After Saturday's stage 14 time trial to Valdobiaddene, the Giro d'Italia's 15th stage to Piancavallo provided another shake-up of the general classification, confirming Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) as the main favourite for victory in Milan as a number of big names lost time in the Dolomites.
The Dutchman finished second on the day, two seconds down on Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), and while he didn't take over the race lead, he's now firmly in the driving seat ahead of a tough final week full of mountain stages.
Neo-pro João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) went deep in a solo pursuit to hold on to the maglia rosa, conceding 41 seconds to Kelderman after losing contact on the climb. However, his lead is down to just 15 seconds now, and with three further mountain stages and a final 15km time trial stage to come. A podium battle looks a more realistic aim than overall victory for the young but brave Deceuninck-QuickStep rider.
The big losers of the day were a group of experienced major favourites, most of all two-time Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo).
The 35-year-old has looked on the downswing in recent seasons, and further proof that his age might be biting came on Piancavallo, where he rolled in 1:36 down on Geoghegan Hart. He was unable to hold the pace when Team Sunweb drove hard for Kelderman, and in the last 24 hours lost key teammates Giulio Ciccone and Gianluca Brambilla. He can perhaps never be written off but faces a solo battle all the way to Milan.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain McLaren) finished in the same group as Nibali, though their past GC credentials are hardly comparable to Lo Squalo. Bilbao dropped two places to fifth overall, 3:10 down on Almeida, Nibali also dropped two places to seventh, 3:29 down, while Fuglsang remained 12th at 5:07 back.
Another veteran, Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling) looked among the strongest men so far, with his team very visible on a number of stages. But the 37-year-old lost a chunk of time too, dropping 1:54 and falling one spot to eighth overall, 3:50 down.
The big GC winners – Kelderman aside – were his teammate Jai Hindley, and stage winner Geoghegan Hart.
Hindley leapt from 10th to third overall after shepherding Kelderman up the climb and finishing third. Geoghegan Hart, meanwhile, moved from 11th to third. The pair are now 2:56 and 2:57 behind Almeida and part of the new generation emerging so well.
Elsewhere, Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) held sixth place after finishing fifth, 1:22 down on the stage. He's 3:18 down, while teammate Patrick Konrad held ninth after shedding an additional seven seconds.
Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), who rode a stunning time trial on Saturday, finished 15th at Piancavallo, losing 2:43 to fall back down from fourth to 11th place.
Almeida's key lieutenant Fausto Masnada also dropped two places after finishing 11th on the stage.
All the overall contenders will be happy to reach Monday's second rest day even if the weekend of racing has shaken the race and left many racing to save whatever they can.
They face a hilly stage in Friuli on Tuesday and then mountain stages to Madonna di Campiglio, Laghi di Cancano and then Sestriere before the final Milan time trial.
A lot has already happened but this year's Giro d'Italia is far from decided and far from over.
Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in August 2019 after working as a freelance journalist for seven years, including time spent working for Cyclingnews and sister magazine, Procycling.
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