Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) soloed to victory on the ascent of the Rifugio Panarotta to win stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia.
The diminutive Colombian, in the blue jersey, was part of the day’s break as he accrued maximum King of the Mountains points from the stage before striking out on the final climb.
And his attack could not be matched, despite a valiant chase from Fabio Duarte (Team Colombia), Philip Deignan (Team Sky) and Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), as he stormed to his first Grand Tour stage victory.
Meanwhile, compatriot Nairo Quintan (Movistar) finished alongside second-placed Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), yep another Colombian, to ensure he maintained his overall lead.
The tough stage started without both double stage winner Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Ivan Santaromita (Orica-GreenEDGE) – the latter’s withdrawal through illness taking the team down to just two riders.
Once again a strong break went clear, wasting little time in earning an advantage. Arredondo was among the riders in the group, with former champion Ivan Basso (Cannondale), breakaway regular Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) and, once again, Team Sky duo Dario Cataldo and Philip Deignan. Fabio Duarte (Team Colombia), Pellizotti and Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF), Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo), Martijn Keizer (Belkin), Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli) and Alberto Losada (Katusha) completed the group.
Working well together, the group’s advantage stretched out to more than seven minutes and remained there for much of the stage, with Arredondo, Cataldo and Wellens all in the hunt for King of the Mountains points.
The Colombian was first at the top of the first two climbs – the San Pelegrino and Passo del Redebus – to extend his lead in the classification, despite the efforts of Cataldo and team-mate Deignan to stop him.
The advantage still stood at more than 6’30” when the break hit the Panarotta climb, despite several teams bringing riders forward in the peloton. Almost as soon as the break hit the climb, De Gendt took off on the front, striking out and quickly turning a few bike lengths into an advantage of 20 seconds.
Europcar were also active on the climb, hitting the front of the peloton on the lower ramps, with Movistar and Ag2r-La Mondiale also setting a good pace to quickly cut into the break’s lead.
The counter-attacks behind De Gendt soon began, with Basso, Rabottini and Keizer among the men to have a go, while Sky’s duo and Arredondo both remained well-placed in the chasing group.
Basso’s relentless attacking eventually saw him go clear with Arredondo, Cataldo, Deignan and Duarte but De Gendt continued to hold on to his small advantage off the front.
Cataldo was next to make a dig, dragging team-mate Deignan and Trek Factory Racing’s Arredondo with him, to give Sky strength in numbers in the chasing group.
The peloton continued to close down the lead, with the GC contenders all safe in what remained of the bunch as they snaked their way up the Panarotta.
Duarte and Pellizotti rejoined the main chasing group, but it was Arredondo who looked strongest as he caught and passed De Gendt, pulling Duarte and Deignan with him.
The Belgian responded, however, earning a solo lead again with Pellizotti going with him as they approached the five kilometres to go flag.
The situation at the front changed regularly, as Arredondo struck out once again on the front to earn another gap.
In the bunch it was a similar story, with Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) setting a fierce pace which saw Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) dropped.
Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar), who started the day just outside the podium places, sensed his opportunity – attacking from the front of the group to earn a gap on the remaining GC contenders.
Wout Poels (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) did well to stick with team-mate Rigoberto Uran in that group, taking up the pace-setting to drop more rivals – Hesjedal and Robert Kiserlovski among them – but Quintana could not be shaken off.
Arredondo remained on his own up front, though, zig-zagging across the road in the final kilometre as he searched for every last ounce of energy.
Duarte remained in sight behind him, but Arrendondo was the man left to punch the air in celebration and lead home a Colombian one-two, with Deignan rounding off the top three.
With the stage honours wrapped up, attention then turned to the men fighting for the pink jersey, as Fabio Aru (Astana) attacked the remains of the maglia rosa group.
Rolland’s attack faded and the Frenchman eventually crossed the line with Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale), while Uran and Quintana also finished on the same time. Evans was to be the biggest loser, finishing well down on his rivals to slip off the overall podium and down the general classification.
The day belonged to the Colombians, however, and attention will now turn to the mountain time trial on stage 19.
Giro d’Italia 2014: stage 18 – result
1) Julian Arredondo (COL) – Trek Factory Racing – 4.49.51hrs
2) Fabio Duarte (COL) – Team Colombia +17”
3) Philip Deignan (IRL) – Team Sky +37”
4) Franco Pellizotti (ITA) – Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela +1.20
5) Edoardo Zardini (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF +1.24
6) Thomas de Gendt (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1.38
7) Ivan Basso (ITA) – Cannondale +1.43
8) Dario Cataldo (ITA) – Team Sky +1.59
9) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +2.43
10) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +2.46
1) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar – 77.58.08hrs
2) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1.41
3) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +3.29
4) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +3.31
5) Rafal Majka (POL) – Timkoff-Saxo – ST
6) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +3.52
7) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Garmin-Sharp +4.32
8) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin +4.37
9) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +4.59
10) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Trek Factory Racing +8.33