Arnaud Démare claimed his fourth win of the Giro d'Italia with yet another dominant sprint display at the end of stage 11.
The French national champion held off Peter Sagan and Alvaro Hodeg in the finale to extend his lead in the points leader's ciclamino jersey, though Sagan's fourth second place of his debut Giro will surely have felt less frustrating than those last week given his superb solo win 24 hours earlier.
The sprint finish saw no change in the general classification, in which Portuguese rider Joao Almeida continues to lead by 30 seconds from Wilco Kelderman with Pello Bilbao, Domenico Pozzovivo and Vincenzo Nibali bunched up close behind.
The largely flat 182km stage from Porto Sant'Elpidio to Rimini meant it was essentially nailed on for a sprint, a day after the more rolling road to Tortoreto gave Sagan the canvas for one of his greatest victories out of the breakaway.
Démare's Groupama-FDJ team let others do the work on the road in to Rimini but moved up in the final kilometre to lead their man down the final approach to the line.
Fernando Gaviria was the first to light it up but Démare responded and none could get past him, Sagan glued to his wheel but lacking the acceleration to get alongside.
"My three lead-out men delivered me in a perfect position and I felt a lot of strength in my legs to launch my sprint," Demare said.
"Coming to the Giro I didn't think I'd get four stage wins. Hats off to my team-mates!"
The rolling profile of Thursday's stage 12, starting and finishing in Marco Pantani's hometown of Cesenatico, should lead to a more intriguing day in the battle for pink.
However, a relatively flat run to the line will make it difficult to make any moves stick.
"Tomorrow is a very undulating stage," Almeida said. "There will be some attacks but we will be prepared."
Wednesday's stage took place with much of the peloton still processing the events of the previous morning, when both the Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma teams withdrew from the race following positive tests for coronavirus on the rest day.
Sunweb had continued without Michael Matthews after he too returned a positive test.
The team said on Wednesday the Australian had returned a negative result on a follow-up "rapid test", raising the possibility of a 'false positive'. However, the PCR test used on the rest day is generally more reliable than a rapid test so that result is leading.
Démare wins stage 11 at the Giro!
The unbeatable Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has won his fourth stage at this year's Giro d'Italia. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is runner-up, Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-Quick Step) takes third.
After all the hard work done by UAE Team Emirates, Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria was unable to challenge and it the end looked lacklustre. He finished seventh. A very disappointing result.
As a result of that stage win, Démare extends his lead in the points classification while Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step) finished safely to keep hold of his maglia rosa as overall leader. There were no changes in the other standings, so Almeida still leads the young rider classification, obviously, and his Portuguese compatriot Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling) will keep hold of his maglia azzurra as leader in the mountains for another day on Thursday.
1km to go
Groupama-FDJ, Bora-Hansgrohe, UAE Team Emirates and Israel Start-up Nation are positioned near the front, but who is going to take the stage?
1.5km to go
Groupama-FDJ take over on the front, Arnaud Démare sitting poised waiting to launch his assault. But can the in-form Frenchman win another stage at this year's Giro d'Italia? Remember, this would be a fourth win for Démare, the man who was left at home by his team for last month's Tour de France.
2.5km to go
UAE Team Emirates return to the front and the bunch is stretched out in a long single line.
3km to go
And the general classification riders can breath.
4km to go
Israel Start-up Nation are tanking it on the front, with stage eight winner Alex Dowsett pulling hard, setting a fierce pace in order to deter any further attacks off the front.
5km to go
UAE Team Emirates are joined by Israel Start-up Nation on the front. A day for Rick Zabel?
6km to go
Game over for Sander Armee. And Elia Viviani has managed to get up near the front. Very good effort from the Cofidis sprinter.
6.5km to go
UAE Team Emirates are now on the front, but can their main sprinter Fernando Gaviria end his drought today, or will it be another win for Arnaud Démare?
7km to go
Sander Armee's lead has all but evaporated. It is a very twisty run-in to the line with a few roundabouts and several pieces of road furniture; a very nervous time for the riders and their watching teams.
9km to go
Deceuninck-Quick Step shunt their way towards the front, down the left-hand side of the road. Ineos Grenadiers are on the opposite side. Groupama-FDJ ease off the gas a little.
