Australian wins brutal Giro stage as maglia rosa changes hands

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Dutchman Wilco Kelderman took over as leader of the Giro d'Italia as the fearsome Stelvio climb blew the race apart during a brutal and mesmerising stage 18 battle on Thursday, won by Australian Jai Hindley.

Kelderman (Sunweb) began the day 17 seconds behind long-time race leader Joao Almeida (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) whose hopes of wearing the maglia rosa all the way to Milan were shattered.

Australian Jai Hindley celebrates victory after a brutal stage 18 in the Giro d’Italia.Credit:AP

Portuguese Almeida cracked halfway up the steep and twisty 24-kilometre Stelvio and although he dug deep he had lost three minutes before the summit as Kelderman took over as virtual leader with a 20km descent and another tough climb still to come.

Kelderman was also distanced as he picked his way around the 48 hairpins, leaking 47 seconds to eventual stage winner Hindley (Sunweb) and Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart, led brilliantly up the climb by Ineos Grenadiers teammate Rohan Dennis.

While Kelderman hung on grimly, up the road his Australian teammate Hindley powered to the stage win just ahead of Geoghegan Hart, both of whom finished two minutes and 18 seconds ahead of Kelderman to launch themselves firmly into contention for the overall victory in Milan.

The sight of Hindley leaving teammate Kelderman to fend for himself was odd, but it paid off. Hindley is now second overall in the standings, just 12 seconds behind his teammate.

"I saw the opportunity to take a stage and I took it. It wasn't our tactic to go solo. I followed the plan, got the stage and I'm happy with that," Hindley, 24, said.

“Winning here is such an incredible feeling. It’s a big step forward in my career and a double success for the team with Wilco Kelderman now wearing the maglia rosa [pink jersey]. The tactics were perfect for our team today.”

After a freezing descent through the snowfields and ahead of the day's final climb to the finish of the 207km Queen's stage, Kelderman looked to be going backwards as he desperately snacked on gel bars to recover some energy.

But he had just enough left in the tank up the final nine-kilometre Torrri di Fraele to take over the maglia rosa.

His lead looks fragile, though, with Saturday's 20th stage to Sestriere still looking tough, despite the Colle dell'Agnello and the Col de l'Izoard climbs being scrapped because of the French authorities barring the race from crossing the border because of tightening COVID-19 restrictions.

The climb up Stelvio’s twisting hairpins had a devastating effect.Credit:AP

Kelderman will take a 12-second lead into stage 19 over Hindley with Geoghegan Hart 15 seconds behind.

"It was a crazy day, super hard, the hardest day of my life. It was a super fight," the 29-year-old Kelderman said.

"It couldn't be any better for us with Jai getting the stage win and me in pink. We dropped Almeida quite early on the Stelvio and then it was a race – Ineos was super strong with two guys and I couldn't hold them."

Spain's Pello Bilbao (Bahrain McLaren) finished strongly to move into fourth place overall, one minute and 19 seconds back, with Almeida, race leader since stage three, now in fifth spot, having lost almost five minutes on Thursday.

Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman is the new overall leader of the Giro.Credit:AP

"I'm proud of what I did," an emotional Almeida said. "I'm happy. On the other hand, I lost the pink jersey.

"They were just super strong. I'm not at their level."

He was in good company as former champion Vincenzo Nibali also cracked on the Stelvio to end hopes of an Italian winner when the race concludes in Milan on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Daniel Martin held of his rivals on an uphill climb to the finish line to win the third stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Thursday and close in on defending champion Primoz Roglic's overall lead.

Martin clinched the victory with a strong push in the final metres of the 166km hilly stage from Lodosa to Vinuesa. The win moved him to within five seconds of Roglic, who finished second on the stage. Richard Carapaz was third and is 13 seconds off the overall lead.

Reuters, AP

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