.
The racing calmed down over the 2000-metre peaks of Valparola and Giau, but Buitrago was always in the front breakaway selections before reaching the top of the penultimate climb of Tre Croci (7.9km at 7.2%) in a quartet with Gee, Cort and the remarkable Michael Hepburn (Jayco-AlUla).
Gee made his latest bid for glory on the lower slopes of a final climb that officially measured 7.2km at 7.6%, but Buitrago came back on the double-digit gradients in the final 4km. In fact, he appeared to play with his prey, inching his way very slowly but very surely across with 1,500 metres remaining, before hitting him with a dancing acceleration that Gee described as “ridiculous” and clearly had been stored up.
How it unfolded
Stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia featured a huge dose of high-altitude climbing, but there was no inclination to save energy in the gentler first part of the stage. On the opening flat 30km, and onto the long drag towards the day’s first climb, the peloton ripped chunks of out itself in a titanic struggle for the breakaway.
The first attackers were Larry Warbasse (AG2R Citroën) and Vejlko Stojnić (Corratec-Selle Italia), and they cracked on for the best part of 40km, almost impervious to the chaos that was unfolding just half a minute or so behind them. It would take an age to recount all the moves that came and went, but the most interesting theme was the activity of Jumbo-Visma, who were frequently looking to filter riders into the moves. Edoardo Affini and Michel Hessman were the chief protagonists but they appeared to sense the opportunity to pressurise Ineos Grenadiers with increasing relish, as Sam Oomen and Thomas Gloag briefly crept into a dangerous big move.
The blue jersey of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) glued himself to the wheel of his closest rival in the mountains classification, Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) but both effectively marked each other out of the breakaway.
After almost 40km, with the gap down to 15 seconds, two riders managed to jump across to the leading duo: Alex Baudin (AG2R Citroën) and the irrepressible Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech). Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) then managed to bribe the gap solo to make it five out front, before four more riders came across to make it nine: Nicolas Prodhomme (AG2R Citroën), Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe), Davide Gabburo (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè), and Vadim Pronskiy (Astana Qazaqstan).
At that point, the dangerous 20-man group that contained three Jumbo-Visma riders, plus two from UAE Team Emirates, went clear and while it was snuffed out, Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) pushed off the front of it and set across the gap to the break. He was later joined by Stefano Oldani (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Michael Hepburn (Jayco-AlUla), taking the total number to 12. It didn’t quite settle, as the Movistar duo of José Joaquín Rojas and Carlos Verona, plus Mattia Bais (Eolo-Kometa) were the next to set off in pursuit.
There was a particularly pivotal moment after 50km as Ineso duo of Ben Swift and Salvatore Puccio struggled to contain the incessant attacks, and the peloton threatened to split. Whether by design or accident, they perhaps turned the tactical tables by slipping Thymen Arensman (Ineos Grenadiers) – ninth overall – into a move. Soon after, it all finally calmed down, the pink jersey stopped for a nature break, and the breakaway was allowed to drift off.
The first intermediate sprint came in Caprile after 64km, where Stojnic was first to bolster his intermediate sprints classification tally, while Gee was second to take more in the points classification. The 12 leaders crossed with a lead of 90 seconds over the Verona trio, and four minutes over the peloton.
However, just when it appeared to have settled, it unsettled. The Passo Campolongo hadn’t officially begun, but the approach was effectively itself a proper, albeit uncategorised, climb, and Healy used it to throw the cat among the pigeons with an attack from the back of the bunch. Pinot scrambled into response, getting a teammate to lead him out in pursuit, but that in turn posed a problem for the peloton, given the Frenchman’s position in seventh place overall.
Ineos upped the pace and latched onto Pinot’s pursuit, which split the bunch clean in two, with only 30 riders in the front group. A couple of kilometres up the road, Ineos decided to sit back, allowing Pinot to ping off alone in pursuit of Healy, who shook his hand with a rueful smile as the pair made contact and sat up. That wasn’t quite the end of it, as Healy broke the truce a couple of kilometres later, Pinot once again having to sprint to snuff it out once more, much to the annoyance of Puccio and the delight of a grinning Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma).
With 100km to go, the Passo Campolongo (3.9km at 7%) finally did officially start, with the race itself finally settling down; the peloton regrouped 5:30 behind what was – with Verona, Rojas, and Bais joining – a 15-man breakaway. Gabburo led the break over the category 2 climb, with Swift and Puccio pulling the peloton, before the dip downhill to the foot of the cat 1 Passo Valparola (14.1km at 5.6%).
