Hello and welcome to live coverage from stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia.
We're in Melide for today's 170km trek to Verbania with a medium mountain stage that should test the GC riders once again. No summit finish and it's perhaps the last chance of a breakaway to decide a stage as well. Whatever the outcome you can follow the compete stage right here on Cyclingnews.com
Modolo won yesterday but here's a reminder of of where we are on GC:
1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 68:12:50
2 Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Astana Pro Team 0:04:02
3 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:04:52
4 Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team 0:05:48
5 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Team Katusha 0:08:27
6 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Sky 0:09:31
7 Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:09:52
8 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 0:11:40
9 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) FDJ.fr 0:12:48
10 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team 0:13:01
While you can find yesterday's stage 17 video highlights just over here.
The only major climb of the day comes late into the stage but the Monte Ologno is a first category ascent. 10km in length and with pitches around 9 per cent it's going to test everyone after almost three weeks of punishing racing. Any weakness in the GC riders will be exploited to the full.
That's not all, however, as the descent to the finish is long, technical and could be decisive, regardless of the conditions.
We're about twenty minutes from the official start of the stage and right now the peloton are signing on. Aru and Contador reserve the biggest cheers from the crowds as both the white and pink jersey make their ways to the startline.
It's another important day in the race for the points jersey with Nizzolo holding a slim lead over Modolo. We have an intermediate sprint mid-way through the stage and that could be pivotal in the outcome of the red jersey.
Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) TrekRacing 159 pts
2 Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida 142
3 Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky 134
4 Nicola Boem (Ita) Bardiani CSF 111
5 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 86
6 Marco Bandiera (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 84
Only one point is currently splitting the lead in the KOM competition too.
1 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 92 pts
2 Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar Team 91
3 Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Astana Pro Team 73
4 Carlos Betancur (Col) AG2R La Mondiale 68
5 Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin 53
6 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team 51
7 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 45
Overnight Robert Millar has written this excellent piece on Alberto Contador's ride on the Mortirolo. Millar compares Contador to Noah leading the animals two by two and it was certainly one of Contador's most impressive rides - right up there with Fuente De at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana. One might argue that the Spaniard's most electric ride came at the Tour de France in 2011 when he attacked near the start of mountain stage and almost tore the entire GC apart. He was caught but attacked again on Alpe d'Heuz before losing out to Rolland.
Back to the present and Contador and co have started stage 18 of this year's race. They're passing through the neutralized zone right now.
Uran is near the front of the bunch as we set off. The Etixx rider has struggled in this year's race but there's a chance he can rally and try and win a stage. He's 22 minutes down on GC so there's a chance he can move into a break - if he has the legs and he's over his chest infection. He needs a result, that's for sure.
The first few kilometers today are flat but then we hit a long and undulating section - perfect terrain for a break to try and forge clear before establishing a healthy lead over the peloton. All easier said than done, of course.
Landa has obviously been in the headlines over the last week after usurping Fabio Aru as Astana's leader in the race. The Spaniard is also on the radar of a number of teams as he's out of contract at the end of the season.
One team rumored to be interested in his services is Team Sky. Brailsford was asked about signing him and you can read his reaction, right here.
No real action from the peloton yet. A few little attacks but still all together.
160km remaining from 170km
Almost ten kilometres into the stage and still no break to report.
Still no moves from the peloton who are content to stick together in these early stages of the race.
Our friends over at Sporza have picked up the tricky descent today and put their money on Luis Leon Sanchez and Trofimov. Both riders are indeed excellent descenders.
146km remaining from 170km
146km to go, and a fast pace at the front of the bunch but still no splits or break to report. Surely we'll see a break before we reach the main climb of the day.
Away from the Giro for just a moment and we've had our first glimpse of Bradley Wiggins' Hour Record bike from Pinarello. A couple of blurry photos but some interesting info on his bike set-up, just here.
Jérôme Pineau (IAM Cycling) has called it quits and got into the team car, his race officially over. He's the third IAM Cycling rider to leave the race. That leaves us with 168 riders in the race.
Nearly 30km into the stage, and still no break from the bunch.
40km and almost an hour into the race and we still don't have a break from the peloton. It's building nicely as we head towards the one and only major climb of the day.
We've passed the undulating section of the stage where a break might have formed and we're back on relatively flat roads for now. There's a strong chance that a break might not form until we hit the lower slopes of the main climb of the day.
