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Giro d'Italia 2018: Bennett outsprints Viviani to win neutralised final stage in Rome

Chris Froome seals historic win as race result taken early over safety fears

Martin James
27 May 2018

Photo credit: Eurosport

Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the final stage of the 101st Giro d'Italia, producing an excellent sprint to the line to overhaul favourite Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors).

Bennett delivered the goods after Quick-Step Floors had set the pace over the majority of the stage, which involved 10 circuits of 11.5km around The Eternal City. But after Viviani was perfectly led out by two teammates going into the final dash for the line, he didn't have the speed to hold Bennett at bay.

Chris Froome finished together with all his GC rivals in a group more than 10 minutes down, after race officials agreed to neutralise the stage timing at the end of three laps over concerns over rider safety on bumpy and cobbled roads.

After a breathless Giro d’Italia that started on a complately different continent, its final stage would take place entirely within the nation’s capital. The organisers had planned a 11.5km circuit around central Rome – a sort of sightseeing tour for professional cyclists – which would be raced 10 times in total.

With intermediate sprints pencilled in for the end of the 4th and 6th laps, that would keep the interest levels going as we built towards what would likely be one final sprint showdown – much like the traditional final stage of the Tour de France.

Or that was the plan.

The difference was that unlike at the Tour, where the riders know exactly what the traditional final circuit holds, and have 50-plus kilometres of riding to get through before they reach it, here the entire stage was raced on the circuit.

Which meant from the first pedal-stroke, the riders experienced first-hand that the road surface just wasn’t up to the job. Bumpy throughout, with extensive cobbled sections and plenty of abrupt changes of direction, gradient and camber-change, it was a circuit designed for the tourist, not the cyclist.

Nobody looked happy, and the peloton looked ready to revolt. Enter Grand Tour conqueror Froome, now fancying himself as a self-styled patron, who together with points leader Viviani took the riders’ case to the commissaires while the rest of the race soft-pedalled along.

Finally an agreement was reached: the riders would start racing so long as the general classification times were taken at the end of the third lap, with no time bonuses for the sprints after that.

Effectively it meant the neutralised zone at the start of the stage was nearly 35km long, at which point the entire race was neutralised but the stage itself officially started.

It was all a little absurd, but at least it meant that the GC riders and teams could sit back and let those interested in fighting for stage honours get on with it.

And so they did, with a group of 18 hopefuls quickly shooting off the front to test their luck against the peloton, the elements and the road surface.

Among their number was Androni Giocattoli’s Davide Ballerini, and he duly took the first intermediate sprint to cement his third place in the points classification and his overall victory in the minor intermediate sprints competition.

By the halfway mark on the stage – albeit the end of only the second lap of true racing – Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy) had attacked the rest of the breakaway group on his own, and led by around 10 seconds. The peloton, however, were being driven on by the Quick-Step Floors ‘Wolfpack’ just 30 seconds back.

By this point Froome, the rest of Team Sky, and indeed several other GC riders and teams, had been left behind, their work in this Giro now done.

The breakaway weren't working together in any meaningful way, and so Christopher Juul Jensen (Mitchelton-Scott) and Viatcheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha-Alpecin) pushed on without them, and with three laps to go led their erstwhile companions by 21 seconds, and the fast-moving Quick-Step express just 10 seconds further back.

A lap later and just the two riders remained clear, and by just 8 seconds. By now the GC group was 7 minutes back, clearly just going through the motions after 3,500km of hard racing over the past three weeks.

Quick-Step delayed the ultimate catch for nearly another full lap, and indeed Jensen and Kuznetsov could hear the bell ringing for one lap to go when finally they were swallowed up.

Just into the final lap, Viviani had a scare with a dropped chain, and suddenly the door opened for an opportunistic move off the front. And a quartet stepped up to roll the dice, including sprinter Danny Van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) and time-trial specialist Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin).

But with Bora-Hansgrohe pushing the pace initially and Quick-Step Floors increasingly getting Viviani back into position, the surprise breakaway was brought back in good time and the sprint trains got into final position.

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