Kruijswijk cracks the top top to move into eighth overall
A staple of the Giro d'Italia's third week in recent years has been a strong Steven Kruijswijk fighting for stage wins and steadily moving up the general classification. While a brief moment of inattention arguably cost the Dutchman the 2016 Giro, he was still one of the strongest riders in last year's peloton.
Having overcome the worst of the rib injury he sustained on the eve of the Giro at the Tour de Yorkshire, the LottoNL-Jumbo rider recorded his second top-ten result of the race on stage 18 to climb to eighth place overall. Sitting 15th overall for the majority of the first week, Kruijswijk improved to tenth in the Montefalco time trial only to slip back to 12th the following stage. Since then, he has steadily improved day by day with stage 18 his best performance yet.
"It was only 137 kilometres, but 137 kilometres in which everyone was on his limit. "I'm better compared to the first week, when I didn't have this level. The cause of this may be due to that crash," said Kruijswijk, who was the best of the Dutch rider on the day ahead of Bauke Mollema and maglia rosa Tom Dumoulin. "Fortunately, I can now show that I have the level. You can see that it's very high and that I can go with the others."
While in previous days Kruijswijk has made back time on the GC via breakaways, he showed his improved condition by riding with the CG group during the stage through the Dolomites. He then displayed his racing nous by making full advantage of the podium contenders watching each other on the Passo Gardena.
"Vincenzo Nibali jumped to him and Dumoulin closed the gap. I could follow well and in the last 25 metres of the climb, we closed the gap. There were two men still away in the end, and that's a pity because it would have been nice to race for the win. We can take advantage of the battle between the three podium candidates, a bit gambling with the stage win possible," he added.
With over two minutes to Mollema in seventh place, Kruijswijk has a tough ask to improve his overall position, admitting his off first week has cost him the chance of matching his fourth place of 2016.
"Today you could see that I cannot drop the other riders easily. I hope that I can hold my good legs this week. Fortunately, I can now say that I have the level again, but unfortunately I was not consistent enough in the first week and I slipped away," he said.
Jungels concedes white jersey
However, the 137km stage from Moena to Ortisei/St. Ulrich, with its five categorised climbs, proved to be a bridge too far for Jungels as he explained.
"I had a bad day and the legs didn't feel so good on the first three climbs , so I was dropped from the main group. I had to chase alone for the last 50 kilometers of the stage, where I began feeling better, but overall it's a very disappointing day for me," said Jungels.
Orica-Scott's Adam Yates took control in the classification and now leads Jungels by 28 seconds and Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Drapac) by 53 seconds. The classification is set to be a three-way tussle with Jan Polanc well down in the standings in fourth at 5:18 minutes. While the next two stages are suited to the climbing capabilities of Yates and Formolo, Jungels will be aiming to limit his losses before the stage 21 time trial where he likely to take back time on his two rivals.
Cataldo goes on the attack for Astana
Italian Dario Cataldo is carrying Astana's GC hopes into the final three stages of the Giro d'Italia as the squad aim to honour the memory of Michele Scarponi. Persistently aggressive in the 100th edition of the Giro, Cataldo again made the breakaway on stage 18 and as a result has improved to 14th on the general classification.
"I felt very good this morning since the start so I did my best to promote a breakaway since the first km... it went good and I entered in the good one," Cataldo said of the stage.
"Unfortunately the bunch didn't gave us much space and we had to push hard on the pedals to keep a small advantage and, when we arrived on the Passo Gardena, I had some minutes of bad sensations… then when I was retaken from the GC contenders coming from behind, I had recovered a little bit and I was able to regain the group including Quintana, Nibali and the Maglia Rosa."
At the start of the year, Fabio Aru was to lead Astana at the race only for a knee injury to rule him out. Scarponi then became the designated man for the GC before tragedy struck and he was killed during a training ride. Tanel Kangert, who helped Vincenzo Nibali to three Grand Tours with Astana, became a co-leader alongside Cataldo before crashing out with a season-ending injury. Finding himself as a 'plan d', Cataldo has risen to the occasion and is on track to record his best Grand Tour result since consecutive 12th placings at the 2011 and 2012 Giri.
"In the final I was tired and when the GC contenders started to attack, I had to leave them go and I concluded 14th: I was hoping to regain some seconds in the GC but anyway I'm positive because today I felt pretty good and there still two important stages to ride," added Cataldo.
Berhane continues Dimension Data's attacking approach
Dimension Data have consistently animated the breakaways of the Giro in 2017, and stage 18 was no exception with Natnael Berhane the chosen representative. The Eritrean formed the early- break alongside BMC's Joey Rosskopf, Sky's Diego Rosa and Bahrain-Merida's Manuele Boaro. The quartet was joined by more breakers, including Berhane's teammate Omar Fraile, on the descent off the first climb.
Over the hilly percorso through the Dolomites, the break was consistently whittled down with Berhane managing to remain. However, on the final climb of the day up Pontives, Mikel Landa and Tejay van Garderen left their breakaway companions behind to fight it out for the stage win. Despite having nothing left to fight for, Berhane pressed on to finish in 22nd place and improved his GC position to 44.
"I really wanted to be in the break today and I was able to make it. We really went full gas in the first 26km of the stage and then a big group came across to us," Berhane said. "Each climb it become more difficult but I always made sure I was near the front when it started splitting. I was giving 100% from the first kilometer today and finally on the last climb the suffering got to me and I was caught with 6km to go. I fought to the finish but I ended just off the top 20 on a very hard day."
With three stages to come, the 26-year-old is well on track to post his best Grand Tour result yet. His 79th overall at the Vuelta a España is the best of his three previous starts in a three-week race.
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