We finally have some action! A group of 14 has formed, including Phililppe Gilbert. Two more tiers are 40 seconds back, and the peloton is at 2:20. Let's get those names.....
The lead group is Gilbert, Chavanel, Cunego, Nocentini, Bongiorno, Moinard, De La Cruz, Ferrari, Weening, Busato, Villella, Haga, Belkov and Sivtsov. The two chasers are Herrada and Felline.
And here the list with full names and teams: Chad Haga (Giant Alpecin), Davide Villella (Cannondale Garmin), Matteo Busato (SouthEast), Pieter Weening (Orica GreenEdge), Damiano Cunego (Nippo Fantini), Roberto Ferrari (Lampre Merida), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), David De La Cruz (Etixx Quick Step), Philippe Gilbert and Amael Moinard (BMC), Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani CSF) and Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2r La Mondiale).
They got away at km 44.
Gilbert is always dangerous, as he has already proved once at this Giro.
Well, that went fast -- literally! The gap is now up to 6:34, with 105 km to go.
There is some dispute as to who is actually in the group, we will try to find out ASAP.
Cunego has just abandoned the race. No reason given as of yet.
We now hear that both Ferrari and Cungeo crashed, with the latter then leaving the race.
The break continue to push on and with 97km to go they have a lead of 6'30 over the peloton.
The break are looking good too, their advantage up to nine minutes with three chasers:
Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Amael Moinard (BMC), Chad Haga (Giant Alpecin), Davide Villella (Cannondale Garmin), Matteo Busato (SouthEast), Pieter Weening (Orica GreenEdge), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), David De La Cruz (Etixx - Quick Step), Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani CSF), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2r La Mondiale), Maxim Belkov (Katusha) and Kantastsin Siutsou (Team Sky)
Roberto Ferrari (Lampre Merida), Jesus Herrada (Movistar) and Fabio Felline (Trek)
Some strong climbers in the first group as well, and with such a healthy lead they have a real chance of surviving until the finish line.
No hope for the three chasers who have now slipped to five minutes down on the main break.
The break are working well at the moment and they realise that they have real chance of deciding the stage win between them. They need to keep that gap around 9 minutes before they hit the main climb of the day.
Moinard is the highest ranked in group, 15th i GC but 26.21 down on Alberto Contador and his pink jersey. He'll be there just to help Gilbert today and vice versa.
The gap has grown and moves out to 11:08.
At the front of the bunch Tinkoff Saxo are just setting the pace but it's fairly relaxed on their part.
Contador is having a free ride back in the bunch, his Tinkoff Saxo team well capable of controlling this situation as it unfolds.
74km remaining from 170km
74km to go and the gap has now moved out to 11'53 as the break continue to share the workload. We're still around 30km from the main climb of the stage.
Just over two hours of racing, the conditions are perfect with not a cloud in the sky and the gap creeping over 12 minutes for the first time.
Zardini has a flat and he's waiting for his team car as we see the break in perfect unison - no missed turns.
With two more difficult days in the mountains left in the race the peloton are easing off at the moment. They still have the first category climb to come and it will be interesting to see if Astana take things up at that point.
By the time they make a move though this break could be 15 minutes clear, with the gap now at 12'46 with 68km to go.
Eisel has moved up and started to set the pace for the peloton, perhaps with Viviani's red jersey aspirations in mind. The Team Sky rider is out of red at the moment.
At the intermediate sprint Gilbert has jumped away to take maximum points.
Gilbert, who has already won a stage in the race, is back with the break and taking food from his back pocket.
The gap is holding at just under 13 minutes with 54km to go as we approach the only categorized climb of the day.
Tinkoff are still controlling the pace of the peloton but it's all about containment as they keep the break at a respectable gap.
Chavanel is an excellent descender and a good climber to boot. At 10km in length an in-form Chavanel should be able to hang on with the best riders in the break on the climb.
Into the final 50km of racing and the gap is at 12'38. A bit more urgency but it's being shown by the break rather than the peloton.
Reports that Cunego has fractured his clavicle. That's real shame for the Italian who looked in quite good form on a number of stages in this year's race.
The break have lost 30 seconds of their advantage but they still have 12 minutes. It's FDJ on the front now for Geniez.
Now the leaders hit the climb, 10km of 9 per cent with some patches of 13 per cent.
And Haga starts to lose contact almost immediately.
