While Thursday's 18th stage from Valdaora/Olang to Santa Maria di Sala looked, despite being run over 220km, as though it should have been somewhat of a day off for the GC contenders at this year's Giro d'Italia, race leader Richard Carapaz (Movistar) revealed that it wasn't really the case.
True, it all but came down to a bunch sprint – with the one remaining rider from the day's three-man breakaway, Damiano Cima (Nippo-Vini Fantini-Faizane), breathtakingly clinging on to deny a fast-finishing Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) a third stage win at this Giro.
And while Carapaz did indeed finish safely in the bunch, he could be relieved to tick another stage off the list, and must now turn his and his teammates' attention to the final two days in the mountains on Friday and Saturday, and – providing he's still leading the race on Saturday evening – to the final time trial in Verona on Sunday.
"Thursday's stage seemed easy on paper, yet the early phase in the mountains was quite intense before the break went away, and in such [bunch sprint] finishes there's always stress and an effort to make," he said on his team's website.
"The important thing is that I was able to finish with a good feeling again, and that there were no setbacks, crashes or mechanicals for any of the team's riders," continued Carapaz, who still has a full complement of riders at his disposal, including Mikel Landa, who sits in fourth place overall, 3:03 behind the race leader.
"Friday will be a different matter: it's another big test in the mountains for us. All three remaining stages will be crucial. We feel ready for the challenge in our team, and, above all, confident that we can do well. Let's tackle stage 19 in a focused way, give it our best, and hopefully retain the maglia rosa before the final weekend," he said.
Carapaz still holds a 1:54 advantage over Bahrain-Merida's Vincenzo Nibali and 2:16 on Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) ahead of Friday's hilly stage from Treviso to San Martino di Castrozza, with its final 13.6km climb up to the finish, with another very tough day to come on Saturday – finishing on the Croce d'Aune – before Sunday's individual time trial in Verona over 15.6km.
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