10km to go — 3km rule in place today
11.5km to go
Sander Armee's advantage on the peloton has dropped slightly. It is down to 1min 4sec now. Back in the bunch and Cofidis have worked their way back towards the front; the general classification teams are doing their thing now and jockying for position at the head of the field.
12.5km to go
Groupama-FDJ are having to use their riders to chase, but Sander Armee is going well and looking good. UAE Team Emirates are tucked in behind the French team, Bora-Hansgrohe are present while Deceuninck-Quick Step are in there too. Deceuninck-Quick Step are of course protecting their maglia rosa, though also have a couple of sprinters (Davide Ballerini and Alvaro Hodeg) withing their ranks and so will be riding with dual ambitions here.
16km to go
Elia Viviani is back at the race medic's car, the Italian appears to be getting a little treatment to his left ankle. Sander Armee, meanwhile, is ploughing on, his lead on Mattia Bais is around 55sec, the peloton is another 55sec further down the road.
18.5km to go
Groupama-FDJ are riding hard on the front now, tucked in behind are Bora-Hansgrohe who will be hoping Peter Sagan can make it two stage wins in succession. Elia Viviani and his Cofidis team-mates, meanwhile, are attempting sat off the rear of the bunch.
Sander Armee has ridden Mattia Bais off his wheel, the 34-year-old Belgian now the lone leader of the stage. Armee has almost two minutes on the peloton. I can't see any Cofidis riders naer the front of the bunch, though there are plenty of Groupama-FDJ boys.
25km to go
An aerial view of that Viviani crash . . .
Belgian cycling fans thank Cavendish
Nice touch this from Belgian cycling fans who have been out painting the road at Scheldeprijs with a message for Mark Cavendish.
Oh dear, oh dear. Elia Viviani, the Italian sprinter whose team have been working tirelessly today in an effort to set him up for the stage, was just caught up in a spill. As the peloton navigated its way around the roundabout a motorbike, somehow, appeared to either clip the wheel of the Cofidis rider or caused him to swerve and hit another rider. Anyway, he's back up and in the saddle but that may have unsettled him.
Meanwhile in Belgium . . .
. . . and Mark Cavendish is still in the breakaway at Scheldeprijs.
35km to go
as the road hit a small rise, Sander Armee (Lotto-Soudal) pushes on to create a split in the breakaway group. Only Mattia Bais (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) was able to hold the wheel of the Belgian. Marco Frapporti (Vini Zabu-KTM), Fabio Mazzucco (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) and Francesco Romano (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) are all together, but not too sure just yet if they are going to chase.
40km to go
The race has entered Emilia-Romagna. Not a very interesting fact, but at the moment that's about as interesting as it gets. Today is all going to be about the fast and frenetic finale into the holiday — and occasionally party — town of Rimini. The breakaway's lead has dropped to 2min 20sec.
45km to go
The breakaway's lead has dropped a little to below three minutes now, dwon to 2min 45sec to be precise as the Giro d'Italia reaches its halfway point.
55km to go
Breakaway is at 3min 25sec.
Is Démare now the world's best sprinter?
Just days after winning his third national title, Arnaud Démare's team-mates headed to the Tour de France with the sole ambition of backing Thibaut Pinot's tilt at yellow. After Pinot crashed on the opening day, however, Groupama-FDJ's Tour unravelled into a tangled mess.
With no Plan B and no sprinter, Marc Madiot's team limped around France, not winning a single stage. In the absence of one dominant sprinter at the Tour, one was left wondering if Madiot had erred in the non-selection of Démare.
Fast forward a month and Démare has three stage wins at the Giro d'Italia.
60km to go
Sander Armee (Lotto-Soudal), Mattia Bais (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Marco Frapporti (Vini Zabu-KTM), Fabio Mazzucco (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) and Francesco Romano (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) have managed to gained a few seconds on the chasing bunch. The quintet leads by 3min 35sec.
65km to go
Groupama-FDJ, Cofidis and UAE Team Emirates are sharing out the duties on the front of the peloton. Remember, today's stage is expected to end in a bunch sprint finish and so each of these teams will be hoping to set up their respective sprinters — Arnaud Démare, Elia Viviani and Fernando Gaviria. Démare has already won three stages at this year's Giro, while Viviani and Gaviria are winless.
