Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) attacked the day’s break to win stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia, his second victory of this year’s race, as pink jersey Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) put more time into his rivals.
Gilbert was distanced as the break split up on the Monte Ologno, but the former world champion cut his losses to fight back on the descent, chase down the leaders and accelerate to victory with an unmatchable attack.
Contador, meanwhile, attacked on the Ologno as his GC rivals were caught behind a crash to distance them – and gain some vengeance for their own attacks on him, when he was caught up on stage 16 – and further enhance his overall standing thanks to another show of strength.
On a stage always likely to favour the break, a large group went clear boasting plenty of quality – Gilbert, Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) and Kanstantsin Sioutsou (BMC Racing) all there.
Originally numbering 14, a crash cost former champion Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) but the 12 still had a lead well in excess of ten minutes when they hit the Monte Ologno.
It was on the 10.4km climb, which boasts an average gradient of nine per cent, when it all kicked off however – both the front group and the peloton fracturing.
Siutsou, David de la Cruz (Etixx-QuickStep), Amael Moinard (BMC Racing) and Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani-CSF) went clear, with Gilbert and Chavanel in a group behind.
In the peloton, the Astana team of white jersey Fabio Aru and second-placed Mikel Landa got caught behind a crash, while Contador accelerated at the foot of the climb and immediately began putting time into them.
Aru got into the main chasing group, which also contained the likes of Andrey Amador (Movistar), while Landa belatedly bridged across to them.
Contador pressed on alone, however, not even a mechanical slowing him down – which luckily happened with his team car behind him – before Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) managed to bridge to him at the front.
That worked to Contador’s advantage too, as Hesjedal’s team-mate Davide Villella dropped back from the original break to go and support the Canadian and set the pace for the two.
At one point, with Hesjedal keen to enhance his own overall standing, their lead over the Aru/Landa group was close to two minutes though that had fallen over the top of the climb.
Back up the road, with the front four attacking each other, Gilbert and Chavanel’s chasing group bridged across and immediately made the previous leaders pay for their dallying as the Belgian burst straight off the front.
With team-mate Moinard spoiling the chase, no rider was able to match Gilbert’s pace on the descent – his lead was such he spent much of the final few kilometres punching the air and celebrating in front of the TV motos and the crowds.
After Gilbert claimed victory, attention then turned to Contador and with Hesjedal for company the Spaniard extended his overall lead to 5’15”.
Giro d’Italia 2015: stage 18 – result
1) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing – 4.04.14hrs
2) Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF +47”
3) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – IAM Cycling +1.01
4) Matteo Busato (ITA) – Southeast – ST
5) Amael Moinard (FRA) – BMC Racing
6) David de la Cruz (ESP) – Etixx-QuickStep
7) Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
8) Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR) – Team Sky
9) Chad Haga (USA) – Giant-Alpecin +2.42
10) Pieter Weening (NED) – Orica-GreenEDGE +3.55
1) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 72.23.09hrs
2) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Astana +5.15
3) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +6.05
4) Andrey Amador (CRC) – Movistar +7.01
5) Yury Trofimov (RUS) – Katusha +9.40
6) Leopold Konig (CZE) – Team Sky +10.44
7) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – BMC Racing +11.05
8) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +12.53
9) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Cannondale-Garmin +13.01
10) Alexandre Geniez (FRA) – FDJ +14.01