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Stage 17: Context is everything.


Speaking before today’s stage, Simon Pellaud was already talking about tomorrow’s: “The stage starts with 40 Ks on the flat, so we have a chance. Tomorrow, with the start on the climb, it’s hard.” In other words, it was one of those stages that aren’t self-contained races at all, but preambles, hors d’oeuvres, panels in diptychs or triptychs: single elements in greater wholes.

After the stage, Jai Hindley reinforced the impression: “The plan today wasn’t to go full-gas but we wanted to test the waters… The strongest man wins tomorrow.”The untried Forcella Valbona, the classic Monte Bondone and the rarely-used climb to Madonna di Campiglio were, this year, mere softeners for tomorrow’s Hofmahdjoch/Passo Castrin, Stelvio/Stilfsjoch and Laghi di Cancano.

And that created space for the breakaway.

Fuga Bianchi leader Mattia Bais (ANS) duly made the group, no doubt hoping to add to his lead. It didn’t turn out that way: he was quickly dropped on the Valbona’s lower slopes. But, because of the way the rules work, it didn’t prove too costly. If there are more than 10 riders in the breakaway, it doesn’t count as a breakaway at all. From km 44 to 131, there were 18-20 riders at the front: from 178 until about km 193 on the final climb, there were 15. That left fewer that 50 km in between, and then ten more at the end, which were , in any case, divided between the various riders. So Bais retained his lead in one of the less vaunted competitions.

24 hours after finishing 2nd at San Daniele del Friuli, Ben O’Connor took Australia’s 34th Giro stage win at Madonna di Campiglio. Behind him, Hermann Pernsteiner (TBM) finished second. He started the stage 15th in GC, 9’53” from the Maglia Rosa but, more relevantly, 6’55” behind Jai Hindley, in third place. He infiltrated the breakaway and spent 67 km of the stage, from km 111 to km 178, in virtual 3rd place. IHe finished second in the stage, gaining 4’40” on the Maglia Rosa group, and jumping 4 places into 11th at 5’07”, 2″ ahead of Fuglsang. Brandon McNulty (SUN), meanwhile, headed the other way: he now lies 13th at 6’10”.

The only other change in the top ten today is that Fausto Masnada (DQT), having led the Maglia Rosa into the final kilometre, dropped two seconds and therefore lies tenth at 4’26” instead of 4’24”. But today was only the start.

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