Diego Ulissi edged a thrilling climax to claim victory in stage 13 of the Giro d'Italia, with Joao Almeida close behind as he increased his overall lead.
Ulissi, representing UAE Team Emirates, powered for the line at the end of a 192 kilometre ride between Cervia and Monselice to get the better of Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe).
It was the 31-year-old's second stage win on this year's race and the eighth Giro success of his career. It was an equally profitable outing for Almeida in the maglia rosa, who picked up six bonus seconds for his finishing spot and now boasts a 40s lead over Wilco Kelderman and 49s over Pello Bilbao.
He was holding himself to a high standard, though, saying afterwards: "I am a bit disappointed with my second place, I wanted a stage win. I was really close but not close enough.
"The goal was the stage win, the seconds is just a bonus. After the descent, the group was quite small. I saw three guys with me and I know I can be fast in small groups, so we tried. The team really deserve to have won but Ulissi was fastest."
Reflecting on his win, Ulissi added: "We did a great job on the final climb to break away from the sprinters and arrive in a small group.
"We knew that if we could keep them away we would have a chance to fight for the sprint. I have to thank the whole team who set this up perfectly."
Earlier, race director Mauro Vegni had responded to Thursday's controversial suggestion from the EF Pro Cycling team that the race be brought to an early conclusion on Sunday due to the growing threat of coronavirus.
"The situation is under control completely. I've always said that I want to go to Milan," he said.
"With this point of view, nobody has told me this won't be possible. There's no evidence we shouldn't go to Milan."
The Giro continues on Saturday with the 34km individual time trial from Conegliano to Valdobbiadene and concludes on October 25 in Milan.
Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) takes the honours after the Italian pips Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step) to the line to take his second stage win at this year's Giro and the eighth of his career. Almeida earned himself a six-second time bonus and so the Portuguese extends his lead on general classification. Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) took third in a very peculiar sprint.
Tao Geoghegan Hart was fourth and although it was a fine performance from the Ineos Grenadiers rider, he will start Saturday's time trial in exactly the same position as he was in this morning: 12th on general classification, 2min 51sec adrift of race leader Almeida.
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) keeps hold of his maglia ciclamino as leader in the points classification, while the maglia azzurra stays on the shoulders of Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling) as the Portuguese stayed on top in the mountains classification.
James Knox and Fausto Masnada are riding full gas and we are moments away from discovering who will take the stage.
No change in the leading group. Peter Sagan et al have taken back a few seconds but are still looking out of it, as is Arnaud Démare.
James Knox and Fausto Masnada continue to pull, Tao Geoghegan Hart is getting a free ride here courtesy of Deceuninck-Quick Step. Could the Hackney-born rider take the biggest win of his career today?
Ben Swift and Peter Sagan may have missed a great opportunity here today. Both are in the second group on the road, 32sec adrift of Deceuninck-Quick Step who are barrelling along taking Joao Almeida towards the line where he may actually extend his lead today should he either win the stage or finish in the top three.
James Knox and Fausto Masnada are riding hard on the front and making life very difficult for Peter Sagan who is still chasing back on. He trails by around 30sec, while Arnaud Démare is another 30sec down the road. If it stays like this then Démare will be keeping hold of his maglia ciclamino as leader in the points classification.
Off the climb and onto the flat run-in to the finish and Peter Sagan is trailing the Deceuninck-Quick Step group by 25sec. Could Joao Almeida be extending his lead here today? I think he may be.
11km to go
Arnaud Démare trails by almost a minute, while Deceuninck-Quick Step have three riders — James Knox, Joao Almeida and Fausto Masnada — on the front. Tao Geoghegan Hart is nestled in there with the Deceuninck-Quick Step boys. Peter Sagan, by the way, has lost contact and is in the first chasing group with Ben Swift.
13km to go
James Knox, who has been riding brilliantly at this year's Giro, is hunched over his handlebars as if time trialling. The reduced group is stretched out in a long line. of around 20 or 30 riders.
15km to go
Two Britons — James Knox and Tao Geoghegan Hart — lead the stage while Joao Almeida is the third wheel as they navigate their way off the descent.
Guerreiro takes the lead
Ruben Guerreiro crests the summit of the cimb, just ahead of James Knox (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
Geoghegan Hart attacks!
Tao Geoghegan Hart has opened it up. The Ineos Grenadiers flew off the front, but was closed down very quickly by Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling), his former team-mate from Axel Merckx's development squad Axeon Hagens Berman.
