Tejay van Garderen claimed his maiden Grand Tour stage win in a strong display of strength and determination to win stage 18 in a head to head battle with Mikel Landa (Team Sky).
At just 137km with five categorized climbs, including the uphill finish, stage 18 was a tough battle from kilometer 0.
Joey Rosskopf formed part of the early four-rider breakaway in the opening ten kilometers, but was soon joined by a chase group featuring van Garderen. The junction of the two groups created a group of 17 riders that gained more than two minutes on the Maglia Rosa group.
The race situation stabilized as the breakaway tackled climb after climb and as van Garderen’s group reached the summit of Passo Valparola with 79km to go, the gap remained at two minutes.
Behind, the Maglia Rosa group picked up the chase as race leader Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) started to attack each other which eventually brought the group within 30 seconds of the van Garderen breakaway.
Riders began to drop from the front group and it was just van Garderen, Landa, Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team) and Jan Hirt (CCC Sprandi Polkowice in the lead with 25km to go.
As they reached the banner 10km before the line it was van Garderen and Landa powering on towards the finish line with a margin of 25 seconds on the chasers and 55 seconds on the Maglia Rosa group.
The General Contenders began to attack each other behind which was to the advantage of van Garderen and Landa who held on to their advantage in the final kilometers. The duo began to look at each other in the final kilometer of racing but it was van Garderen who had the power to edge Landa out of the win in Oristei.
The Winner’s Interview with Tejay van Garderen
Tejay, congratulations on your maiden Grand Tour win! Talk us through the finale.
“Mikel Landa is a very good bike rider. He is a very quick sprinter and I think it got a little bit tactical at the end and I tried to just be patient and not get overly excited. Coming into the last corner, I knew it was downhill and you had to hit it in the first position. I was coming in on the inside and he was going to close on me a little bit so I just thought, ‘I’m not braking’. If we crashed, we crashed but I wasn’t going to brake.”
“It was a hard day. Lots of climbing. I knew all of the climbs. I have done training camps in this area quite often. It was just an amazing feeling. Landa and I got away on a descent right before the finish. We looked around and saw that it was just us and we decided to keep going.”
How does this feel to get your first Grand Tour stage win?
“It is incredible. It feels great. I came here obviously with GC ambitions but that didn’t materialize. I’ve just tried to keep the morale high. I love this area. I knew every inch of the road today and it was almost like training at home.”
You were very emotional at the finish line.
“Yeah, I’m eight years as a professional now and this is my first Grand Tour stage victory. It was emotional just because I’ve had so many trials these past few years. Sometimes things go up and sometimes they go down and today was definitely up and hopefully I keep that trajectory. It feels good. It is good to know that I am still capable of doing a ride like that and now I just have to put it all together into three weeks like I have done in the past and like I know I can do again.”
Does the Giro d’Italia mean something special to you and can it be your goal again in the future?
“Absolutely, I love Italy. I love the Giro d’Italy. At the beginning of my career I used to live in Lucca, in Tuscany, and for several years, I have done altitude camps just up the road and stayed at a hotel with a lovely family who I now know very well. So, this area in particular feels like home to me. I knew every inch of the road today. Italy is very beautiful, the people are passionate and positive. I’m surprised it has taken me this long to do the Giro d’Italia and certainly I will be back.”
1 – Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) – 137km in 3h54’04”, average speed 35.118km/h
2 – Mikel Landa Meana (Team Sky) s.t.
3 – Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) at 8″
4 – Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) s.t.
5 – Jan Hirt (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) at 11″
1 – Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
2 – Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) at 31″
3 – Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain – Merida) at 1’12”
4 – Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) at 1”36″
5 – Ilnur Zakarin (Team Katusha Alpecin) at 1’58”
Maglia Rosa (pink), general classification leader, sponsored by Enel – Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
Maglia Ciclamino (cyclamen), sprinter classification leader, sponsored by Segafredo – Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)
Maglia Azzurra (blue), King of the Mountains classification leader, sponsored by Banca Mediolanum – Mikel Landa Meana (Team Sky)
Maglia Bianca (white), young rider general classification leader, sponsored by Eurospin – Adam Yates (Orica – Scott)