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Road Racing

Giro d’Italia stage 18: Cima defies sprinters as Ackermann reclaims points lead

By the closest of margins, the early breakaway held on for another stage victory in the Giro d'Italia

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Damiano Cima, a rider who’s spent hundreds of kilometers away in breakaways at this Giro, finally made one stick on the outskirts of Venice Thursday. The Italian claimed his Nippo-Vini Fantini team’s first ever stage win in the race by just holding out in front of the bunch sprint.

Mirco Maestri (Bardiani CSF) and Nico Denz (Ag2r-La Mondiale), his two partners in the day long break, were both absorbed by the bunch in the final 50-meters of stage 18. But Cima held on by the skin of his teeth and threw his arms in the air in front of sprinters Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgroe) and Simone Consonni (UAE-Emirates).

“I’ve realised a life-long dream,” said Cima. “Any boy who starts racing, dreams to win a stage at the Giro d’Italia one day.

“I’ve been on the attack but this victory is worth much more than all the kilometres I’ve raced in the escapes,” he added.

By finishing second, with Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) only getting eighth, Ackermann has put himself back into the points leader’s jersey. With only more two mountain stages and a time trial remaining in the 2019 Giro d’Italia, it should be his for keeps.

“We didn’t get the breakaway back but we got the jersey back and that was a goal for us,” the German champion said. “We are happy now.”

Although it hadn’t gone unnoticed that the previous three stage winners had all come from early breaks, the stage from Valdora to Santa Maria di Sala had bunch sprint written all over it.

At 222km, downhill out of the mountains, then across the Veneto plain with long wide straights into the finish, it was exactly their kind of terrain. It had been over a week since the sprinters had last had their chance. And after enduring a tough six stages in the mountains, the remaining sprinters in the race were expected to make the most of their last opportunity to contest a gallop.

Despite the apparently slim chances of succeeding, neither Cima or Maestri needed any encouragement to get into the escape, which took shape after 40 odd kilometers. Both had been regulars, often together, in the breakaways of the long, flat stages that characterised the first half of the race.

Denz, meanwhile, would have been spurred on by the solo victory of his team mate Nans Peters on Wednesday.

All looked formulaic enough until it became obvious in the final 40km that the gap, never much more than five minutes at any point in the stage, was not coming down very quickly. With 10km to go, it still sat comfortably over a minute, as sprinter’s teams took turns in trying to organise themselves at the front.

The unity in the break could have been thrown for good when Denz tried an attack with 3.7km to go. But after Maestri quickly reeled it back, they resumed taking turns and went through 3km to go with over 30 seconds in hand.

With Denz having shown his cards, Cima and Maestri eventually lined up behind him in the final kilometer. As the trio weaved across the road, the bunch thundered down on them. Somehow, though, Cima found enough in the tank to blast down the left and leave an initially frustrated Ackermann thumping the bars.

“We knew the group was coming, I tried to stay calm, I knew I was fast enough,” recalled Cima. “I waited, I waited and at 300 metres, I started at full speed.”

Maestri finished in 10th place, while Denz was 11th.

There was no significant change in the overall standings, with race leader Richard Carapaz and his rivals effectively enjoying a rest day before they return to the mountains tomorrow.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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