17km to go
Game over for Alessandro Tonelli and Geoffrey Bouchard who have been caught by the group containing the general classification contenders. Arnaud Démare has lost contact, but he's not too far behind, perhaps 10sec or so.
17.5km to go
Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) who won stage two, has made a move off the front of the chasing group. Alessandro Tonelli is the lone leader after Geoffrey Bouchard is dropped.
18km to go
Jhonatan Narváez leads the chasing group as it hits this climb. Ben Swift is tucked in behind,
19km to go
Arnaud Démare has done it! The Groupama-FDJ rider has not only closed the gap on the chasing group, but has got himself onto the front of the bunch going into this climb, giving himself some sliding room as he will almsot certainly drop bach through the bunch as the road ramps up.
23km to go
Deceuninck-Quick Step are now tucked in just behind Bora-Hansgrohe, making sure the maglia rosa on the shoulders of Joao Almeida is perfectly placed going on to the Calaone climb. Arnaud Démare is chasing back on and it appears he is very close to getting back on, but he will most likely lose contact yet again on the incoming climb. If Peter Sagan wins the stage and Démare finishes any lower than second then the Bora-Hansgrohe rider will take the lead in the points classification and the maglia ciclamino off the shoulders of the Groupama-FDJ rider.
25km to go
Geoffrey Bouchard and Alessandro Tonelli are holding on to their lead of 25sec, but with the below climb to follow can they take the stage win?
27km to go
Bora-Hansgrohe take over on the front of the chasing group which trails stage leaders Geoffrey Bouchard and Alessandro Tonelli by 28sec.
Geoffrey Bouchard is the first to crest the Roccolo ahead of Alessandro Tonelli. Onto the descent they go, a decent looking road surface but the road is extremely narrow.
30km to go
Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) lead the stage by just over 30sec. Tao Geoghegan Hart is looking relatively comfortable as the road pitches up, but one imagines he is hurting awfully on the inside. Jakob Fuglsang and his Astana team-mates are in a decent position.
31km to go
Arnaud Démare has four team-mates guiding him over this climb. He has lost contact with Peter Sagan et al, but is not totally out of the picture. If he can regain contact before the next climb and survive that brute, then he could end up winning a fifth stage today.
32km to go
Peter Sagan stil has a couple of Bora-Hansgrohe team-mates up near the front, but this horrible short climb has splintered the group. Tao Geoghegan Hart is well positioned at second wheel and has Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Ben Swift on his wheel.
32.5km to go
The peloton catches Simon Pellaud on the steep early section of the Roccolo climb. Peter Sagan is positioned near the front, just ahead of Ben Swift and Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates). Simone Ravanelli is droipped by the breakaway; Arnaud Démare loses contact with the reduced peloton.
33.5km to go
Rodrigo Contreras (Astana) and Simon Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) have been dropped by the break, leaving Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal), Simone Ravanelli (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Lorenzo Rota (Vini Zabu-KTM) and Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) up the road. The five-man group's lead, however, has dropped to below a minute.
36.5km to go
Here we go, the breakaway is edging towards the Roccolo and the breakaway's lead has been whittled down to a shade over a minute. Ineos Grenadiers are riding hard on the front, while Groupama-FDJ have their sprinter Arnaud Démare up near the front, though presumably he will slide back through the bunch once the gradients go into double digits.
40km to go
Here we go, Ineos Grenadiers have taken over on the front of the peloton and the injection in pace from them has seen the breakaway's lead drop to 1min 30sec. Positioning going into these climbs today may be crucial to the stage win, while those with an eye on the general classification will not want to lose contact with their rivals.
45km to go
Quite a bit of movement back in the peloton as NTT move towards the front, presumably positioning themselves there in an attempt to protect their general classification contender Domenico Pozzovivo. With the first of those climbs coming fairly soon, nobody will want to be caught out should an incident occur on the wall-like climb.
55km to go
The breakaway has managed to gain a few seconds on the peloton, but with a lead of just 2min 12sec I think we can assume the stage winner today will be coming from the bunch. The first of the categorised climbs — Roccolo, 4.3km at 7.8% average gradient — is in around 20km and is followed by Calaone whicjh is just 2km long, but has an average gradient of 9.9%. As you can see from the below profiles, there are some very steep sections. The Roccolo goes up to 20%!
