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Giro d'Italia 2012: Stage 18


Welcome to our live coverage of stage 18 of the 2012 Giro d'Italia. After yesterday's brutal climbing test in the Dolomites, the riders will have to use different skills today as they descend over a distance of 139km. The smart money is on them taking a bit of a breather ahead of the race's final three stages, but you never know...

So after the drama of yesterday, which will live long in the memory, what's in store for the riders today? Well the good news for their lungs and legs is that this afternoon's stage is one of the shorter ones at 139km and almost exclusively downhill.

The finish line at Vedelago is 929 metres below the start in San Vito di Cadore. So different tactics and different muscles will be utilised by the riders here today. The only blip in an almost continuous descent is the Cesiomaggiore climb just past the halfway point. But after what the riders went through yesterday, it will seem more of a molehill than a mountain.

Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez won yesterday and consolidated his lead at the top of the overall GC. He beat off a stiff challenge from some of his closest rivals in the standings and it would take a brave man to bet against him winning the Giro on Sunday. Let's have a look at the top ten from yesterday's 17th stage:

Garmin-Barracuda's Ryder Hesjedal has suprised some observers by sticking closest to Rodriguez as the race moves to its final weekend. As you'll see from the top ten in the overall GC below, it's hard at this point to see anyone from outside the top four taking home pink on Sunday night.

Sorry folks - slight technical problems there. All ok now and we're about to start getting pictures from the host broadcaster.

120km remaining from 139km

We're in the north-eastern province of Veneto this afternoon, which really is Italy's cycling heartland. In fact, it's the home of Liquigas-Cannondale, so they'll be keen to put on a show today.

There's a decent chance of a bunched sprint finish today, probably for the last time in the 2012 Giro. Mark Cavendish's main sprinting rivals have been dropping like flies. With Goss, Bos and Visconti all gone it will be left to the likes of Ventoso, Ferrari and Kristoff to challenge the Team Sky man, who is top of the points classification by the narrowest of margins:

110km remaining from 139km

100km remaining from 139km

Only five of the teams here remain in tact since the start of the race back in Denmark. Astana, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Lampre-ISD, Androni Giocattoli and Euskaltel-Euskadi are the only teams that haven't had withdrawals.

A few hundred kilometres north, Fabian Cancellara has made his return to cycling at the Bayern-Rundfahrt after almost two months out injured. Find out how he's feeling about it here.

Cavendish and Sky will desperate to get maximum points today to fully justify his perseverance here. As discussed he is only a point ahead of Rodriguez in the standings and realistically today represents his last chance to add to his tally. Of course he could be well in the clear if it wasn't for the crashes he suffered earlier in the race...

84km remaining from 139km

Gap is coming down quite rapidly here. Under two minutes in a flash. Are the peloton trying to catch up the breakaway group ahead of the intermediate sprint, which is coming up soon?

Looks like the peloton are after the sprint points after all. In just a few km the gap is now down to under 20 seconds.

Sky are at the front of the chasing group, dragging Cavendish to the breakaway. The sprint does involve a bit of a climb, so it might not be completely straightforward for Cavendish.

And the breakaway riders are trying to hang on. The gap is remaining pretty steady and there's only 2km until the start of the sprint.

But they're about to be swallowed up just 1km from the sprint. The riders are now climbing. Tremendous effort by Sky

And Cavendish takes the points. Further boost for Sky as Geraint Thomas crosses in third place. Just seen an interview with Cavendish by the host broadcaster. He said that he's tired but looking forward to the finish today because the "flat, wide roads are perfect for a bunch sprint."

62km remaining from 139km

Garmin-Barracuda's DS Charly Wegelius has been talking up the chances of Ryder Hesjedal, stating that he believes the Giro is more suited to the Canadian than the Tour. He also stated that Ivan Basso is the main threat, as you can read here.

And we have a counter attack folllowing the intermediate sprint. Just trying to identify who they are. There's six of them.

And they've been caught almost immediately. Peloton has swallowed them up again.

When they coined the phrase "The world's toughest race in the world's most beautiful place" they weren't lying. The scenery is just breathtaking as the riders continue their descent.

And we have another breakaway and this time it looks like it might stick. Just identifying them now. Average speed is almost touching 50km/h by the way.

It looks like Clement, Keizer, Kaisen and Delage are the ones who have broken clear.

And indeed it is those four. They've pulled out a 50-second gap already.

47km remaining from 139km

After they drove everyone forward to get Cavendish to the front for the sprint, Sky will probably have to do most of the work in behind. The rest of the peloton won't have been delighted by their move.

40km remaining from 139km

Kaisen and Keizer are currently battling for the Fuga classification, which goes to the rider who spends most time in breakaway groups. Kaisen leads the way with 639km and Keizer is in second on 612km. The pair are well clear of the third placed riders. So another interesting sub plot here.

Ian Stannard (Sky) has been on the front of the main peloton for several kilometres now. None of the other teams are prepared to help out. He must be made of iron. Gap is 42 seconds.

Katusha are all grouped around Rodriguez. It's been an easy ride for the race leader so far. Bigger and more crucial battles to come in the next couple of days.

27km remaining from 139km

Gap has just crept over the 1:00 mark for the first time. But how much do the front four have in their lockers. We all know that Kaisen and Keizer have worked very hard indeed throughout the Giro...

We're closing in on the finish at the town of Vedelago. It's the first time that the Giro has visited there.

And the gap is coming down again now. 46 seconds.

20km remaining from 139km

Great teamwork and communication from Lampre there. Scarponi should catch up again within the next few kilometres. Meanwhile the gap between the breakaway four and the chasers is under 30 seconds.

Closing in on 10km to go now. Peloton bunching for the big sprint finish.

10km remaining from 139km

It's Bak and Delange who are left in front with 8km to go

Cavendish is moving through the pack, with Eisel and Thomas flanking him. With all eyes on him, will someone else sneak under the radar and snatch the win?

Chicchi, Kristoff and Modolo are well positioned too.

And the leading duo are caught with just 3.5km to go. All to play for here now. Cards about to be shown.

Sabo Bank hit the front. have they gone to soon?

Saxo Bank are on the front with less than 2km to go

Last kilometre folks

Eisel forces himself to the front

Guardini wins

The chance was there for Cavendish but he couldn't take it

Fantastic for Guardini who has been the butt of a few jokes over the last few days in the Italian media due to his lowly position in the overall GC.


Top tens for stage and overall GC coming soon. Rodriguez will remain in pink and Cavendish will hang on to the red jersey.

Incredible burst of speed by Guardini there. He had a far from trouble free passage over the last 500 metres but switched to the outside and timed his challenge to perfection. Dare we say that someone has "out-Cav'd" Cav?



I've just about got my breath back after that incredible sprint finish. Seeing Cavendish defeated in that fashion is a real rarity and Guardini has certainly made those criticising him in the Italian media sit up and take notice.

That's all from our coverage of stage 18. A full report, results and images will be available right here as we get them.

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