Nicolas Roche came tantalisingly close to making it back-to-back victories for the Irish at the Giro d’Italia but ran out of legs at the end of an absorbing stage 18.
The 36-year Dubliner was aiming to follow in the footsteps of his cousin Dan Martin who took a superb solo victory a day earlier atop the Sega di Ala climb, but was no match for eventual winner Alberto Bettiol of EF Education-Nippo.
Bettiol was part of an initial six-rider move that went clear of the 23-rider break — containing Roche, on the first of four climbs that came in the final 35 kilometres.
The Italian was caught out when that attack was reeled in and Remi Cavagna counter-attacked on his own with some 25 kilometres remaining.
The Frenchman’s acceleration was so strong that Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) was unable to respond, despite being on the Deceuninck rider’s wheel, and on the second climb, Cavagna pushed his advantage to over 30 seconds.
It looked as though Deceuninck would rescue their Giro after losing team leader Remco Evenepoel to a crash the day before but Bettiol and the flying Roche had other ideas. The pair jumped after Cavagna and after that counter-attack was nullified, they tried again.
At the foot of the final climb, Cavagna held a slender 15 second lead and it briefly looked like he would have enough, but when Bettiol dropped Roche with 8k to go, the catch looked on.
Cresting the top of that final rise, Bettiol found another gear, glided up to Cavagna’s wheel and dropped him at ease.
2019 Tour of Flanders winner Bettiol clearly in a determined mood, though now being chased by a reenergised Roche.
Alas, it wasn’t to be for Roche who despite his best efforts couldn’t make the junction allowing Bettiol plenty of time to celebrate his well-deserved win.
Simone Consonni (Cofidis, Credits Solutions) came from behind Roche at the death to nab second.
The maglia rosa group of Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) enjoyed a relatively stress free day and the Colombian maintained his 2'21" lead over Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) with Simon Yates (BikeExchange) further back.
Dan Martin jumped up the GC to 10th after Remco Evenepoel was forced to pull out. The race continues today with a real mountain test followed by another tomorrow before Sunday’s concluding stage in Milan.