And Tinkoff raise the pace at the front of the peloton and take over from FDJ and there's a crash in the bunch with 45km to go.
Viviani and Keisse are among those involved in the crash. Most of Team Sky are held up in fact. Nieve is there to.
It doesn't look like Konig is there but at least five Sky riders either hit the deck or were held up.
At the front of the beak De La Cruz puts down the hammer.
Busato is the next rider to crack.
Landa was also held up in that crash. And he's 40 seconds down according to race radio. Will Tinkoff take advantage?
Tinkoff keep the pace up and the main field are not yet on the climb. The break is down to five.
Astana are chasing back and they're using their team car to do it.
Astana and Landa should make it back but they're using the draft of their team car to do so. Lets see what the race jury does about that. The gap to the break is down to 9'42 with 42 m to go.
Another crash and a Movistar rider is down and now Contador goes to the front and he wants the pace to rise again. Is he looking to pay back Astana.
It's Lobato down. he looks to be out of the race.
Contador is calling the troops and has now attacked from the peloton.
Contador isn't holding back and he's going clear with a teammate. he wants to seal the win today and only Kruijswijk is able to go with him. Aru is dropped.
And now with 42km to go Contador is gone, he's alone and on the attack.
This is nothing more than payback for the other day.
Contador will not catch the break, they're at 9.20, but he's sending out a message.
No thoughts about saving energy for the Tour de France at this stage. We see further down that Landa is cutting through the field with one teammate. No time gap to him yet.
And it looks like Landa has attacked and left his teammates.
Contador has nearly two minutes on Landa at the moment though.
Meanwhile, leading the race we have de la cruz, moinard, bongiorno nocentini and siustsou.
Landa is cutting through groups on the road, just as Contador had to do on the Mortirolo. The Astana climber looks strong and he's gaining back a few seconds.
Landa has joined a group of GC riders that contains Amador, Kruijswijk and Aru.. They're now 1;30 back on Contador and Movistar are setting the pace.
Landa can now just ease the pace and take stock. He's got second place back on GC and he can allow Movistar to lead the chase of Contador.
As Gilbert and Chavanel make contact with the leaders on the road. So we have seven men with 40km to.
1;10 between Contador and the Aru/Landa group.
Contador isn't letting up just yet though. He's trying to stamp even more authority on this race and his rivals.
Correction: landa isn't in the Aru group. He's just off the back of that group. As we see Landa riding on his own.
Contador is pushing on and he's taken a minute off the break. And now Landa is with the Aru group, sorry for the confusion before.
So Contador has around a minute on the Aru/Landa group with the leaders with 38km to go.
Our four leaders left are David De La Cruz , Amaël Moinard, Francesco Bongiorno
and Kanstantsin Siutsou
Contador still has one minute on the chasing group as Konig lifts the pace. He's trying to crack Aru.
Aru is near the back of the group as we see Contador really pushing on.
He's out of the saddle and really not holding back at all.
Mechanical for Contador but he's on his way again, the gap between him and the break at just over a minute.
The leaders go over the top again as we see Contador's chain drop in slow motion. He fixed it himself and then took a push from the mechanic.
The chase group that contains Gilbert and Chavanel go over the top at 30 seconds.
A few riders have already been dropped the from Landa group and they include Aru.
Aru is losing ground on third because Amador is up the road and in the Landa group.
Aru is starting to come back to the Landa group, with Visconti setting the pace for the Amador/Landa group. Contador is a minute clear of his GC rivals.
Race radio is telling us that Hesjedal is about to join Contador. We didnt see him attack but that's a massive move from the Canadian if correct. It will give the Spaniard some cover on the descent too.
There are three Astana riders in the Landa group. Kangert has passed Aru but is now setting the pace for Landa.
Contador is just pressing on, all alone as he looks back to see if Hesjedal is indeed closing the gap.
Trofimov, Konig Amador and Kruijswijk all in the Landa/Aru group.
And there's Hesjedal, just about to close up on Contador. The Spaniard isnt making it easy for the Canadian though as he looks to take the most time as possible before cresting the climb.
And Contador goes over the top 7'43 behind the break and finally Hesjedal makes it to his back wheel.
The four leaders have meanwhile started to attack each other.
Contador on the technical part of the descent as we see the four leaders start to attack each other.
30km remaining from 170km
We've still got 30km to go in what has been another exciting stage.
