Arnaud Démare expected a big fight this Thursday on stage 18 of the Giro. He did get it. As in Cuneo, the breakaway really gave a hard time to the bunch on the way to Treviso. This time, however, the fugitives proved successful. Despite the numerous efforts of the Frenchman’s team-mates, and the help of other teams, the peloton wasn’t able to bridge across and the victory went to Dries De Bondt. Arnaud Démare took sixth place on the line – second within the bunch. The cyclamen jersey is still firmly on his shoulders with three stages to go.
For almost a week, the sprinters had been eyeing stage 18 of the Giro, the last one that was supposed to suit them. However, at the very end of a Grand Tour, there was surely a risk towards Treviso. Everyone was warned, and this is also why the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, like others, tried to control the start of the race as best they could. Eventually, only four men went away after six kilometres, namely Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma), Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix), Magnus Cort (EF Education-Easy Post) and Davide Gabburo (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè). “We can’t control everyone,” said Arnaud Démare later. “De Gendt wasn’t there, nor were other strong riders. At one point, there were fifteen guys in front, and we caught them, but you can’t chase everyone down”. “We didn’t want to let this kind of riders, that’s what we said before”, added Sébastien Joly. “But once they were gone, we weren’t going to close the gap straight away”. Nevertheless, the pursuit got organized quite quickly behind the leading quartet, so that the gap always hovered around two minutes. “There was still good cooperation between the sprinters’ teams today”, said Sébastien Joly. The first half of the stage was perfectly managed by the pack, as the break did not get a serious gap.
“I want to take my hat off to my teammates”, Arnaud Démare
However, the gap suddenly increased by about a minute with about 60km to go, approaching the Muro di Ca’ del Poggio. “I think the turning point was before the steep climb,” said Sébastien. “We tried to accelerate in the bunch, but they did it even more up front”. At the top of this short climb, the peloton had a 2’30 delay, and the final battle started immediately. For a while, the peloton seemed to have the advantage, but in the last twenty kilometres, it could not get under the one-minute mark. In this frantic finish, the pack kind of exploded, the domestiques were dropped one after the other, and the four riders finally entered the home stretch with enough advantage to play for the win. Dries De Bondt took it, and Arnaud Démare grabbed sixth place fourteen seconds later. “For sure we are disappointed when we can expect a sprint,” said the former French champion. “We and Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl really played along. We really made everyone ride. It is a pity that other teams came too late. Anyway, I want to take my hat off to my teammates. We didn’t get the win today, but they did a great job”. “Unfortunately, we lost Miles because of a mechanical problem, and I think we missed him a lot in this final”, added Sébastien. “In the final, it was a very close battle. It was a really hard day. Once again, the guys did a great job, all of them. You also need to admit that the breakaway riders played it well. They felt that there was an opportunity, and they seized it today. That’s sport”.
On Thursday evening, the Groupama-FDJ team was not too disappointed though, considering what the race already gave them. “Of course, there is no fourth victory, but it was still an excellent Giro with three stage wins, and with the cyclamen jersey that will probably be on Arnaud’s shoulders in Verona. We have to put things in perspective”, added Sébastien. “There are still two big days to do before we reach Verona,” concluded Arnaud. “We gave everything we had on this Giro, we have nothing to regret, and we can be really proud of what we have achieved. I am proud of the team, the staff, of everyone. We did something great. Three victories in a Grand Tour is something extraordinary”.