That climb took the riders above the 2000-metre barrier, but saw no great action, besides Stojnic dropping away and Verona having to come back after crashing in a collision with the AG2R car. At the summit, at 2196 metres, Gee beat Gabburo in the sprint for the maximum 40 KOM points, as the 14 remaining escapees extended their lead to eight minutes over a peloton that was led by Ineos and, in an indication of the relaxed pace, still just about featured Mark Cavendish. On the 15km descent, Jayco-AlUla hit the front and set a solid pace to reduced the gap to seven minutes by the foot of the Passo Giau, which measured 9.9km at 9.3%.
After some early skirmishes, the first selection in the break came when Verona accelerated and took Gee and Buitrago with him. Remarkably, Hepburn jumped across to it, followed by Cort. At the summit, Gee nudged forward to take another 40 KOM points as Hepburn pushed on, with Cort slightly distanced and the duo of Pronskiy and Prodhomme chasing several seconds further back.
There was no real action in the peloton, with Swift pacing the first half of the climb for Ineos, and Puccio the second, the gap to the break staying around the seven-minute mark. The sprinters quickly formed a gruppetto but the bunch remained sizeable and there was no interest from Jumbo-Visma or UAE to force a more selective tempo. Laurens De Plus took over at the top but Thomas was putting a gilet on and thoughts were firmly on the next 18km descent.
The was a regrouping on the descent, with Pronskiy and Prodhomme, then Konrad, Warbasse, Gaburro and Oldani rejoining to make it 11 out front. The second intermediate sprint came in Cortina, where Gee was first to further bolster his points collection.
Passo Tre Croci and Tre Cime di Lavaredo
The break hit the penultimate climb of Passo Tre Croci (7.9km at 72.%) with a lead of 6:30 and Warbasse immediately attacked to gain a decent solo advantage. Buitrago later set off in pursuit and dragged Cort with him, with Gee and then Hepburn bursting across to it as Warbasse fell away half-way up. The four reached the top together, with 13km to go, Gee once again first across the KOM line.
The peloton came onto the climb 6:10 down, with Roglič stopping to make a tactical bike change onto a 1x gearing system with a big 10/44-tooth cassette. De Plus, 10th overall, took it up for Ineos and upped the pace as the rain started to pelt down, with a key early casualty as Almeida’s top domestique Jay Vine lost contact. 11th-placed Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ) and Jumbo-Visma’s Koen Bouwman were also dropped as De Plus turned the screw and the bunch reduced to 18 riders as they crested the climb 3:50 behind the break.
After a brief dip, there was a false flat approach to the final climb of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, measuring 7.2km at 7.6% but in reality condensed into the final 4km section that averaged 11.7%. There was another regrouping in the break before Hepburn shook things up on the false flat and Gee attacked to lead solo onto the climb. Buitrago dropped Hepburn to set off in pursuit and, despite struggling to make inroads at first, the steep final section brought his lighter weight into play and he slowly but surely inched his way closer to Gee.
Finally, with 1,500 metres remaining, the catch was made, and Buitrago went for the kill, issuing a rasping attack that he’d clearly been storing up while letting Gee dangle in front.
De Plus led the GC group to the base of the climb, before Arensman took over and almost turned it into an accidental attack before slowing to offer a steadier tempo for Thomas. On the dip before the steep section, De Plus managed to return for Ineos, even taking it onto the double digits before pulling off just under 3km from the line. Arensman then took it up, distancing Kamna and Van Wilder as the group reduced to 10 before, 2km from the summit, there was a bigger casualty in the form of Dunbar.
Soon after, Almeida raised the pace and moved to displace Arensman at the front, finally lighting it up. Thomas followed, and Roglic sat posed before launching his first acceleration. Thomas zipped across to it, as Almeida lost ground before clawing his way back with a kilometre to go. Arensman, Caruso in his wheel, then dragged his way back with 700m to go. With 500 metres to go, Thomas issued his first attack of this Giro, with Roglič fighting to get on terms as Almeida was dropped and daylight opened. Thomas squeezed again with 250 metres to go and appeared to have distanced Roglič before the Slovenian surged for the line and stole three seconds.
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