The finale of the Giro d’Italia is set to be drama-filled and action-packed after Tom Dumoulin closed the gap to Simon Yates to a very reachable 28 seconds overall.  On a dramatic summit finish, Maximilian Schachmann survived from the breakaway to win the stage, but Simon Yates looked vulnerable for the first time; while George Bennett dropped out of the top 10 for the first time since stage 5.

Abbiategrasso to Prato Nevoso was 196km in length and contained only the one significant climb of any great mention right at the very end of the race.  The worst of the climb, which gradually ramped its way up, really kicked off from 13km to go.  On paper it was far from the worst challenge the race had faced this year, with an average of just over 7% in gradient and a maximum of 10%.  But how could anyone know what lay ahead for the GC challengers.

Sam Bewley had a big day out in the saddle ahead of him, and from early on he was at the very front of the peloton, leading the way for Mitchelton-Scott and Simon Yates’ maglia rosa.  They were happy to see the break go up the road and establish a huge lead, with none of the breakaway riders posing a threat to the GC.

Sam Bewley and Svein Tuft were constants on the front of the race prior to the climb, photo Sirotti

The move was made up of 12 riders, with Maximilian Schachmann and Michael Morkov of Quick-Step Floors, Ruben Plaza of Israel Cycling Academy, Mattia Cattaneo and Davide Ballerini of Androni-Sidermec-Bottecchia, Marco Marcato of UAE Team Emirates, Christoph Pfingsten of BORA-Hansgrohe, Jos van Emden of LottoNL-Jumbo, Viacheslav Kuznetsov of Katusha-Alpecin, Boy van Poppel of Trek-Segafredo; and Wilier-Triestina-Selle Italia’s Alex Turrin and Giuseppe Fonzi.

Quickly it became clear that Mitchelton-Scott had no problem with the break potentially going all the way to the line.  After 67km of racing the break’s lead had gone up to a huge 12.30mins.  From there the lead proceeded to grow more and more and with 117km to go it crested 13 minutes, the first time the breakaway had been allowed such a significant advantage.  With 100km to go the break’s lead continued to sit just under that margin with the break working well together and the bearded figure of Sam Bewley consistently tapping out a steady pace on the front of the peloton.

It would be interesting to see what the run in to the climb would do to the GC contenders, how much the pace would ramp up, or whether the cards would be shown entirely on the climb.  Still the lead went up to over 14 minutes with 72km left to race as Mitchelton-Scott continued to lead.  All this time the break functioned very effectively, with the 12 man move an ideal combination for the challenge ahead.  Giuseppe Fonzi led the field over the only other KOM climb of the day, a minor category 4 ascent.

George Bennett lost his place in the top 10. He now sits in 11th place, still very much in contention. It’s the first time he’s been outside the top 10 since stage 5, photo Sirotti

As the climb neared the breakaway were still very much together, Sam Bewley continued to lead the peloton with their deficit to the front-runners now over 15 minutes; under the 20km to go kite the peloton were 15.20mins in arrears.  It was from here though that the first attack from the break came, in the shape of Boy van Poppel.  The Dutchman accelerated powerfully away from the rest of the move, with the climb still to go.  He built a 15 second lead with 17.5km remaining, a gap that stretched to 30 seconds at the foot of the climb while the peloton seemed to make it clear that it would all come down to the climb proper with their deficit going up to a whopping 16.22mins.

Boy van Poppel began the climb alone, but eventually found company as a progressively fragmenting group made its way up the lower slopes of the climb.  With 8.7km to go Ruben Plaza and Christoph Pfingsten launched an attack, and was immediately pursued by Schachmann, with Marcato, Morkov and Cattaneo going after him.  Plaza’s attack proved costly as he then found himself in the hurt box as Schachmann, Pfingsten and Cattaneo stretched matters on the front of the race.

With just under 6.5km to go Schachmann made a move that saw Pfingsten dropped, while Cattaneo still showed his climbing legs were good; bringing across to the German confidently.  Back in the peloton, Katusha-Alpecin’s Jose Goncalves made a little attack, as a number of other teams began to show interest at the front of the race.

Tom Dumoulin is now less than 30 seconds from the overall lead of Yates, photo Sirotti

Pfingsten tried to come across to Cattaneo and Schachmann and so too Plaza; and with 4km to go the chasers were just metres from the back wheel of Cattaneo.  Plaza would get back on board with 3km to go, but Pfingsten would just not quite be able to bridge that final part of the gap.  Plaza’s efforts would come back to bite him though with 2.6km to go as Schachmann accelerated again, dropping Plaza.  Back down the mountain Movistar took over the pace-setting on the front of the race, setting a solid tempo in an effort to put the white jersey of Miguel Angel Lopez under pressure.  

With 2km to go Cattaneo put in a bit of a dig, but was matched by the German.  Attacks continued to go from the GC group as Pello Bilbao of Astana, Ben O’Connor of Dimension Data and Wout Poels of Team Sky became the next to go.  Up ahead, after another attack by Cattaneo with 1.4km left to go it looked like maybe Schachmann might begin to crack.  Cattaneo possibly sensed this as he went again, and again was pegged back by Schachmann with 1.1km left to race.  All this time Ruben Plaza could just be seen working his way forward and with 1km left to race the Spaniard made contact with the leading duo.

The pace appeared to go out of the leading trio as games of cat and mouse began.  Then Schachmann made another move, quickly pounced upon by the other two.  Around one final hairpin bend Schachmann made one last big attack with some 300m to go and this time it proved enough as Plaza tried to hold on, but Cattaneo was cooked.  The German crossed the line in a little under 5 hours, as Ruben Plaza took second place and Cattaneo third in front of his home fans.

Simon Yates still holds the maglia rosa, but he suffered on the climb, the first signs of struggle from the Brit, photo Sirotti

Now the battle turned to events down the mountain.  Groupama-FDJ were now on the front leading the way as the first attack from Richard Carapaz went up the road.  He was immediately chased by Miguel Angel Lopez who then launched an attack of his own.  Lopez moved across to Wout Poels and the two looked like they were happy to work together for now.  Eventually though Lopez dropped the Dutchman as the ever-fragmenting GC group continued to make its way up the mountain.  

Next to attack from that group was George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo.  He wasn’t quite offered complete freedom from the rest of the group though, and he quickly found company from behind him.  After Bennett was caught it was then Froome’s turn to attack, and this time a very interesting move developed as Domenico Pozzovivo and Tom Dumoulin went after him, but Simon Yates was unable to respond for the first time.  Bennett was also beginning to feel the heat in the group.

Froome, Dumoulin and Pozzovivo bridged across to Poels who now turned to super domestique for his teammate Froome.  For a time Yates sat in a group with Patrick Konrad, Pello Bilbao and Richard Carapaz, but even that was proving too much for Yates.  Up the road Lopez crossed the line 10.48mins behind Schachmann, but well clear of Carapaz, but then came the trio of Froome, Dumoulin and Pozzovivo who took 28 seconds out of Simon Yates.  Bennett finished 5 seconds behind Yates, but crucially 13 seconds behind Patrick Konrad which saw him drop a place to 11th overall.

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