It was somewhat of a throwback breakaway that animated stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia on Wednesday: a group that included riders who have either performed well at the Giro in past years – Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) and Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – or indeed earlier at this year's race in the case of UAE Team Emirates' Valerio Conti, who wore the pink leader's jersey between stages 7 and 12.
While the GC contenders were content to watch each other behind, the breakaway group – with no real danger men contained within it – was allowed some rope to fight it out for the stage win, and the 18-rider move had built up a lead of over six minutes by the mid-point of the 181km stage.
Arguably the biggest name in the break was Mitchelton-Scott's Chaves – runner-up to Vincenzo Nibali at the 2016 Giro and a stage winner last year – who returned to the race this year having recovered from mononucleosis, which kept him away from racing for much of last season following the Giro.
He came to this year's race with the aim of riding himself back into something like his previous form, and supporting team leader Simon Yates, who has been unable to match the front-runners this year.
And while young, up-and-coming star Nans Peters (AG2R La Mondiale) won Wednesday's stage, taking off alone with 16km to go and taking an emotional victory in Anterselva, second place behind him gave Chaves the boost of confidence that he'd been looking for.
"Second is good, but also you have this strange taste in your mouth," said Chaves on his team's website. "But we'll continue to try until the end of the Giro.
"I'm still not 100 per cent in my best shape, but I have to try and I believe in myself," he said. "I got dropped on the second-to-last climb, but I just kept riding, kept believing, and I got back in the group and played my card."
The best-placed rider on the GC of the 18 riders in the break was Bora-Hansgrohe's Davide Formolo – himself a former stage winner at the Giro, back in 2015 – who started the day in 12th place overall, 11:51 behind race leader Richard Carapaz (Movistar).
Team Ineos appeared to be the squad most concerned about Formolo, and worked later in the stage to ensure that their man Pavel Sivakov's ninth place was retained, although Formolo did take third on the stage to dip into the top 10, and is now just 38 seconds behind Sivakov.
"Yesterday [Tuesday, stage 16] was a tough day and we didn't know what would be possible today," said Formolo via his team's website. "We wanted to try to get into the breakaway because there was a good chance that it might succeed. I was able to get into the break, and we carved out a considerable advantage to the main field.
"In the end, it became clear that the winner of today's stage would come from the group of escapees, and I wanted to give my best to have a chance. In the end it wasn't enough, and I couldn't catch up to the sole leader [Peters], but I'm still happy with third place."
Bob Jungels, meanwhile, has had a poor Giro by his and his Deceuninck-QuickStep team's standards, and currently sits 29th on the GC – the best part of an hour behind leader Carapaz.
Being part of the day's break gave him an attempt at repeating the stage win he took in Bergamo at the 2017 Giro, when he finished eighth overall and took the white jersey as best young rider, having finished sixth overall and also taken the white jersey the previous year.
However, Jungels finished the day last of the 18 riders, 3:49 down on stage winner Peters, and was almost caught by Carapaz and his Movistar teammate Mikel Landa, who led the GC contenders home.
Also part of the day's break, and no longer a danger, was Valerio Conti, who enjoyed his six-day spell in the leader's jersey earlier in the race, but started the stage on Wednesday down in 23rd place overall, 37:22 behind Carapaz. Seventh place on the stage had jumped him up a place to 22nd by the end of the day, leapfrogging Ineos rider Eddie Dunbar.
"I was aiming to get a good result for the team," Conti said on the UAE Team Emirates website. "Unfortunately, I've been suffering with physical problems for the last few days, which hampered my pedalling a bit, so despite the effort, I couldn't take the win.
"It was a big fight to get into the breakaway, but I made it. The final climb was extremely selective and everyone is really tired now," he said.
Thursday's long, but significantly flatter, 222km stage 18 from Valdaora to Santa Maria di Sala will provide the opportunity for another breakaway – and perhaps again give riders still searching to get something out of this race a chance to show what they can do.
But on paper, at least, it should eventually come down to a bunch sprint, which in turn is the sprinters' final opportunity this year to win a stage, with two more mountain stages and an individual time trial left before the overall winner of this year's Giro d'Italia is crowned.
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