Italian national champion Filippo “Not Ganna” Zana beat Frenchman Thibaut Pinot on the 2023 Giro d’Italia’s first day in the Dolomites, marking the fourth Italian victory of the 106th edition. However, Pinot took back the KOM lead and pounced up to seventh all around. In the GC, Primož Roglič showed he was stronger than he seems, jumping into second place over João Almeida. Geraint Thomas stayed in pink. Derek Gee was in his sixth breakaway of the race and came in fourth, rising to 26th on the GC.
A quintet of climbs awaited the riders over 161 km. The final three came in the last 35 km: first up was Cat. 1 Forcella Cibiana, 9.7 km of 7.7 percent, before the two-step summit finish. Cat. Both heads were tough: Coi was 5.5 km at 9.5 percent and Palafavera was 2.3 km of 7 percent.
Stage 18 of the #Giro is one for the climbers and GC guys, who will battler for victory and precious seconds on Val di Zoldo, which kind of sounds like the name of a bad guy from an '80s cartoon.#Skeletor #MingTheMerciless #Shredder #Megatron pic.twitter.com/Uu2Q2VgtlN
— Soudal Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team (@soudalquickstep) May 25, 2023
That man Derek Gee and his teammate Mario Frigo were part of a small breakaway that sprang free before Climb 1, Cat. 1 Passo della Crosetta. It was Gee’s sixth escape.
On that very first climb, Ineos Grenadiers put in an effort to streamline the peloton, perhaps sensing that Roglič was vulnerable. Fugitive Thibaut Pinot took the maximum KOM points, putting him 10 points adrift of the classification leader Ben Healy.
Two more riders joined the Gee-Pinot gang to make a septet.
Pinot crept closer to Healy by tipping over Cat. 4 Pieve d’Alpago first. Ninety kilometers remainined. On the long valley road between Climbs 2 and 3, the septet grew its advantage and Pinot climbed up to sixth on the virtual GC. Gee plucked the maximum points at the first intermediate sprint.
The escapees hit the foot of Cat. 1 Forcella Cibiana with a 5:00 buffer over the peloton. Pinot set the pace With 30 km remaining. Tt was likely the day’s winner would come from the fugitive group, now a half-French sextet, despite Ineos’ labours at the business end of the field.
Pinot moved back into the blue climber’s jersey by bagging KOM 40 points at the top. Gee was hoisted up to fifth in that competition.
Coi and Palafavera
Pundits at all levels of competence were predicting Roglič’s doom as the two-headed Cat. 2 finale began.
Gee toiled to keep contact with Pinot and Zana on the steepest slopes of Coi. With 8.3 km remaining, the Canadian fell away.
Sepp Kuss brought Roglič to the front and increased the pace. Second-place João Almeida couldn’t hang, so teammate Jay Vine worked to bring him back to the Slovenian and his American pal, the pink jersey and Irishman Eddie Dunbar.
Roglič attacked, drawing Thomas. Kuss rejoined them. Almeida and Vine loomed in the background, but Vine almost crashed on the descent. The Portuguese rider just couldn’t come back.
Up the road, Pinot took the KOM points at Coi’s crest. Gee was still fighting for a top-3 on the day. Pinot tried to drop Zana in final 2 km but could not, and the sprint went to the Italian, his first Grand Tour triumph.
After the finish Gee said, “I was just happy to be up there. My legs have been hurting for the last couple of days. I think we raced really well.”
Friday finishes on Tre Cime di Lavaredo, it’s final 3.3 km a leg breaking 12.6 percent.
2023 Giro d’Italia Stage 18
1) Filippo Zana (Italy/Jayco-AlUla) 4:25:12
2) Thibaut Pinot (France/Groupama-FDJ) s.t.
3) Warren Barguil (France/Arkea-Samsic) +0:50
4) Derek Gee (Canada/Israel-Premier Tech) +1:03
2023 Giro d’Italia GC
1) Geraint Thomas (Great Britain/Ineos) 71:58:53
2) Primož Roglič (Slovenia/Jumbo-Visma) +0:29
3) João Almeida (Portugal/UAE-Emirates) +0:39
4) Eddie Dunbar (Ireland/Jayco-AlUla) +3:39
5) Damiano Caruso (Italy/Bahrain-Victorious) +3:51
26) Derek Gee (Canada/Israel-Premier Tech) +38:11