Britain’s Geraint Thomas holds the overall Giro d’Italia leader’s pink jersey heading into the final weekend after Friday’s gruelling ‘Queen’ 19th stage won by Colombian Santiago Buitrago.
Less than a minute separates the top three title contenders before a decisive 18.6km uphill time-trial on Saturday in Monte Lussari, in north-eastern Italy.
“Tomorrow it will be great to watch, horrible to do,” said Thomas, who leads Slovenian Primoz Roglic by 26 seconds.
The Welshman said he was expecting a “super close” race with Portugal’s Joao Almeida in third, 59 seconds off the pace, with the race finishing in Rome on Sunday.
“I’m happy with the result, the legs are back. Tomorrow is all about the attack,” said Roglic.
Friday’s stage in the Dolomites was won by Buitrago who was a survivor of the morning breakaway.
The 23-year-old Bahrain rider crossed the line alone 51sec ahead of Canadian Derek Gee of Israel Premier Tech, who was second for the fourth time in this year’s race.
“It’s an epic victory, on a perfect day,” said Buitrago, who also won a stage last year.
Thomas accelerated late but could not hold off a Roglic counter-attack at the end of the gruelling 183km ride from Longarone that included five peaks.
“When I went for it with 400m to go, I realised after 100m that 400m was a lot at this altitude,” said Ineos Grenadiers’ Thomas.
“I just tried to pace it. Roglic came past in the last 100m or so. I lost a couple of seconds on the line but it was nice to gain some time on Joao.”
– ‘Hurt for sure’ –
A tearful Gee missed out again and sits second in both the king of the mountains and points classifications.
“I knew Buitrago was gone as soon as he caught me,” said Gee. “The acceleration was ridiculous. I just went full to the line. That hurt for sure.
“I might have got second a lot, but at least I gave myself a shot.”
The day had promised excitement with five hellish climbs, including the final ascent to the snowfields of the Tre Cime, where Eddy Merckx famously won in a blizzard in 1968.
But there was nothing legendary on Friday as the favourites were neutralised until the last two kilometres.
This was the moment that Roglic chose to attack but that did not worry Thomas at all.
Everything therefore remains to be done in the time-trial, on a narrow road at altitude close to the Slovenian border.
It risks bringing back bad memories for Roglic, who lost the lead in the Tour de France in 2020 at the Planche des Belles Filles after an uphill time trial dominated by Tadej Pogacar on the penultimate day.
But the triple Vuelta winner demonstrated his ambitions of denying Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France champion, from becoming the oldest Giro champion, at the age of 37 years.