Grabbing the wheel of another team's sprinter, Andre Greipel gunned past him to his first win at the Giro d'Italia on Thursday.
Greipel is the No. 1 sprinter on the HTC-Columbia team, but the German lacked power and luck in the early stages that are designed for the sprinters.
Meanwhile, all the bike race leaders retained their positions in the battle for the maglia rosa as the 93-mile Stage 18 concluded its run from Levico Terme to Brescia. The upcoming two mountain stages on Friday and Saturday, however, are sure to change the order in the General Classification as Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso and Alexandre Vinokourov battle for the top spot now held by David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne).
The individual time trials and mountain stages the past few days aren't suited for the sprinters; those who didn't drop out of the race must have been looking forward to one more chance for a victory at Stage 18.
None more so than Greipel. While HTC-Columbia came into the Giro with the most disciplined team for sprinters, a number of factors had worked against Greipel. Either he was still recovering from a pre-race ailment, or a breakaway survived to the finish, or the Columbia team couldn't get their act together in the final kilometers.
Such was the case on Thursday, as Columbia controlled the peloton during most of the stage, but then rival teams such as Sky, Rabobank and Liquigas battled in the closing kilometers with Columbia.
Sky leads out
Sky appeared to have the best lead-out with 4 riders, and Greipel latched onto that team's Greg Henderson. Greipel shot past Henderson in the sprint, and finished ahead of Julian Dean (Garmin-Transitions) and Tiziano dell'Antonia (Liquigas). Henderson finished 4th.
A two-man breakaway attacked about 12 miles into the race and survived until the streets of Brescia. Roman Kireyev (Astana) was the first swept up by the peloton, but Alan Marangoni (Colnago) stayed out from for about another mile before being passed shortly before the finish line.
Friday Stage 19
The peloton surges back into the mountain on Friday and Saturday before Sunday's finale, an individual time trial in Verona. On Friday, the 120-miles route from Brescia to Aprica first comes to the Trivigno climb, followed by a long slog at 10.3% over Passo del Mortirolo before concluding at a final climb to Aprica.
Top bike racers overall
1. David Arroyo, Caisse d'Epargne
2. Ivan Basso, Liquigas – 2:27
3. Richie Porte, Saxo Bank – 2:44
4. Cadel Evans, BMC Racing – 3:09
5. Carlos Sastre, Cervelo – 4:41
6. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas – 4:53
7. Alexandre Vinokourov, Astana – 5:12
8. Michele Scarponi, Androni – 5:24