Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart won his first Grand Tour stage to climb to fourth place overall at the Giro d’Italia.
His win on stage 15 gave Ineos Grenadiers their fifth stage victory at the 2020 Giro, while Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Joao Almeida held onto the leader’s pink jersey.
Several of the main contenders lost time on the 153km route from Base Aerea Rivolto to Piancavallo north of Venice.
Two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali lost over two minutes on the final climb.
An emotional first win
Geoghegan Hart, 25, powered past another contender for pink in Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman for the win in the final few metres of the category one summit finish, after the Dutchman’s team-mate Jai Hindley had led up the long final climb.
Geoghegan Hart dedicated the victory to Nico Portal, Ineos’ sporting director who died of a heart attack aged 40 in March this year.
“This is something incredible for me. I don’t know about [the GC], I haven’t seen the results – but crossing the line first is something truly incredible.
“This one is for Nico Portal. We lost him this spring and it’s been really difficult for the team – this season has had great highs and lows, in the Tour [de France] and for me personally, and also in this race.
“We just have to foster the Grenadier spirit in this team and keep fighting back like we know we can.”
Is Geoghegan Hart a serious contender?
Despite his young age, the east Londoner has long been a part of the Ineos/Sky set-up as a domestique, but like so many of the team’s riders he is capable of winning the over general classification in stage races.
Race favourite Geraint Thomas crashed early in the Giro and abandoned after he suffered a fractured pelvis when a discarded drinks bottle became lodged under his front wheel.
It appeared Ineos would have to settle for trying to win single stages for a second Grand Tour in succession after a disastrous Tour de France.
But this has been one of the most unpredictable Giros for years, and after spending at least a week more than three minutes down, Geoghegan Hart finds himself in contention even at 2mins 57secs behind.
His biggest strength is climbing, and as the race heads for a final week’s racing in the ever-colder Italian Alps he stands a good chance of gaining time, especially on leader Almeida who is thought to be more effective in time trials.
Kelderman could be Geoghegan Hart’s main rival, but Pello Bilbao of Bahrain-McLaren, Rafal Majka of Bora-Hansgrohe and Trek-Segafredo’s Vincenzo Nibali are only a few seconds behind.
A final week of controversy?
After a rest day on Monday, the three-week race is heading into it’s final week in the Italian Alps, where it was feared adverse weather could cause stages to be cut short or even cancelled.
Weather forecasts are currently reasonably favourable if cold in places, but organisers are wary the coronavirus could also play a part.
All riders and staff will now be tested for a third time during the race after last week’s rest day tests produced three positive Covid 19 results for riders – including Britain’s Simon Yates – and several other team members, causing Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma to pull out of the race.
Tuesday’s stage is a huge, undulating 229km course from the north eastern city of Udine to San Daniele del Friuli.
Stage 15 result
1. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GB/Ineos Grenadiers) 4hrs 58mins 52secs
2. Wilco Kelderman (Ned/Sunweb) +2secs
3. Jai Hindley (Aus/Sunweb) +4secs
4. Joao Almeida (Por/Deceuninck-Quick-Step) +37secs
5. Rafal Majka (Pol/Bora-Hansgrohe) +1min 2secs
6. Patrick Konrad (Aut/Bora-Hansgrohe) +1min 29secs
7. James Knox (GB/Deceuninck-Quick Step) +1min 36secs
8. Pello Bilbao (Spa/Bahrain-McLaren) +1min 36secs
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Den/Astana) +1min 36secs
10. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita/Trek-Segafredo) +1min 36secs
General classification after stage 15
1. Joao Almeida (Por/Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 59hrs 27mins 38secs
2. Wilco Kelderman (Ned/Sunweb) +15secs
3. Jai Hindley (Aus/Sunweb) +2mins 57secs
4. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GB/Ineos Grenadiers) 2mins 57secs
5. Pello Bilbao (Spa/Bahrain-McLaren) +3mins 10secs
6. Rafal Majka (Pol/Bora-Hansgrohe) +3mins 18secs
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita/Trek-Segafredo) +3mins 29secs
8. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita/NTT Pro Cycling Team) +3mins 50secs
9. Patrick Konrad (Aut/Bora-Hansgrohe) +4mins 09secs
10. Fausto Masnada (Ita/Deceuninck-Quick-Step) +4mins 12secs
14. James Knox (GB/Deceuninck-Quick Step) +8mins 55secs