Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo has won the first stage of the final week of racing at the Giro d’Italia.  The Italian who has been the star of the KOM classification this year, claimed the win ahead of Jan Hirt of Astana and Fausto Masnada of Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, as Primož Roglič lost further GC ground to Vincenzo Nibali and Richard Carapaz.

Stage 16 from Lovere to Ponte di Legno was to be a rude awakening for the riders on their first day back from the second rest day of the Giro d’Italia.  The 194km were littered with climbs, but only the third, fourth and fifth of the day’s climbs were categorised with the final climb up the Passo del Mortirolo being a category 1 climb.

A breakaway group formed early in the stage with a number of teams represented.  Andrey Amador of Movistar, Francois Bidard of AG2R La Mondiale, Mattia Cattaneo and Fausto Masnada of Androni Giocatolli-Sidermec, Pello Bilbao, Jan Hirt and Davide Villella of Astana, Damiano Caruso and Antonio Nibali of Bahrain-Merida, Michael Schwarzmann of BORA-Hansgrohe, Lukasz Owsian and Francisco José Ventoso of CCC Team, Mikkel Frølich Honoré of Deceuninck-Quick Step, Nathan Brown and Joe Dombrowski of EF Education First, Chris Juul-Jensen and Mikel Nieve of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Koen Bouwman of Jumbo-Visma, Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo and Diego Ulissi of UAE-Team Emirates formed the move that weren’t given a great deal of room by Movistar who led the peloton along.

Simon Yates and Primož Roglič were among those to lose time in the GC standings, with Roglič dropping to 3rd, photo Sirotti

With 128km to go the gap was at 3.29mins, and the peloton were careful not to give the break too much space as Joe Dombrowski started the day 15th overall.  Gradually the break’s lead stretched out to 4.40mins with 110km to go, but there remained no real threat from Dombrowski towards the overall lead of Carapaz; who was swiftly becoming Ecuador’s new hero.  Dombrowski, although a threat to the top ten potentially, was 14+mins back on the maglia rosa.

There were no major fireworks in the early stages of the race from the peloton and for much of the early stages both break and bunch worked in pretty uniform fashion with the break’s advantage growing to a little over 5.15mins with 80km to go.  Movistar kept the pace up consistently at the head of the race, giving the assured look of confidence that Jumbo-Visma had in the opening week of racing when Primož Roglič looked as though he could virtually do no wrong.

The climb of the Mortirolo would be very influential in deciding the win.  On the descent of the Aprica preceding it, Ventoso went on the offensive, putting time into the breakaway behind him, but he had company by the time the climb began, with the break more or less re-established and with a lead of 5.50mins as they hit the base of the climb.  

Nathan Brown got the attacks underway in the break, drawing Giulio Ciccone’s attention, but in the peloton it was Jack Bauer of Mitchelton-SCOTT who was a prominent figure on the front alongside Movistar.  The attacks at the front thinned out the break radically, with just five riders left on the front in the form of Masnada, Nieve, Ciccone, Caruso and Hirt with 36.5km to go.  Hirt was the strongest at this stage, choosing to go on the offensive a little more and try to whittle down the break; taking just Caruso and Ciccone with him.  As he did so Bahrain Merida pushed the tempo in the bunch, thinning the group out steadily, before an attack from Nibali.  

Despite coming under pressure, Richard Carapaz gave an assured performance in stage 16, photo Sirotti

Nibali found space to work, but while Carapaz and Movistar patiently limited their losses and bided their time to get back on board along with Miguel Angel Lopez, Roglič cracked and so too Simon Yates and Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin.  Vincenzo Nibali had the company of brother Antonio who dropped back from the break to support his brother while Carapaz and co kept the former champion in view and steadily clawed back the advantage.  AS the riders made their way through the fog with about 30km to go Landa, Carapaz and Lopez joined Nibali and Hugh Carthy of EF Education First.  

Meanwhile up ahead Damiano Caruso, Giulio Ciccone and Jan Hirt were all that was left of the break, still with a 4.27min lead with 29km to go.  Behind them Simon Yates, Primož Roglič and Ilnur Zakarin were in a group that was over a minute in arrears. 

At the top of the climb Caruso had fallen back and Ciccone and Hirt started the descent with a little over 4 minutes in hand.  The rain on the climb made the roads extremely dicey and difficult, but despite Nibali’s descending prowess his group remained together, as did Ciccone and Hirt.  

At the head of the race the games began early from Jan Hirt, who decided to start sitting on Ciccone’s wheel and not contribute to the efforts on the front of the race from about 15km out.  Ciccone remonstrated with his companion but it had little effect.  When Hirt finally did come through to take a turn it appeared that the intensity was not there, with the Czech rider willing to play the numbers game with teammate Lopez back in the chase group.

Jack Bauer makes his way through the bleak conditions, photo Sirotti

With 4km to go the duo’s lead was 2.42mins over the Carapaz group, but that gap was descending fast as the group worked in unison together, all keen to put time between themselves and Yates, Roglic and Zakarin.  Up ahead the duo wouldn’t be caught and it was Ciccone who was forced to come through and lead out the sprint, with Hirt sitting in the driving seat.  The Italian was too strong, though, winding up to sprint and then launching after the duo basically reduced to a track sprint.  After a dummy sprint from Hirt Ciccone went for the line and it was the Italian who just had too much power for Hirt.

Behind them Fausto Masnada held on for third place across the line with Vincenzo Nibali leading home a group that had dropped Miguel Angel Lopez in the closing stages.  Nibali, Carapaz, Landa, Dombrowski and Carthy crossed the line 1.41mins back, with Lopez a further 22 seconds adrift.  Simon Yates, Bauke Mollema, Primož Roglič and Mikel Nieve arrived together having conceded 1.22mins on the Nibali group.

Overall the result meant that Roglič dropped from second to third overall, with Nibali up to second but still 1.47mins back on Carapaz.  Miguel Angel Lopez moved up to 7th overall but more importantly into the lead of the best young rider classification; after Pavel Sivakov of Team Ineos lost time.  Rafal Majka similarly suffered, dropping from 4th to 6th.

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