While Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) were battling for overall Giro d'Italia victory on the climb to Cervinia, yet again, another race was also being fiercely contested as Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Richard Carapaz (Movistar) fought the best young rider's white jersey and even the final place on the podium place in Rome.
The 24 year-old Colombia and Ecuadorian riders have been locked in a battle for the white jersey since the start of the Giro d'Italia in Jerusalem more than three weeks ago. They have swapped spells in the special jersey and even focused on racing their own race even during Stage 19 to Bardonecchia when Chris Froome won alone, three minutes ahead to set up his overall victory.
Lopez and Carapaz could have perhaps helped reduce Froome's winning margin and so help Dumoulin take the pink jersey. However, they stayed tucked on the wheels while Dumoulin and Pinot pursued Froome, before fighting it out on the Jafferau climb above Bardonecchia. Carapaz gained 12 seconds with a late attack, but Lopez was still in the white jersey on Saturday.
The Movistar team rode hard to set up Carapaz before the long climb to Cervinia and then Carapaz tried several attacks, but Lopez marked him closely just as Froome did with Dumoulin. They eventually got away from the fight for pink to contest their own battle for white but were pulled back before the line and finished together.
Lopez will now ride into Rome on Sunday in the white jersey thanks to a 47-second lead on Carapaz in the general classification. He is also set to climb on the final podium in Rome alongside Froome and Dumoulin.
"It's still difficult to believe I reached the podium at the Giro. It's fantastic. I'm really happy, happy to have done it and to have raced the Giro without real problems," Lopez said after the stage.
"The battle with Carapaz was close and intense at times, right up to the finish today, but it's great to wear the white jersey. I have to thank my teammates because they helped me so much during the three weeks, especially Luis Leon Sanchez."
Carapaz: a Giro d'Italia revelation
Carapaz is one of the revelations of the 2018 Giro d'Italia despite missing out on the white jersey.
Lopez has won the Tour de Suisse and two stages at the 2017 Vuelta a Espana. Carapaz is only in his second full season with the Movistar team but earned a leadership role with victory at the Vuelta Asturias in April, and he took advantage of the absence of team leaders Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa.
He won stage 8 of the Giro d'Italia to Montevergine di Mercogliano and was fifth the day after to Gran Sasso. He struggled on the Zoncolan but was still strong in the final mountain stages as others faded. He will ride around Rome just 37 seconds away from a place on the final podium in only the second Grand Tour of his career.
"I fought to the end to try to take the white jersey from Lopez and made a good attack, but it didn't work out. But I'm happy," Carapaz said, knowing that he was making history with the best-ever Giro performance by a rider from Ecuador.
"I was hoping to take some time on the final climb, hoping that Lopez was tired, but he followed me well and raced very well. I think I made history and flew the flag for Ecuador. For sure I'll work hard in the future to be even stronger and do even better."