70km to go
The peloton is inching its way up the category four Monte San Bartolo, but nobody appears to be in too much of a rush to close down the breakaway, not just yet. Most of the sprinters' teams have their fastmen up nears the front.
73.5km to go
Francesco Romano won the intermediate sprint a few minutes ago, before Peter Sagan and Arnaud Démare went shoulder-to-shoulder in a battle for the remaining points. In the end it was the Frenchman who won the sprint to tighten his grip ever so slightly on the maglia ciclamino as leader in the points classification.
75km to go
Just two of the riders in the five-man breakaway — Sander Armee and Marco Frapporti — have any professinal wins next to their names. Armee has two, including a stage at the Vuelta a España, while Frapporti won a stage at the Tour of Britain back in 2010.
83km to go
No real change out on the road, the five-man breakaway still leads by around three minutes as it edges towards the first of two intermediate sprints in this stage. Back in the bunch and a UAE Team Emirates rider has been chipping in, helping out Groupama-FDJ and Cofidis.
Scheldeprijs update: Cavendish is in the breakaway!
He's at it again, Mark Cavendish has got himself into a nine-man breakaway at the one-day race in Flanders. Another Briton, the youngster Lewis Askey (Groupama-FDJ), is also in there.
Cavendish: 'I hope to be able to race next year'
Mark Cavendish spoke earlier today ahead of Scheldeprijs where the British sprinter explained why last Sunday he said Ghent-Wevelgem may have been his last race.
Cavendish is competing at Scheldeprijs, the one-day race in Belgiumn where he won the first race of his career, and is scheduled to take the start line at Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
"Due to the coronavirus, the situation is very unclear. There was talk that there might not be any more racing this year. Because I don't have a team before 2021, I suddenly realised that Ghent-Wevelgem might be the end of my career,” Cavendish told Sporza.
"I just have my heart on my sleeve. I love cycling. Especially here in Belgium. Here in the Scheldeprijs I achieved my first professional victory. I really looked forward to this race. I love to race in Belgium. I am really happy that this course continues.
"I don't want to stop yet, I still want to keep racing. Even without winning, I can make a difference. We'll see what happens, but I really hope. to be able to race next year."
Back in Italy, meanwhile, the breakaway is holding at three minutes.
97.5km to go
100km to go
The peloton is tapping away, lined out in a long line enjoying a little bit of respite from the rain from the last few days as the road heads north towards Rimini, hugging the coastline as it goes. The deficit on the peloton is sticking at around three minutes, just as it has done so since the early part of today's stage.
110km to go
As you would expect, Groupama-FDJ has a rider on the front of the peloton as the French squad monitors the gap between itself and the breakaway. They will be hoping to rein the quintet back in before the panflat finale in Rimini later on this afternoon. Interesting to note that Cofidis are also up near the front, ready to lend a hand with the heavy lifting as they look to set up their sprinter Elia Viviani.
As it stands . . .
As mentioned earlier, today's stage passed through KMO — the point at which racing starts following a gentle trundle through the neutralised section — at 11.13am (BST). There were no non-starters, though following yesterday's mass exodus when Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma withdrew their entire squads, just 144 riders of the original 176 riders that set off from Monreale in Sicily almost two weeks ago started.
Five riders — Sander Armee (Lotto-Soudal), Mattia Bais (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Marco Frapporti (Vini Zabu-KTM), Fabio Mazzucco (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) and Francesco Romano (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) — wasted little time in clipping off the front and have gained around three minutes on the peloton.
And welcome to our live rolling blog from stage 11 at the Giro d'Italia, the 182km run from Porto Sant'Elpidio to Rimini. After Tuesday's rip-roaring stage, with just one categorised climb — the category four Monte San Bartolo — today appears to be one for the sprinters.
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) would appear to be the favourite to take the win, though the in-form Frenchman can expect to be tested by the likes of fellow sprinters Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and Tuesday's stage winner Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Here are the leaders in the four main classifications — those awarded jerseys — the maglia rosa (pink), maglia ciclamino (cyclamen), maglia azzurra (blue) and maglia bianca (white).
Today's stage got under way at 11.13am (BST) and, as it stands, there is a five-man breakaway leading. Our liveblog starts at 12.30pm.