“They all predicted that this was going to be a sprint stage, that it would be [Arnaud] Demare or [Mark] Cavendish or [Phil] Bauhaus or [Alberto] Dainese who would win. It was written in the stars. But we made a plan during the race and all four of us stuck to the plan and we pulled it off.”
These were the words of an ecstatic Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) after the former Belgian champion led home a dogged four-man breakaway to take the biggest win of his career on a day everyone expected to tune into the race’s last ding-dong battle between the peloton’s remaining fastmen.
De Bondt went shoulder-to-shoulder with Italian time trial specialist Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) en route to taking a maiden Grand Tour stage win – and a third in the race for his Alpecin-Fenix team after earlier successes for Mathieu van der Poel and Stefano Oldani.
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Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) missed out on an opportunity to complete his set of Grand Tour stage wins, the moustachioed Dane settling for third place ahead of Italy’s Davide Gabburo (Bardiani-CSF).
Local rider Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) led home the remnants of a frustrated peloton 14 seconds in arrears ahead of Frenchman Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ), while Britain’s Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) took eighth place ahead of Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates).
As the teams of the sprinters dug in to try and close a gaping gap of two minutes on the approach to Treviso, a split in the pack caught out over half the field – most notably the white jersey Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) and German sprinter Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious).
With fewer numbers committed to the chase behind, the leading quartet dug in and combined well over the one and a half laps of the finishing circuit in Treviso to ensure that the final flat finish of the Giro did not go to script.
Entering the last 5km of the 151km stage the escapees still had around 50 seconds to play with, paving the way for De Bondt’s stunning win. Extra drama came from a late puncture for the Australian Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) who crossed the line over a minute down on his pink jersey rival Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers). But as the incident occurred within the final 3km, Hindley was given the same time as his GC rivals.
Carapaz therefore retained his three-second lead over Hindley ahead of back-to-back summit finishes as the 105th edition of La Corsa Rosa enters its final captivating phase. The only major change in the standings saw the former maglia rosa Lopez – the race’s white jersey following the earlier withdrawal of Portugal’s Joao Almeida following a positive test for Covid-19 – drop one place to ninth after losing almost three minutes at the finish.

Stage 18 highlights: Anger for the sprinters as De Bondt wins from break

Sprinters' teams fluff their lines

When Affini, Cort, De Bondt and Gaburro went clear shortly after the start at Borgo Valsugana there was a clear sense that this was a quartet in possession of too much class and calibre to be granted too large a lead. As such, the gap hovered around the two-minute mark as the riders tackled some rolling roads through the Prosecco region responsible for producing half a billion bottles of bubbly per year.
Tensions rose early in the peloton after the UAE team of sprinter Fernando Gaviria – perhaps looking for an instant boost following the earlier withdrawal of fourth-place Almeida – took up the chase with over 100km remaining. Former world champion Rui Costa came to the front for a large pull that saw the gap come down to just over a minute – although he soon backed down under the pressure of rival teams for whom an early catch would be far from ideal.
A decision they would perhaps later rue as they struggled to wipe out the advantage of the unfancied four up the road...

Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark and Team EF Education - Easypost leads the breakaway during the 105th Giro d'Italia 2022, Stage 18

Image credit: Getty Images

The gap had risen to two and a half minutes going over the summit of the second Cat.4 climb, the short but savagely steep Muro di Ca’ del Poggio, before the pace rose dramatically as the race entered the final 50km and its endgame on the flat and fast run into Treviso.
It was an endgame in which the teams of the sprinters soon found themselves in checkmate after failing to find the right balance of firepower and will to extinguish the threat ahead.
Asked later how he managed to hold off the peloton for his win, De Bondt praised his fellow escapees for their combined efforts: “I think it’s a “we” question and not an “I” question. It was a collaboration right to the very end. We bought some time to speculate but in the end we didn’t speculate.
“I knew Affini was going to go from far in the sprint so I had to be on his wheel – and the pressure was going to be on Magnus, because he was the fastest and had the biggest palmares with Grand Tour stages.
“But I have to say that the collaboration between the four of us was magnificent. There was no moment of doubt, nobody skipped one turn, and everybody went full, full, full to the line.”
With his six previous wins on the Vuelta and one win on the Tour, Cort was clearly the dangerman. But De Bondt anticipated Affini’s early acceleration, darted on his wheel and then produced the requisite turn of speed that made him a maiden Grand Tour stage winner at the age of 30.

‘We saved the day!’ – Carapaz on ‘stressful’ Stage 18

The focus will now switch to the battle for pink with a mountainous foray into Slovenia on Friday followed by Saturday’s showpiece Stage 20 in the Dolomites ahead of the final-day time trial in Verona. Just three seconds separate Hindley in second and Carapaz in pink, with Spain’s Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) still in with a shout at 1’05” in third.
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