Contador's gap goes out to 1'30 on the road to Landa and his other rivals.
Meanwhile Nocentini, Gilbert and Chavanel are riding together in the second group on the road.
The road kicks up again now for the Contador group and they've been joined by Davide Villella who sets the pace for Contador and Hesjedal.
Contador still has 1'30 on the Landa group. Up ahead the four leaders have 30 seconds on the chase group of three.
Busato has made it into the Gilbert group so we have four riders in the second group.
Contador, Villella and Hesjedal now have closer to 1'40 on the Landa/Aru group.
Hesjedal is 10th on GC and he's could move up further today. The Canadian calls Contador to come through and take a turn.
24km remaining from 170km
24km to go in the stage and Contador and Hesjedal are extending their lead, it's moving closer to two minutes.
Contador is just sitting on at for now as Hesjedal takes a drink from the side of the road.
The Moinard group continue to attack each other as further down the road Kangert sets the pace for the Landa/Aru group.
Contador now hits the front on the next section of the descent. He still has around 1'40 over the group that contains the rest of the GC riders.
Hesjedal needs to sprint around the corners just to hold the race leader. Uran isn't in the chase group, by the way.
We're about to have eight leaders now as the first two groups from the early morning breakaway merge on this long descent.
They'll decide the stage with Contador and co still over five minutes down.
As soon as the catch up front is made Gilbert attacks and Moinard just monitors the situation. 21km to go.
18km to go and Gilbert has daylight between him and the rest of the break.
14km to go for Gilbert and he has 21 seconds on the chase group.
The gap between Contador and the Landa group is at 1'40.
And that gap is creeping towards two minutes.
Gilbert, meanwhile, is treating us to a masterclass in descending. Chavanel is leading the chase as we have confirmation that Hesjedal is provisional 8th on GC now.
It's still Kangert leading the Landa/Aru group as we see Trovfimov attack from the white jersey group.
8km remaining from 170km
Just over 8km for Gilbert as he heads to the finish. With 6km to go the road flattens out but he's looking very strong at the moment.
There are a few attacks from the rest of the break but they're all marking each other, with Gilbert holding a 30 second gap.
Contador has lost a few seconds though, the gap betwen him and Landa under 1'30 now.
Chavanel has attacked from the chase group as we see Contador shake out his muscles.
Around 40 seconds for Gilbert with just over 4km to go.
Contador is being pulled back now, the gap to the Landa group at 1'10 as they hit the bottom of the descent.
Less than a minute now and Contador takes over. The chase is really closing on Contador and Hesjedal.
More and more riders have joined the Landa/Aru group and it's improved their chase power.
No chance for the rest of the break as Gilbert just has 2000m to go. The stage win is surely his now and it's his second of the 2015 Giro d'Italia.
Gilbert waves to the team car with 1.2 to go as Contador loses a few more seconds, his lead over Aru/Landa under 50 seconds.
And Gilbert takes the stage for BMC Racing.
Francesco Bongiorno attacked from the chase and he secures second on the stage.
And it's Chavanel who takes third on the stage as all eyes shift now to Contador and those chasing him down.
Contador has Hesjedal leading him home but the chasers aren't too far back. The Spaniard has 1.4km to go.
The duo are swapping turns as they come to the line. Contador pushes one last time in order to take every second he can.
The Aru/Landa group still have 1km to go.
The chasers come over the line and they lose around 1'12 to Contador who is already on the rollers warming down.
Contador is now 5'15 ahead of Landa on GC.
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team 4:04:14
2 Francesco Bongiorno (Ita) Bardiani CSF 0:00:47
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling 0:01:01
4 Matteo Busato (Ita) Southeast Pro Cycling
5 Amaël Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team
6 David De La Cruz (Spa) Etixx - Quick-Step
7 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
8 Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Team Sky
9 Chad Haga (USA) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:02:42
10 Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica GreenEdge 0:03:55
Gilbert on the podium for his second stage win of the race. Another fine day for the Belgian and his BMC teammates.
General classification after stage 18
1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 72:23:09
2 Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Astana Pro Team 0:05:15
3 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:06:05
4 Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team 0:07:01
5 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Team Katusha 0:09:40
6 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Sky 0:10:44
7 Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:11:05
8 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 0:12:53
9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team 0:13:01
10 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) FDJ.fr 0:14:01
Thanks for joining us today. You can find our report, results and photos, right here.
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