Buitrago drops Van der Poel to win Giro d'Italia stage 17

Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) claimed the first Grand Tour stage win of his young career on stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia, winning alone in Lavarone after a topsy-turvy day in the breakaway.

A second successive day in the Alps saw Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) further establish themselves as the strongest general classification trio in the race. Once again there was little to separate them - with Landa losing a little ground in the final dash for the line - but this time they managed to inflict real damage on João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates).

Buitrago was part of a large breakaway that formed over the Passo del Tonale that opened the stage and then went clear on a 70km downhill section that led towards the two category-1 climbs at the back-end of the 168km route. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), who had already split the breakaway on the flat, went clear with Gijs Leemreize (Jumbo-Visma) on the descent of the Passo del Vetriolo with around 30km to go. He attacked on the Monterovere climb inside the final 15km but faded dramatically halfway up.

It looked like Leemreize would take full advantage but he, too, would start to fade, while Buitrago attacked from the group behind and flew up the top half of the climb. A brace of accelerations at the very summit saw him shake Leemreize, allowing him to twist the knife on the subsequent plateau and then finish the job on the short descent into Lavarone.

Leemreize crossed the line for second place at 35 seconds, while more than two minutes passed before stage 16 winner Jan Hirt (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) pipped Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) for the final podium spot. Remnants from the breakaway were then swamped by the GC trio of Carapaz, Hindley, and Landa in the final uphill kick for the line.

Carapaz sprinted clear and Hindley matched him all the way, but the pair interestingly - and perhaps ominously - distanced Landa, who floundered slightly and conceded six seconds.

Although Landa suffered that minor blow to morale, he can content himself with distancing Almeida and taking his spot on the overall podium.

It was Landa’s Bahrain Victorious teammates who did the forcing on both climbs, quickly putting the dogged Portuguese rider - who has dangled but not dropped on numerous occasions so far - into real difficulty. Almeida produced another spirited solo chase but finished in 14th place, losing 1:10 to Carapaz and Hindley, and 1:04 to Landa.

In the overall standings, the gap of three seconds between pink jersey Carapaz and Hindley remains, with Landa moving up to third but slipping back to 1:05, while Almeida drops to fourth at 1:54 - a deficit that now looks unassailable in the final-day time trial.

There was plenty more damage further down the top 10, with the second successive big mountain stage claiming a lot of tired legs. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) lost two minutes after being dropped early on the final climb and, despite keeping fifth place, now lies at 5:48. The big loser was Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché), who finished eight minutes down and tumbled from sixth to 10th, although his teammate Hirt moved up two places to seventh after a second day gaining time in the breakaway. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was dropped on the first of the two final climbs and dropped out of the top 10, while Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) made his way back in. But the Giro looks ever more a three-horse race.

How it unfolded

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The riders rolled up to the start line in their capes, the rain already coming down and more forecast throughout the day. The terrain was hardly any more favourable. The start at Ponte di Legno was positioned at 1325 metres of altitude, and it only went up, with the first 8.7km taking them up and over the Passo del Tonale at 1883m.

It wasn’t a categorised climb but it caused immediate damage, with the peloton shattering and a gruppetto forming in the opening kilometres. Up front, attacks predictably flew as breakaway hopefuls sensed a big opportunity. Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), who missed out on the win from the previous day’s breakaway, was at it again, and went clear towards the top with another of yesterday’s escapees, Thymen Arensman (DSM), as well as Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) and Felix Gall (AG2R Citroën). That quartet led the way over the top of the Tornale, but a much larger group had formed behind, including stage 16 winner and ninth overall, Jan Hirt (Intermarché), and mountains classification leader Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma).

From the top, there was a near 70km section of downhill, with a 15km descent followed by a gentler false flat dip through the valley. Towards the bottom of the descent, with 150km remaining on the stage, the groups merged to form one huge breakaway.

In there were: Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Gall, Nicolas Prodhomme (AG2R Citroën), Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious), Filippo Zana, Luca Covili (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Damien Howson (BikeExchange-Jayco), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Simone Ravanelli (Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli), Diego Camargo, Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), Lorenzo Fortunato, Diego Rosa (Eolo-Kometa), Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ), Hirt, Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Koen Bouwman, Gijs Leemreize, Sam Oomen (Jumbo-Visma), Antonio Pedrero (Movistar), Mauri Vansevenant (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Arensman (Team DSM), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Covi (UAE Team Emirates), David De la Cruz (Astana).

