Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez appears to have timed his run at this year's Giro d'Italia almost to perfection, moving up another place to sixth overall after Wednesday's stage 17 to Anterselva, with his sights now set on fifth-placed Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), just 1:10 ahead of him.
After a good start in the Giro's opening time trial, where he took fourth, Lopez had faded to 27th overall after a poor time trial on stage 9, in which he lost 3:45 to stage winner Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma). His fightback began on stage 12 to Pinerolo, however, and Lopez has steadily gained both time and GC positions in the mountains since then.
While it's unlikely to be enough to catch whoever out of Roglic, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), current race leader Richard Carapaz or his Movistar teammate Mikel Landa will surely now stand on the top step of the podium in Verona on Sunday, Lopez surely still poses a threat to the podium as others possibly falter, and he would dearly love to at least match his third place of last year.
The Colombian also increased his lead in the white jersey competition as best young rider to 2:04 over former wearer Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos), who remains ninth on the GC. Lopez also won the jersey last year, and it would now take a huge effort from Sivakov to re-take it from his shoulders before Sunday, with third-placed Hugh Carthy (EF Education First) surely out of the picture over eight minutes behind.
Astana again rode aggressively on Wednesday's stage, and Lopez took matters into his own hands inside the final three kilometres, jumping after a late attack from Landa and taking Carapaz with him.
"It was our plan to attack, but, on a stage like today's, it's easier to plan something or even to get into a move than to stay in front and keep your advantage. Our team did a great job today, and at the end Jan Hirt was super strong," Lopez said of his teammate who had finished second on the previous day's stage and was able to help his team leader at the end of Wednesday's stage.
"Maybe we went to the front a bit too early, so in the end I attacked later, and I got away with Carapaz. It was a good move, but after yesterday's tough stage [Tuesday, stage 16], I couldn't do any more. I hope tomorrow [Thursday] we'll have a chance to recover a bit before the last two hard days in the mountains," he said.
Stage 18 should be a stage for the sprinters, and their last opportunity before the end of the race. It should also give the GC contenders a day's respite, but with things still close at the top of the classification, it's certainly not guaranteed.