Cunego Wins Stage 18 of Giro
Damiano Cunego (Saeco) has won Stage 18 of the Giro. Cunego won a four-up sprint to take the mountainous, 118-km ride from Cles to Bormio in 3:56:31. Dario Cioni (Fassa Bortolo) outsprinted Sergei Gontchar (De Nardi) for second at 0:05. Cunego has increased his overall lead.
The racing began early. At 16 km, 20 riders escaped. At the base of the Gavia, the fugitives led the Saeco-led maglia rosa group by 2:41. On the lower slopes of the Gavia, Francisco Vila (Lampre) and Vladimir Miholjevic (Alessio) attacked and dropped their companions.
In the maglia rosa group, Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola) attacked, and Wladimir Belli (Lampre) followed him. The 2000 Giro champion set out after Miholjevic, who had dropped Vila, while Saeco rode tempo at the front. At the summit of the Gavia, Garzelli was 2:15 behind the Alessio rider.
Juan Gomis (Saunier Duval), Cristian Moreni (Alessio), and Vila joined Garzelli. The quartet gained little time on Miholjevic, however, and with 18 km left, the maglia rosa group reeled them in.
Miholjevic led the group by 2:00, but he began to struggle on La Motta. Behind, Saeco pressed the pace. With eight km remaining, Garzelli and Franco Pellizotti (Alessio) slid out of the back. Simoni attacked, and Emanuele Sella (Colombia-Selle Italia) joined him. With seven km left, the maglia rosa group caught Miholjevic.
The maglia rosa group's pace slowed, and a regroupment occurred. With six km left, Simoni dropped Sella. Gontchar led the maglia rosa group's pursuit.
Cioni attacked from the maglia rosa group, and Cunego took his wheel. Gontchar followed. With three km left, the trio caught Simoni. Julio Perez (Panaria) joined the leading quartet.
With three km left, Cunego accelerated to set up an attack by Simoni. The defending champion, however, could not finish, and with 200 m left, Cunego attacked and took the win.
After the stage, the rivalry between Cunego and the defending champion flared into the open. Simoni called Cunego "a bastard and an ignoramus" for winning a stage that he did not need to win, and he accused the maglia rosa of giving him a bad leadout. Saeco's civil war has begun--officially!
In the overall, Cunego leads Gontchar by 1:31 and Simoni by 3:07. Stage 19, the last mountain stage, will be the last chance for a GC shakeup. The 122-km ride from Bormio to Presolana will feature the Mortirolo, the Vivione, and the Passo Presolana. Will Cunego and Simoni fight each other, thereby giving Garzelli, Gontchar, or Popovych an opportunity to climb his way into the maglia rosa? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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