Jai Hindley (Team Sunweb) rode to victory on the brutally steep slopes of the Stelvio on stage 18 of the 2020 Giro d’Italia.
“Winning here is such an incredible feeling,” said 24-year-old Hindley. “It’s a big step forward in my career and a double success for the team with Wilco Kelderman now wearing the Maglia Rosa. The tactics were perfect for our team today.”
Only Hindley and Geoghegan Hart remained at the front in the final 10km climb, and in the final 100m, the young Australian came around Geoghegan Hart to take his first stage win, and the first win for Sunweb at the Giro.
While Wilco Kelderman (Team Subweb) rode very strongly on the first 15km of Stelvio, he fell off the pace set by Hindley, Geoghegan Hart, and Dennis with 5 kilometers remaining on the climb.
Kelderman rode raggedly on the remainder of the stage to collect the leader’s jersey from the shoulders of João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).
“It was a difficult stage. I fought as hard as I could, but it wasn’t enough today. It’s been a great two weeks in the pink jersey. I have to be happy with what’s happened so far in this Giro. It gives me a lot of motivation for the future. There are still a few days left in this Giro. I will keep fighting, but I will be happy when it’s over as well, Almeida said.”
Kelderman now sits just 12 seconds ahead of his young teammate Hindley.
How stage 18 unfolded
A break of 15 men went up the road early, with Ineos Grenadiers doing most of the work on the front.
Ben O’Connor (NTT Pro Cycling), winner of stage 18, and a close second on stage 17 attacked the group before the ascent on the Stelvio.
As the break exploded in the opening kilometers of the decisive climb, Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), Dennis, Geoghegan Hart, Kelderman, and Hindley brought O’Connor back.
The Maglia Rosa of Almeida, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) were distanced by the tempo of this move, too.
As Kelderman rode into the virtual lead, he started to falter on his teammate’s wheel.
When O’Connor was caught, he tried to jump on the wheels of the attacking group, but could not hold the pace set by the Ineos Grenadiers.
As Dennis came across the summit of the Stelvio, he was closely trailed by Geoghegan Hart, and Hindley who was struggling to get his long sleeve jersey on for the cold descent.
Hindley was seen riding with his long sleeve top unzipped in -3C or -2C wind chill on the technical descent.
Kelderman made up a handful of seconds on the descent, but by the time the lead three were into the valley before the final climb, he had ceded nearly a minute to the front group.
Denis set a blistering tempo to the base of the final climb, delivering Geoghegan Hart into a position for the final 10km, with Hindley on his wheel.
Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) rode through the stragglers, including Dennis, Fuglsang, and Nibali, seeing an opportunity to get onto the overall podium.
Geoghegan Hart and Hindley rode conservatively for the first 8km of the climb, and then lifted the tempo ever so slightly.
In the final 200 meters, Geoghegan Hart launched from the front, but it was Hindley, who had not been doing any of the work for the previous 28km who came around for the stage win.
Kelderman, seeing his virtual lead slipping, upped the pace, and managed to salvage the day assuming the overall race lead.
“The hardest stage of my life,” said Kelderman. “We had a goal and we achieved it. Wearing the Maglia Rosa is a dream after so many difficult years, I’m really happy to be leading the overall standings.”