Team Ineos were forced into a pursuit on stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia on Thursday to ensure that Pavel Sivakov retained his ninth place in the general classification, while Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez put more daylight between him and Sivakov in the white jersey competition by attacking in the final 3km.
The British team seemed content to initially let Bora-Hansgrohe's Davide Formolo form part of the day's main 18-rider breakaway, which mid-way through the 181km stage from Commezzadura to Anterselva had over six minutes' advantage over the peloton.
But once it was clear that the Italian – who'd started the day in 12th place overall – posed a threat to Sivakov's ninth place on the GC, Ineos came to the front to assist race leader Richard Carapaz's Movistar team in ensuring that the gap remained reasonable, with Ineos riders Salvatore Puccio and Christian Knees particularly active.
While the break did stay away, and Nans Peters (AG2R) rode away to take a solo stage victory, the difference between Deceuninck-QuickStep's Bob Jungels – the last rider home from the break – and an aggressive Mikel Landa (Movistar), who led home the main contenders, was by then just 38 seconds.
Aggressive, too, was Lopez, clad in the white jersey, who set off in pursuit of Landa, dragging Carapaz with him. Sivakov lost contact with the group containing Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), but was helped by Eddie Dunbar and Sebastian Henao – as he had been on the day's previous climb of the Mortirolo.
The 21-year-old Sivakov – riding only his second Grand Tour – dropped 30 seconds to Lopez in the young rider competition, and now trails the Colombian by 2:04. He also gave up 3:18 to Formolo, who placed third on the stage and now moves into the top 10 overall, now just 38 seconds behind Sivakov with three stages remaining.
"We had Formolo ahead of us in the break, and as we wanted to keep Pavel's GC position, we needed to bring them back," explained Sivakov's teammate Puccio, who had been part of the chase effort. "We needed to reduce the lead of the break and we managed to pull them back in time, as although Davide is now in the top 10, Pavel remains ninth.
"We'll see in the next few days if we can hold that position overall, or even do better," Puccio added. "I'm feeling good again after recovering from my injury and am looking forward to finishing the race strongly."