The Giro d’Italia’s general classification has blown right open with the first major summit finish of the race. Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin took the stage win and moved up third overall in the process, with Mikel Nieve of Mitchelton-SCOTT and Mikel Landa of Movistar in second and third.
At 196km in length and with three massive climbs to tackle, stage 13 from Pinerolo to Ceresole Reale was a delicious prospect for riders interested in the general classification. The day began with a breakaway getting away before the first big category 1 climb of the day, with the long 27.5km climb up Lago Serrù to the finish line in Ceresole Reale inevitably set to decide the stage; if not a whole lot more.
A large breakaway group formed at the head of the race with a number of strong names present. Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo was after KOM points to return him into the blue leader’s jersey, but there were also Gianluca Brambilla, Nicola Conci and Bauke Mollema with him, while Mitchelton-SCOTT had Mikel Nieve and Chris-Juul Jensen, BORA-Hansgrohe had Davide Formolo, EF Education First had Joe Dombrowski, CCC Team had Victor De La Parte, Katusha-Alpecin had Ilnur Zakarin in a group that at its peak reached 28 riders.
The firepower in the break was obvious and it demanded Jumbo-Visma’s attention straight away with Trek-Segafredo essentially showing themselves more than willing to set the tempo in the break for Mollema who began the stage 6th overall. Also a threat was Zakarin who was 7.45mins down on GC. It became a battle of two teams initially then, with the break building a lead that sat at 2.45mins with 125km and two big climbs to go.
Steadily the breakaway’s advantage climbed up and over the 3 minute mark as UAE Team Emirates opted to gave their support to the chase to try and defend the maglia rosa of Jan Polanc for at least a day.
By the time the break reached the climb of Pian del Lupo, the second major climb of the day, the break’s lead had been reduced to 1.50 minutes; and it began to look like although the situation on the road might have been scary for Jumbo-Visma they had the race under control. BORA-Hansgrohe were paying close quarter to events on the front of the peloton, while up ahead Gianluca Brambilla set the tempo in the breakaway.
While the breakaway tapped away at the climb, patiently working their way up, back down the road Astana made a move up to the front of the peloton and quickly whittled the numbers down in the group with Polanc falling back and losing time. Astana’s move isolated Roglič again, while a number others including Bob Jungels of Deceuninck-Quick Step and Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale also fell off the pace that had basically whittled the bunch down to a select group of 13 riders with 65km to go.
At the summit of the climb Giulio Ciccone took top honours ahead of Bahrain-Merida’s Domenico Pozzovivo. The gap at this point had been whittled down to just 54 seconds to the GC group, with Polance a further 1.20mins behind. The dynamic in the race was changing into a mouth-watering prospect for the final climb as although the GC contenders hadn’t attacked one another yet, the intensity on the front of the group had really brought the creme of the crop to the fore with at 16.5km descent and then the final climb to the line to come.
On the descent of the climb Polanc, Jungels and a number of others succeeded in regaining contact with the GC group that were still being led by Astana. The time gap to the leaders had come right down to just 30 seconds with 40km to go and it was essentially all to play for on the final climb. Slowly, though, the break’s lead climbed back out again to a minute and stabilised at 40 seconds as the final climb finally arrived.
As before, Gianluca Brambilla set about setting the tempo for teammate Mollema but eventually a group of five formed at the front of the race with Fausto Masnada of Androni Giocattoli Sidermec, Joe Dombrowski of EF Education First, Ion Izaguirre of Astana, Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo and Hector Carretero of Movistar gapping the rest of the break. It was an interesting move, most notably because neither Ciccone, Carretero or Izaguirre had any need to support the move with their GC riders behind them at 1.42mins with 21.5km to go. All the while the Brambilla-led chase group continued to sit in between at about 1 minute ahead of the GC group.
Gradually the Brambilla group – that contained Mikel Nieve, Bauke Mollema, Davide Formolo and co – bridged back to the leaders with 17km to go and the swollen lead group pressed onward; with the GC contenders finding themselves losing ground, and now 2.10mins back. Ciccone took up the pace with Zakarin in tow as the GC riders were pulled along by a combination of Bahrain-Merida and Astana.
With just over 16km to go Mikel Landa made his move, with Astana initially looking to go with him. It was an attack that had everyone on their limit, with Roglič and Yates initially not concerned about going after the Spaniard as a split formed in the chase group behind. On the right side of the split were Vincenzo Nibali and Miguel Angel Lopez, but steadily Landa began to pull away from the group.
Up ahead with 15km to go the leading quintet became a leading quartet with Formolo dropping back as the maglia rosa of Polanc again struggled but this time with Simon Yates falling back. Yates was losing ground at a rate of knots as the chase group, containing Nibali, Roglič, Rafal Majka, Lopez, Richard Carapaz of Movistar and Domenico Pozzovivo of Bahrain Merida and Team Ineos’ Pavel Sivakov continued to gain time on the Brit. Suddenly though, a problem struck for Lopez with the Colombian having to stop for a mechanical issue. That relegated him to the Simon Yates group with 12km to go.
Movistar had struck gold today. Their additions to the breakaway earlier in the stage were beginning to pay massive dividends now as riders fell back to provide what support they could to the rampaging Mikel Landa who was slowly gaining significant time in the general classification. With 10km to go the leaders had 1.42mins over the Lada group, 1.55mins over the Nibali group and 2.31mins over the maglia rosa and Yates group.
Eventually Landa burned his matches and finally found himself alone, but he was a man on a mission and at 5km to go he was staring in the face of significant time being gained. As he continued to chase, Ilnur Zakarin made his attack. Initially Nieve tried to go with him, but the Katusha-Alpecin rider was too strong as he powered away. Landa was still gaining on the group behind him that had lost Pozzovivo but picked up Davide Formolo, and with 4km to go Landa’s lead was at 35 seconds, while Yates continued to lose time.
Out of the GC group it was Majka who put the rest under pressure, gapping Roglič and Nibali and going up the road in pursuit of a rapidly disappearing Landa. While he attacked, Roglič did the same to Nibali; putting the former champion on edge. The Italian was wise to the move though and the two cancelled each other out.
Up ahead though the valiant Nieve clawed his way bak to Zakarin and the two continued on. With less than 2km to go Zakarin attacked again and dropped Nieve as Landa leapt across to Mollema. Zakarin’s attack proved decisive as the Russian danced away to the stage win on the snow-capped mountain. Behind him though Landa was riding like a man possessed as he continued to put time into his rivals. He wouldn’t catch Nieve but the clock was ticking and suggesting major advances in the GC standings.
Zakarin finally crossed the line after more than 5 and a half hours in the saddle and from there the race was on. Nieve finished second at 35 seconds with Landa galloping home for third at 1.20mins. But it was the time gaps from there that just opened right up. Mollema conceded 1.45mins with Majka 6th at 2.07mins. He took significant time out of Roglič and Nibali who finished 2.57mins back, with Miguel Angel Lopez finishing 4.19mins down and Simon Yates losing 5 minutes.
The GC battle saw Polanc hold onto pink, with Roglič keeping second place, while Zakarin climbed into third at 2.56mins, Mollema moved up to fourth at 3.06mins, with Nibali 6th, Majka 7th and Landa now up to 8th place.