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Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) sped to his third career Giro d’Italia stage victory in Tortona after beating maglia ciclamino Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) to the line in a photo finish at the end of the Giro’s longest day.
Stage 6 winner Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) had opened the sprint over 250 metres out after his team led the way around the final 90-degree bend, just 400 metres from the line, with Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) jumping on his wheel.
Ackermann was next in line, while Milan started his sprint from much further back at around 10th in line. Up front, Pedersen was caught by Cavendish at 100m to go, while Ackermann moved up in between the British champion and the barriers.
Further back, Milan had shot past the also-rans to jump into contention in the dying metres, edging past Pedersen and Cavendish right before the line.
The Italian, who won stage 2 in San Salvo, looked to have nipped in ahead of Ackermann, too, but the photo finish showed the German hanging on for victory by the slimmest of margins. Cavendish and Pedersen took third and fourth at the line.
29-year-old Ackermann, who won two stages and the points jersey at the Giro four years ago, prevailed from a reduced group at the end of the 219km stage. Around 30 riders came to the line together after a minor crash in the middle of the peloton split things up inside the final 2km, with Movistar sprinter Fernando Gaviria among those held up.
“It’s a really, really special victory for me, especially after my broken coccyx last year, I’m finally back,” Ackermann said after the stage.
“I felt super amazing the last few days but could never show off how strong I am. Today I got a teammate to bring me in a good position, and we showed we can do it and I’m super happy to win today for my first victory of the season.
“There was a bit of head-crosswind, so if you came from the back, you could move really fast, but I decided to do it from the front because of the last corner – you never know how slippery it is, and I didn’t want to crash again. I’m just happy Cav was really strong, and actually, he was the perfect lead-out man for me today.”
At the end of the long day in the saddle, the stage concluded with the expected sprint finish, though the day nevertheless brought significant changes in the general classification. Maglia rosa contender Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) was caught up in a crash with teammate and race leader Geraint Thomas as well as Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) at 69km from the line.
Geoghegan Hart is out of the race as a result, leaving in an ambulance, while his teammate Pavel Sivakov – another caught in the crash – drops out of the top 10 after losing minutes on the run to the finish.
Thomas retains the race lead, two seconds up on Roglič, while João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) moves into third at 22 seconds.
In the fight for the points classification, Milan extends his lead after beating Pedersen to the finish. The Italian now lies on 164 points to Pedersen’s 128. Davide Bais (Eolo-Kometa) and Almeida remain in the lead of the mountain and young rider classifications.
How it unfolded
After a miserable and chaotic 196km day on the bike to Viareggio on Tuesday, the Giro d’Italia peloton faced an equally long, though gentler and sunnier, ride to Tortona – where Fausto Coppi died 43 years ago – on stage 11.
The 219km route would take the remaining 142 riders – Wednesday morning brought six more COVID-19 casualties and two more leaving with illness – from Camaiore up the Ligurian coast and inland to Piemonte for a likely bunch sprint.
2,100 metres of climbing lay in wait for the peloton, though the third-category tests of the Passo del Bracco and Colla di Boasi, plus the fourth-category Passo della Castagnola, wouldn’t pose much difficulty for the sprinters ahead of the long downhill run to Tortona.
A brief battle for the breakaway in the opening kilometres saw the break of the day established. Thomas Champion (Cofidis) was out in his third break of the race, the Frenchman joined in the move by Corratec-Selle Italia duo Valjko Stojnić and Alexander Konyshev – out front again after making the break on stage 3.
Diego Sevilla (Eolo-Kometa), Filippo Magli (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè), and Laurens Rex (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) completed the move, their first break of the Giro.
They were quickly afforded four minutes on the peloton as sprint squads Astana Qazaqstan, Bahrain Victorious, and Trek-Segafredo took to the head of the group to control the gap.
The long, flat run to the intermediate sprint at Borghetto di Vara and the day’s first climb of the Passo del Bracco passed without much incident, though the break only enjoyed an advantage of 2:20 by then, with 60km raced.
Stojnič led Rex and the remainder of the break across the sprint point, while back in the peloton maglia ciclamino Jonathan Milan outsprinted Mads Pedersen to grab two points to the Dane’s one in the points classification battle.
At the top of the Passo del Bracco, crested shortly afterwards, it was Sevilla who led the way to fend off anyone who might hope to catch his teammate Davide Bais’ large lead in the mountain classification.
Through the flat mid-section of the stage, the break’s advantage crept back up to three minutes, though that would come down again on the 9km climb up the Colla di Boasi. At the top, it was Stojnić who grabbed the points at the top, though a larger drama would unfold at the beginning of the descent.
Riding in the peloton, Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) slid out on the wet road in the opening kilometres of the descent. The Italian’s fall left several Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers riders behind him with nowhere to go, including podium sitters at the start of the day, Geraint Thomas, Primož Roglič, and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
It was Geoghegan Hart who came off the worst, hitting the deck hard and lying on the road before eventually being stretchered into an ambulance, his race over. Moments later, Movistar rider Oscar Rodríguez would also be forced to leave the race, crashing further down the descent and hitting a road sign and low wall hard.
The remainder of the descent thankfully passed without incident, though the race would erupt again on the Passo della Castagnola, 45km from the line. Now within a minute of the break, Jayco-AlUla came to the front of the peloton to push the pace hard, with Italian champion Filippo Zana leading the way.
The upping of the pace spat several sprinters out the rear on the way up, while at the front of the race, Stojnić attacked to grab a final three mountain points over the top. On the way down, he was joined on the offensive by Rex, while the remainder of the break dropped back.
Jayco-AlUla continued their work on the descent, though all the big-name sprinters were back in the group. The Australian team were joined by riders from Trek-Segafredo, Movistar, and Bahrain Victorious at the head of the peloton, racing into the final 30km at a minute down on Stojnić and Rex.
On the downhill run towards Tortona, the kilometres and seconds for the breakaway ticked down before Rex pushed on alone into the final 20km. Trek and Movistar were bearing down, though, closing to within 20 seconds on the 23-year-old.
Rex fought on well into the final 10km, eventually conceding defeat just 5km from the line as the peloton swept him up. From there, it was all about the closing sprint, with the GC teams protecting their contenders as Groupama-FDJ also joined the fray working for Jake Stewart.
Following the efforts of Stojnić and Konyshev earlier in the day, Corratec-Selle Italia had one last attack in them, sending Charlie Quarterman up the road inside the final 3km, though the Briton would be brought back a kilometre later as the sprint squads revved up.
Riders representing a smorgasbord of different teams took turns at the head of the peloton from that point on, while a crash in the middle of the peloton involving Fernando Gaviria (Movistar), Henok Mulubrhan (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè) and Jasha Sütterlin (Bahrain Victorious) saw a reduced group come to the finish.
Trek-Segafredo took control of the peloton at the perfect point leading into the final corner, delivering Pedersen perfectly to launch a long sprint on the downhill run to the line. However, the former world champion jumped a little too early and was swamped before the finish as first Mark Cavendish, then Pascal Ackermann and Jonathan Milan sped past. In the end, it was Ackermann who came out on top, taking the 39th victory of his career by a matter of centimetres.
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