Elia Viviani has his fourth stage win of the 2018 Giro d’Italia.  The Italian beat his nemesis of this year’s race, Sam Bennett, and Niccolo Bonifazio in the finale, as both George Bennett and Sam Bewley stayed safely out of trouble on the eve of the first of three big concluding mountain stages.

With three big mountain stages to come, and all of them summit finishes, the general classification contenders would have been grateful for the 155km from Riva del Garda to Iseo.  The stage was not without its challengers, with the roads going uphill straight away for the first 10km before levelling out.  A couple of ramps – one of them categorised – featured along the route, but the final 60km or so really would play into the sprinters’ hands and likely set up a furious bunch gallop for the fast men; who had only one other opportunity outside of today’s stage to make an impact.

An intense start to the stage brought out a large attacking group of riders featuring Movistar, BMC Racing, Groupama-FDJ, AG2R La Mondiale, Astana and Team Sky.  All were well represented and presented a great threat should they be allowed a significant advantage.  BORA-Hansgrohe took the initial weight of carrying the peloton along, and they appeared very motivated to either bring such a dangerous move back or put the maglia ciclamino of Elia Viviani under pressure.  They were assisted by UAE Team Emirates, with the resulting intensity splitting the peloton up early on; and meaning that the breakaway quickly found themselves reined back in.

Sam Bewley sheltered Simon Yates all day long on the eve of the mountains, photo Sirotti

Neixt to attack were three riders in AG2R La Mondiale’s Quentin Jauregui, Matteo Cattaneo of Androni-Sidermec-Bottecchia and Krists Neilands of Israel Cycling Academy.  They gained a little daylight, but behind them the attacks continued to come in what was proving to be anything but a conventional sprint day for the riders.  The trio’s lead was short-lived, and with 97km to go the race was back together once again.

Nothing seemed to satisfy the peloton in terms of moves going up the road, this was partly because of the presence in the breakaways of Wout Poels who started the stage 17th overall at 10.07mins.  His presence in the moves ensured that the breakaways never really gained more of a lead than 30 seconds to the annoyance of Luis Leon Sanchez.  With less than 70km to go the latest breakaway was reeled in again; only for another Poels-Sanchez combined move to go up the road; with Alessandro De Marchi of BMC Racing and Ben Hermans of Israel Cycling Academy.  They were eventually joined by Rodolfo Andres Torres of Androni-Sidermec-Bottecchia; although still the peloton kept them on a very tight leash.

BORA-Hansgrohe again championed the chase effort for the pack, not letting the break enjoy any kind of significant lead; until eventually Mitchelton-Scott took over and the pace dropped in the main field.  Torres didn’t last long in the break, and soon Sanchez, De Marchi, Poels and Hermans were back working as a quartet again; this time able to enjoy significantly more freedom than before with a lead that extended to over 1.20mins.

Wout Poels was a constant in the breakaway moves today, photo Sirotti

The break’s lead topped out at a little over 1.40mins and it was LottoNL-Jumbo this time leading the way in the peloton; aiding BORA-Hansgrohe with Quick-Step Floors having so far managed to keep their powder dry in the stage for Viviani.  With 30km to go the gap had come down to around 45 seconds and through the finishing circuit for the first time it continued to drop.  In the breakaway Poels was the first to lose contact with the other three riders, dropping back at around the 20km to go mark; while Hermans would be next.

LottoNL-Jumbo continued to head up the chase effort as Sanchez and De Marchi remained out in front, with a lead of 22 seconds with 17km left to race.  At around 15km to go the rain came down, the first sign that should it persist the conditions could be very interesting for the sprinters; and at 11km to go De Marchi and Sanchez were caught.

Attacks weren’t done yet though and with 5km to go Maurits Lammertink of Katusha-Alpecin made a daring move which was met by hesitation in the peloton.  That was just the ticket Lammertink needed to persist with the move, and with 4km to go his lead was a promising 8 seconds.  Mitchelton-Scott and BMC Racing were now leading the pack, with BORA-Hansgrohe and Quick-Step Floors very reluctant to get amongst the front runners just yet.

The peloton race their way towards the finish line in stage 17, photo Sirotti

Finally Lammertink was caught with 2.6km to go and Mitchelton-Scott drove the pace at the front with Sam Bewley sitting third wheel behind Simon Yates.  Beside the were Team Sky, eager to look after Froome.  With 2km to go the heavens opened for the riders and the peloton were faced with some very wet roads that could prove problematic for the riders who were zipping along at over 50kph.  At 1km to go it was a bit of a free-for-all in the pack, but Quick-Step Floors were well positioned for the sprint, with Viviani sitting third wheel.  Sam Bennett found himself a little out of position, few riders back, and that proved costly.  

When Danny van Poppel kicked for the line Viviani was immediately in the perfect position to hit back and he did just that; accelerating with clear road to navigate.  Bennett did extremely well to move forward through the riders to take second; and one has to wonder if he would have taken the honours with a bit better positioning.  But Quick-Step Floors had controlled the race where it mattered and taken the honours as a result.

Overall there was no change in the overall standings among the top ten, with Bennett continuing to hold 10th place.

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