60km to go
Today's stage is passing through the Po Plain which is panflat and into the Vento region which is where an awful lot of cycling kit and equipment manufacturers are based. I had the pleasure of riding through here a couple of years ago while riding the second week of the Giro d'Italia, just ahead of the professionals. While we are waiting for today's stage to really kick off, here's what I wrote about my experience . . .
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to ride a grand tour – one of the three epic stage races that punctuate the cycling season. As a child when not fantasising about scoring the winner against Everton in the FA Cup final or bagging a hat-trick in the European Cup final, I dreamed not about winning a stage or jersey at the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France or Vuelta a España, but simply completing one of these three-week odysseys.
Even then I understood the magnitude of these races, they were and still remain the most brutal tests of endurance any sportsperson can undertake. They are really, really hard; the level of physical strength and mental fortitude needed to complete them is off the scale. I may have been young and carefree as a child, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew my limitations and, in reality, knew I stood a better chance of marmalising Franco Tancredi in Stadio Olimpico than ever riding down the Champs-Élysées alongside Laurent, Bernard, Greg et al so stuck to riding the Tuesday night 10, thank you very much. I wasn’t much good at that either, but that’s another story altogether.
Fast forward almost 35 years and I'm climbing, high into the Carnic Alps in north-eastern Italy. The noise is overwhelming, the barriered road all mine. Somewhere behind – I have no idea how close – are other riders, closing in as I inch ever higher towards the finish line. Calls of 'dai, dai' spill out from the heaving masses on the other side of the barriers. Others offer more familiar words of encouragement: 'allez, allez'. One man leans over the metal fencing – one of the many thousands gathered, waiting patiently, high near the summit of this cruel, cruel climb – face contorted, almost in tears and screams 'Marco Pantani, Marco Pantani'. I go down onto the drops before, exaggeratedly, moving the bike left to right – à la Il Pirata – before flashing the Pantani fan a smile; he returns the smile. I push on.
70km to go
Not entirely sure what has happened to Davide Ballerini, but the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider has dropped back to the medical car. The Italian appears to have picked up a cut or graze above his left eye.
75km to go
Bora-Hansgrohe remain on the front of the peloton, while an Israel Start-up Nation rider is in there to lend a helping hand. Interesting to note that Ineos Grenadiers are also up near the front, could they be thinking Ben Swift, the British national champion, could give it a crack today? The 32-year-old has been impressive at the race and has already posted two fourth-place finishes. But will today be the day he lands a big one and takes his first grand tour stage?
The breakaway, by the way, leads by 1min 40sec.
80km to go
Pieter Serry (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), two riders that live close to each other in Flanders, managed to catch up with each other earlier back in the peloton.
85km to go
After taking the maglia rosa following stage three atop Mount Etna, few expected Joao Almeida to still be wearing the the leader's pink jersey as the race edges into the second week of the Giro. However, the young Portuguese who is making his grand tour debut has ridden cleverly and nicked the odd time bonus here and there to actually increase his lead. His Deceuninck-Quick Step team-mates, too, have done brilliantly in protecting him.
If he does pull off the improbable, though, the 22-year-old will not be the youngest ever winner of the Giro, that honour goes to Il Campionissimo himself (Fausto Coppi) who was just 20 years and 268 days old when he won the race back in 1940.
100km to go
And we are into the final 100km. Not much is happening*.
* Nothing is happening. Yet.
103km to go
Good to see that Manuele Boaro is taking his refueling seriously.
As it stands . . .
Though it took a while to form, a seven-man breakaway comprising Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Rodrigo Contreras (Astana), Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal), Simon Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Simone Ravanelli (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Lorenzo Rota (Vini Zabu-KTM) and Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) eventually clipped off the front. With 110km of the stage remaining, that septet of riders lead by just under two minutes.
It will surprise few to discover that Bora-Hansgrohe are doing most of the heavy lifting on the front of the peloton. Although there is a flat finale to the stage that would suit a sprinter like Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) who has already won four stages at this year's Giro, the small matter of two brutal looking climbs that top out around 20km from the line will make it a difficult for the pure sprinters. And therefore, Peter Sagan is one of the favourites today hence his Bora-Hansgrohe team-mates riding on the front as they monitor the breakaway.
And welcome to our live rolling blog from stage 13 at the Giro d'Italia, the 190-kilometre run from Cervia to Monselice. As you can see from the below profile, stage is a little back-ended with some nasty looking climbs towards the end of an almost panflat stage.