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Giro d'Italia 2018: Stage 20 spoils go to Nieve but crucially Froome holds on to pink

Stu Bowers
26 May 2018

Froome secures Giro victory and joins the very select club of riders who have held all three Grand Tour leader's jerseys at the same time

Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) won Stage 20 of the 2018 Giro d'Italia from a solo break, while Chris Froome (Team Sky) resisted the efforts of defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) to all but guarantee the overall win.

With a processional stage that is expected to finish in a sprint on the final day, the pink jersey looks to be Froome's. The win would mean he is the reigning champion of all three Grand Tours, after spending the first two weeks of this Giro looking off the pace and undercooked.

The start in Jerusalem feels like a distant memory now as the race reached it's characteristically exciting climax. The Giro d'Italia can never be accused of being boring.

After such a big shake up in the GC after yesterday's epic 19th stage, and with today's 214km stage from Susa to Cervinia also being the Queen stage of this year's race, the scene was set for a real humdinger, for the penultimate day, and it didn't disappoint.

As the race has shown over and again the Giro d'Italia is a race that's never over until it's over, and yesterday was point in case. No one could have predicted such a momumental drop down the order by Yates and for Froome's solo attack to give him the pink jersey and control of the race.

How the Stage 20 unfolded

Today's stage was another long one, with over 4,000m of ascent and three gruelling 1st Category climbs all coming in the last 90km, so the nerves would have remained high amongst the leaders with a lot of racing still to be done. 

Fairly predicatably an early break went clear, but it was an unusually large group, made up of 27 riders, including points leader, Elia Viviani (Quick Step) who was clearly making sure that jersey was in no doubt by the end of today's stage, and take the pressure off for tomorrow in Rome. 

Also in the break were the likes of Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain Merida) Tony Martin (Katusha Alpecin) plus Roman Kreuziger and  Nieve, both of Mitchelton-Scott, now free to ride for themselves with Yates out of the frame.

The breakaway worked well and kept a fast pace, forcing Sky and Astana to send riders to the front of the peloton. Astana especially appeared keen to control the gap and keep Miguel Angel Lopez, sitting 4th on CG, in the frame for overhauling Thibaut Pinot (Groupama -FDJ) for the final podium spot.

Leaving the Aosta valley with around 125km of the stage covered is where the race entered the mountains.

The large breakaway group remained intact and was still had a gap of around 5 minutes over the peloton when they reached the bottom of the first major climb - the Col Tsecore - being used for the first time in the Giro, but the group soon began to dessimate as the slope took its toll.

Astana's relentless pace setting reduced both the gap top the leaders and the size of the main peloton, which was down to less than 50 riders by the time they hit the first climb.

Sadly Simon Yates' Giro d'Italia took another turn for the worse as he again suffered the indignity of being dropped as soon as the race started climbing. Finishing in the Maglia Azzurra as a consolation for handing over the Maglai Rosa to Froome, was also going to be beyond his grasp.  

Still looking strong in the breakaway were Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), stage 10 winner Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Merida) Guilio Ciccone (Bardiani-CSF) and Nieve. 

Taking maximum KOM points on the Col Tsecore, meant Ciccone still had a mathematical chance of winning the blue jersey if he continued on to take the maximum points available for the remainder of the stage.

Astana and Sky were still in control of the peloton as it summited the Col Tsecore, but the gap to the break had gone out to over 5 minutes again.

One down, two to go

Mohoric showed incredible bravery and descending skills to open a sizable gap on his fellow escapees on the descent, arriving at the foot of the second major climb - Col de St.Pantaléon (16.5km at 7.2% ave.) - around 30 seconds ahead, but was soon caught again as the climbing once more commenced.

As the peloton arrived at the base of the penultimate climb it was still over 5 minutes in arrears but the big story was it was not just Yates suffering the shame of being dropped today, third placed rider on GC, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), was also tailed off at the base of the climb, conceding time rapidly, as he almost ground to a halt. 

Pinot was clearly in serious trouble, losing over 20 minutes down on the pink jersey group by the top of the second climb, depsite many of his teammates coming back to pace him. Pinot's chances then were over.

Up in the breakaway Michelton-Scott's Mikel Nieve forged a gap alone, and what a way it would be to celebrate his 34th birthday if he could go on to win the stage.

Nieve summited the climb with a time gap of 1min 38sec over his breakaway rivals, and so there was a real chance of making that dream come true. 

The peloton, still mostly being controlled by Astana, were over 8 minutes down on Nieve over the top of the second climb, but Froome sensibly put himself near the front for the descent to minimise the risks of a crash. There would still be all to play for in his battle with Tom Dumoulin on the final climb.

Third climb lucky

Nieve reached the start of the final 19km climb of Cervinia with a solid advantage - 1min 30sec on the remainder of the breakaway and 9minutes on the pink jersey group, the pace of which was now being set by Sky and Movistar.

Behind Nieve, though, everyone waited with baited breath for the attacks to start between Froome and Dumoulin.

It was Dumoulin that started the cat and mouse, around 9km from the finish, forcing Froome, uncharacteristically without a teammate, to match his every pedal stroke. Froome didn't panic and always looked capable of closing the small gaps that Dumoulin opened with repeated bursts.

Dumoulin had teammate Sam Oomen by his side, but with a monumental effort Wout Poels made contact with the group of six riders to act as Froome's lieutenant and even up the fight.

Nieve's lead looked untouchable at 4km to go with still over 2 minutes advantage, he was clearly going to be the victor, but what was going on behind was of far greater significance.

Dumoulin continually tested Froome, but each time the Brit had the answer. Dumoulin had no choice but to attack, in order to try and defend his Giro title, but ultimately the efforts took their toll and it was eventually he that went pop and found himself tailed off from the chasers, whilst Froome still looked fresh.

The game still wasn't over though as Dumoulin got back in touch with Froome inside the final few kilometres but Froome looked confident.

Richard Carapaz (Movistar), starting the day in 5th place, was the animator in the final kilometres, but neither he nor the rest of the group could take anything away from the battle royale bewteen Froome and Dumoulin. 

Nieve's teammate Robert Gesink held on for 2nd place on the satge with the remnants of the early breakaway filling up the rest of the top 5. 

Dumoulin was sporting enough to acknowledge his defeat as he and Froome crossed the line over 6 minutes in arrears of Nieve, but Froome could not care less about the timne gap today.

He has made history by becoming the first British winner of the Giro d'Italia and also enters a very select club of riders who have held all three Grand Tours' leader's jerseys in the same year.