Italy's Diego Ulissi (UAE-Team Emirates) took his second win of the Giro d'Italia in a select sprint to the line in Monselice to deny Portuguese race leader Joao Almeida (Deceuninck Quick-Step) and Austria's Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) in a photo finish.
Six bonus seconds for finishing runner-up saw Almeida consolidate his hold on the maglia rosa, but the 22-year-old debutant was left disappointed after missing out on an opportunity to give his Quick-Step team their first stage win of the race.
Two punchy climbs in the Euganean Hills above the Padovan-Venetian plain blew the race apart, ending the chances of a seven-man breakaway and distancing all the main sprinters in what proved to be a thrilling conclusion to the otherwise pan-flat and largely uneventful 192km stage from Cervia.
Watch a 'strange old sprint' as Ulissi and Almeida duke it out in Stage 13
Frenchman Arnaud Demare had to be led back to the fold by two Groupama-FDJ teammates ahead of the final climb, only to be dropped once again as the gradient pushed 20 per cent to string out the field and bring the race favourites to the front.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) did his best to rejoin a leading group of 20 riders in a bid to pick up a second victory and prise the maglia ciclamino from Demare's shoulders. But the Slovakian came up 23 seconds short, while his teammate Konrad was left punching his handlebars in frustration after taking third place in the tense dash to the line.
Led out by American teammate Brandon McNulty, Ulissi had enough left in the tank to add a second win – and a career eighth – following his Stage 2 success in Sicily. No current Italian rider has more stage wins in the Giro than the 31-year-old Ulissi.
"We did a great job on the last climb and the team set me up perfectly," Ulissi said. "We dropped the sprinters and reduced the peloton to a small group. I was tired after doing the climb so fast, but McNulty was fantastic in the way he led it out."
I saw I'd got my wheel ahead and won. I’ve been on form all season. I didn't expect to win another stage but it's a great feeling.
For Almeida, it was a bittersweet day, the Portuguese tyro extending his overall lead ahead of Saturday's time trial but left rueing what may have been after he was unable to finish off a strong lead out from Quick-Step teammates Mikkel Honore, Fausto Masnada and James Knox.
"Actually, I'm a bit disappointed because my team has been incredible for the past 13 stages and we deserved the victory," Almeida said. "I'm happy with the extra seconds but the main goal was the stage win."
Almeida now leads the Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) by 40 seconds and Spain's Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) by 49 seconds ahead of a decisive weekend that concludes with a summit finish in the Dolomites on Sunday.
Climbs turn race on its head
With over 150km of flat roads to negotiate ahead of the two uphill tests which looked destined to defy the day, a break did not form until the best part of an hour's racing as the peloton zipped along the plain towards Bologna.
Seven riders finally broke clear with Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Simon Pellaud and Simone Ravanelli (both Androni Giocattoli), Rodrigo Contreras (Astana), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF), Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal) and Lorenzo Rota (Vini Zabu-KTM) building up a maximum gap of three minutes over the pack.
With Bora-Hansgrohe and Ineos Grenadiers keep to keep a lid on things for their favoured finishers Sagan and Ben Swift, the gap came down and hovered around the two-minute mark as grey clouds loomed ominously on the horizon.
Rodrigo Contreras of Colombia and Astana Pro Team / Geoffrey Bouchard of France and Team Ag2R La Mondiale / Breakaway / during the 103rd Giro d'Italia 2020, Stage 13 a 192km stage from from Cervia to Monselice / @girodiitalia / #Giro / on October 16, 2020
Image credit: Eurosport
Aware that ever point could count in the battle for the maglia ciclamino, French triple stage winner Demare darted clear of the peloton to snaffle the remaining digit at the intermediate sprint in Rivigo to extend his lead to 37 points over Sagan.
But with Sagan among the favourites to hold on over the two climbs and take a second stage win, Demare and his Groupama-FDJ team faced the prospect of being 13-points behind in the classification at the end of the day.
A win for Sagan, however, didn't materialise. After attacks from the Swiss breakaway king Pellaud going into both intermediate sprints, it was the Slovakian's Bora team who upped the tempo in the pack going onto the Cat.4 climb of Il Roccolo with 33km to go.
The fast tempo saw Demare dropped, the Frenchman combining with two teammates to fight back on with 20km remaining ahead of the final climb. As the road ramped up again on the decisive Cat.4 ascent of Calaone, the two remaining escapees – Frenchman Bouchard and the Italian Tonelli – were swept up as Ulissi put in a big dig to distance Demare once again, but also Sagan.
An attack from Britain's Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) was countered by the maglia azzurra Ruben Guerreiro, who edged clear to take the three points over the summit of the punchy 2km climb. EF Pro Cycling's Portuguese Stage 9 winner now has an 11-point lead over Giovanni Visconti (Vini Zabu-KTM) in the KOM classification.
As a group of GC favourites emerged going over the top with 15km remaining, it was the Deceuninck Quick-Step team of race leader Almeida who pushed on, sensing their chance of a first stage win after seeing all the fast men, bar Ulissi, dropped.
Sagan rode in a chase group 30 seconds behind with Demare a further 40 seconds off the pace in what became a nail-biting race on multiple fronts back into Monselice.
Despite combining with Swift and the Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), with the deadweight Italian Davide Ballerini for Quick-Step in tow, Sagan was unable to close the gap much further on the run into the finish – counting him out of the stage and letting rival Demare off the hook.
Quick-Step looked to use their power in numbers as they hit the home straight with four men, including the pink jersey, but Almeida could not get the better of the in-form Ulissi, who held off the Portuguese and a late surge by Konrad to take his second win of the race.
Ulissi - 'We wanted to remove the sprinters and thin things down... and it worked'
With all the big GC favourites present and correct in the lead group of 20, there was no change of positions in the top 10, although Almeida's second place saw him move another six seconds clear of his rivals in a pink jersey battle that will intensify over a key weekend of racing.
Saturday's 34.1km individual time trial is followed by a decisive day in the Dolomites, with three tough climbs capped by a mountain-top finish at Piancavallo in a Stage 15 which some teams, amid the ongoing coronavirus confusion, have been pushing to be the last of this peculiar edition of the Giro.