Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) showed why he is considered one of the brightest climbing talents in cycling with a performance that saw the 22-year-old shoot past lone attacker Gijs Leemreize (Jumbo-Visma) on the final climb of Stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia, also fighting back from a crash earlier in the stage, to take the biggest win of his young career.
The Colombian was part of the early break that formed over the opening climb of the Passo del Tonale. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) was his normal attacking self and split the 24-strong group on the flat before surging clear on the descent of the penultimate climb of the stage with an impressive Leemreize. The pair pushed their lead out to a minute and 20 seconds over a disorganised chasing group, but from the early slopes of the Monte Rovere, Buitrago took matters into his own hands with an attack that his fellow chasers couldn’t follow.
Van der Poel was leading the race on the early slopes after a surge to distance Leemreize, but he blew up dramatically as the consistent Dutchman measured his effort behind, with the 22-year-old taking over the lead and looking the likely winner of the stage.
However, Buitrago continued to eat into the big lead he had conceded at the start of the climb and by the top he had reached Leemreize, pausing briefly when in contact before launching an attack scarcely a few hundred metres before the summit.
The Colombian was able to get the crucial gap and he went on to solo in to Lavarone, finishing 35 seconds ahead of the chasing Leemreize, with yesterday’s stage-winner Jan Hirt (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux) in third.
“I’m so happy to have won my first WorldTour stage at a Grand Tour,” said Buitrago. “It was tricky, especially crashing early on in the breakaway. I was dreaming about this, especially after the stage in Cogne when I finished second.
“I’d like to thank the support I got from the team, my family and the supporters because today I’ve realised a dream.”
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The battle for the pink jersey continued on a day of gradual attrition in the peloton that ramped up on the climb of the Monte Rovere. Again race leader Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) and Australian Jai Hindley (BORA-hansgrohe) emerged as the top riders on the climb, with the familiar sight of third on the general classification coming into the stage, Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), losing contact with the duo as they increased the pace.
He had made a habit of returning with dogged rides earlier in the race, but Stage 17 saw the attrition of the Giro d’Italia catch up with him and the Portuguese talent slipped further and further back as Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and teammate Wout Poels made sure to drive home the advantage and move the Spaniard above Almeida into third on the general classification on a great day for the team.
Carapaz led the contenders over the line to claim fifth on the day, two minutes and 53 seconds behind Buitrago, with Hindley matching him all the way to the line. Landa conceded six seconds to his rivals in the final surge, but he was better off than anyone else on the general classification as all other riders in the top ten (with the exception of Hirt) conceded significant time on the stage.
Carapaz now leads the race by three seconds over Hindley, with Landa now a minute and five seconds behind, with Almeida at a minute and 54 seconds. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) is the best of the rest at five minutes and 48 seconds in arrears, the former Giro d’Italia champion set to scrap for the remaining riders in the top ten for the minor positions.
The Giro d’Italia continues on SBS with a flat stage to Treviso for Stage 18. Watch from 9.30pm AEST on SBS On Demand with television coverage beginning at 11pm AEST on SBS. WA viewers can watch from 9.00pm AWST on SBS VICELAND.