• Australian Jai Hindley of Team Sunweb finishes just ahead of Tao Geoghegan Hart on the queen stage of the Giro d'Italia (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Jai Hindley (Team Sunweb) claimed the stage win after a dramatic stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia saw the general classification upended on the ascent of the legendary climb of the Stelvio.
By
SBS Cycling Central

23 Oct 2020 - 3:42 AM 

It was a day for Australians to make a big difference at the Giro, with first Ben O'Connor (NTT Pro Cycling), then Rohan Dennis (INEOS Grenadiers) and Jai Hindley all major protagonists on the queen stage of the 2020 edition.

O'Connor was part of the early breakaway, the third day in a row for the man from Subiaco, after claiming second and first on the previous two days in the hills. He escaped on the early slopes of the Stelvio after the breakaway had arrived at the foothills with just over a minute lead on the chasing peloton.

O'Connor rode off solo, again highlighting the NTT rider's current rich wein of form.

Behind the action started to heat up in the peloton as Team Sunweb then INEOS Grenadiers rode hard to put the young race leader Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) in difficulty on the monstrous ascent of the Stelvio.
Almeida was put into difficulty as the group thinned down before eventually being dropped as Dennis took over at the front of the race. The Australian time trial star put down the hurt, dropping all riders, including second overall Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) who was hoping to ride into the leader's pink jersey with Almeida being distanced.

Hindley did not stop to wait for his team leader who was a position above him on the general classification before the stage start, instead sticking to Tao Geoghegan Hart (INEOS Grenadiers) as Dennis worked hard to improve the British rider's fourth overall position.

The gap quickly grew, with Almeida slipping out of pink jersey contention, but the question remaining whether an isolated Kelderman would be able to hold a two minute and 41 second advantage over Hindley, with Geoghegan Hart a further second adrift. Hindley caught attention by struggling to put on his jacket at the top of the climb and then failing to zip up before the descent.

Dennis crested the highest point of this years' Giro, the Cima Coppi, first, but still with work to do on the descent and flat valley roads before the final ascent to the finish in Laghi di Cancano. The gap to Kelderman fluctuated on the run into the finish, with Dennis giving his all before dropping off on the early slopes of the final climb when Geoghegan Hart took over.

The British rider asked for assistance from Hindley a number of times on the final climb, with the Western Australian rider indicating that he wasn't prepared to contribute with Kelderman still in the picture.
Geoghegan Hart was able to extend the lead into the finish, but only gradually, and as Hindley ground out the sprint win, the wait was on to see who would pull on the pink jersey at the end of the stage.

Kelderman made it home two minutes and 18 seconds after his teammate's stage win, ensuring he pulled on the leader's jersey, but only with a slim margin of 12 seconds over Hindley, 15 seconds ahead of Geoghegan Hart.

"It’s such a beautiful stage today, with such epic climbs. I’m just over the moon to get the win," Hindley said. "I saw the opportunity to take a stage and I took it. I think Tao was pretty strong and was also climbing at a really high level here, he’s been super impressive.

"It wasn’t our tactic to go solo. I followed the plan, got the stage and I’m happy with that."

Wilco Kelderman was ecstatic after having moved into the lead of the Giro with just three stages remaining.

"It was the hardest stage of my life," said Kelderman. "We had a goal and we achieved it. Jai is very strong and his victory was really beautiful. We knew he could do it. What a dream to wear the pink jersey, the I dedicate to my daughter. But her real gift will be the soft toy I received on the podium."

Previous race leader Almeida hung on in the lead of the race for longer than anyone expected but eventually succumbed to pressure on the climbs, finishing four minutes and 51 seconds behind Hindley and moving down to fifth overall.