Ineos Grenadiers took control of the peloton and made sure there were no dramas on the treacherously wet descent. As such, they pegged the break at three minutes for much of the run down into the valley. Things ticked along quietly for the most part until the terrain changed with 80km covered, the downhill making way for the day’s first categorised climb, a 6km cat-3 ascent to Giovo that was less difficult than the opening Tonale. By the time the breakaway hit it, they’d been allowed more leeway and were 4:45 up the road. As expected, Bouwman skipped clear to extend his lead in the mountains classification ahead of Ciccone.

Some more rugged terrain followed and the breakaway grew unruly, with attacks and splits starting to come in the face of disorganisation. The first split came with 80km to go and contained Leemreize, Oomen, Bouwman, Covi, Fortunato, Vansevenant, Pedrero, Carthy, Ciccone, and Martin. However, the break came back together again 10km later. It wasn’t together for long. With 65km to go Van der Poel launched a huge attack on the right-hand side of the road. He gained a big gap before others sprang in response. Martin, Covi, and Gall were the counter-attackers in question and they made it over to the Dutchman to make it four out front. As they moved 30 seconds clear of their former companions, the flurry of action, coupled with a relaxed peloton, saw the gap between the break and bunch rise beyond the six-minute mark, giving hope of contesting for the stage win.

The end of the rolling terrain gave way to an intermediate sprint Pergine Valsugana with 46km to go. Martin led across from the lead group, which, despite Jumbo-Visma chasing behind, had opened a minute on the rest of the break and seven on the peloton.

The first major test came in the form of the Passo del Vetriolo, a cat-1 climb 11.8km long at 7.7%. With the gap at 1:20, Carthy quickly looked to push on in the group behind, dragging away a selection that also featured Buitrago, Bouwman, Hirt, and Vansevenant. Leemreize was also there, yo-yoing off the back. Covi was dropped from the front group before the Carthy group made it across to make it nine up front. They stayed together until the summit, with 34km to go, where Bouwman helped himself to 40 more mountain points.

Back down the mountain, there had been an ominous shift in proceedings. As they did on stage 16, Bahrain Victorious muscled their way past Ineos at the head of the peloton and quickly lifted the pace. An early casualty was Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who started the day 10th overall. By the time they reached the summit, with numbers dwindling, they had cut the gap to the leaders to five minutes.

A 12km descent followed and Leemeize went full gas. Van der Poel followed suit and soon the pair were away. Their descending skills gave them a lead of 30 seconds when they hit the valley, and then the gap doubled when the group behind stopped working together and started arguing with each other.

Once again, an intermediate sprint, at Caldonazzo with 18km to go, signalled the start of the final climb. Van der Poel and Leemreize went through with a lead of 1:15 and hit the Monterovere ascent, 7.9km at a steep 9.9%. Van der Poel quickly took the opportunity to attack Leemreize, gaining daylight but never managing to definitely drop his compatriot. After around 5km, Leemreize made his way back on and moved clear as Van der Poel began to fade. Behind, Carthy tried to force the issue 1:30 down the road, dropping Bouwman and Martin, but 3.5km from the top it was Buitrago who attacked Carthy and Hirt and began to make inroads.

In the bunch behind, Ineos had taken back over on the approach and continued onto the lower slopes but it wasn’t long before Bahrain moved up to lift the pace once more. That spelled immediate trouble for Almeida, who started dangling off the back of the GC group some 7km from the summit. A huge turn from Domen Novak handed over to Poels with only a dozen riders left in the group. Almeida was properly dropped and so were Nibali and Pozzovivo. Before Poels was done, Porte took it up for Ineos and caused even more damage. Only his leader Carapaz, plus Hindley, Landa, and Poels could follow. A kilometre or so later, Landa launched an attack but couldn’t shake Carapaz or Hindley, while his teammate Poels managed to dangle but hang in there.

On the upper reaches of the Monterovere, Van der Poel faded fast, as Buitrago moved past him in pursuit of Leemreize at 30 seconds. The Colombian gained all the way to the top as it was Leemreize’s turn to fade. The pair came together in the final 500 metres, and Buitrago was soon on the attack. Leemreize responded well at first but another kick forced him to bow his head. From there, with 8km to go, he made no mistake.

Behind, Poels produced a huge ride to hang in with Landa, who tried an acceleration at the top of the climb. But the GC trio would not be separated. That was, however, until the final kick for the line, where Carapaz and Hindley looked noticeably fresher and Landa struggled across, on the podium but with cause for concern.

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