Richard Carapaz became the first Ecuadorian winner of the Giro d’Italia after safely negotiating the final individual time trial around Verona.
The 26-year-old Movistar rider held on to the pink jersey he first claimed after stage 14 a week ago.
Carapaz finished the 21st and final stage some 40 seconds behind stage winner Chad Haga (Sunweb) but he had plenty of time to play with as he crossed the line.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) held on to second place in the final standings, while Carapaz’s team-mate Mikel Landa fell short of the time set by Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and dropped to fourth behind the Slovenian.
Belgian duo Victor Campenaerts and Thomas De Gendt finished the last stage in second and third behind American Haga, who completed the 17km time trial in 22mins 7secs.
Britain’s Simon Yates clocked 23mins 7secs to hold on to his place in the top 10, finishing eighth overall.
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Richard Carapaz is on the brink of winning the Giro d’Italia after retaining the pink jersey.
Astana rider Pello Bilbao beat Mikel Landa in the final 200-meter sprint to the line to win the 20th stage, with Trek-Segafredo’s Giulio Ciccone third.
Movistar rider Carapaz was fourth and now looks set to take the title on Sunday, barring a major surprise in the time trial at Verona.
In Saturday’s penultimate stage in the Dolomites, Carapaz held off two-time champion Vincenzo Nibali in the 194-kilometre ride from Feltre, and holds a cushion of one minute and 54 seconds over the Italian.
Landa climbed to third on general classification, two minutes and 53 seconds back, after Primoz Roglic was dropped on the final climb, and is a further 13 seconds adrift.
Speaking to Eurosport, Bilbao said: “It was more difficult to be here in first when Vincenzo’s group arrived. I thought my stage was almost finished but they went with a lot of energy.”
A highlight of the stage involved Astana rider Miguel Angel Lopez who was filmed in an altercation with a fan who apparently caused him to crash on a climb.
Lopez remonstrated with the man, who was sat on the floor, and twice lashed out, sending his cap flying.
On Eurosport Bradley Wiggins defended Lopez but also understands why the incident happened.
He said: “They (the fans) can be forgiven for forgetting themselves. We can’t take the spectators off the mountain, it’s what makes the race so special.
“We have to accept it (spectators on the course). We can only ask people to respect the riders.
“When you’ve had a couple of drinks you can forget and get carried away.
“But this is their careers, they have stuff riding on this. I can sympathise with him (Lopez), that would be your initial reaction. We can’t berate him for giving him a smack.”
Great Britain’s Simon Yates finished off the pace, with the Mitchelton-Scott rider eighth in the GC, eight minutes and one second adrift.
After an exhilarating stage in the mountains, the first of this year’s Giro, Jan Polanc has risen up the GC rankings to take the pink jersey from team mate Valerio Conti, ensuring that UAE Team Emirates retains the iconic Maglia Rosa and takes it into the latter half of the tour.
Polanc crossed the line in 6th place behind stage winner Cearse Benedetti (BORA – Hansgrohe), but the impressive team performance of the Emirati outift allowed the Slovenian climber to leap frog his closest rivals into the top spot.
After the tactical masterclass played by UAE Team Emirates, Polanc now has a comfortable buffer of 4:07” over race favourite Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) who sits in second spot and is 4:51” ahead of team mate Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) who sits in third place.
The 158km mountain stage from Cuneo to Pinerolo was raced at a high pace, averaging over 42km/h, despite the peloton having to get over a challenging category 1 climb known as the ‘Muro’ or wall.
The 9km ramp, which topped out at 14% played an instrumental role in splitting up the peloton and isolating a lot of the main GC contenders – making it difficult for them to chase down the 24 man breakaway.
Jan Polanc was one of the GC hopefuls who managed to sneak into the early break and stayed with the group throughout the race. With 20kms to go the lead group was down to a handful of riders but Polanc remained in the mix and looked strong, driven on with the knowledge that he was the virtual Maglia Rosa.
#Giro d'Italia 2019 - Stage 12 | Tappa 12— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 23, 2019
Maglia Rosa @EnelGroupIT: @PolancJan
Maglia Ciclamino @segafredoitalia: @ArnaudDemare
Maglia Azzurra @BancaMediolanum: @glbrambilla
Maglia Bianca @EurospinItalia: Hugh Carthy
Rankings | Classifiche: https://t.co/KotyBehJvG pic.twitter.com/RFRNSkKjW7
Polanc continued to ride hard, picking up 3 valuable bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint in Cavour and finally crossed the line in 6th place after over 3 hours and 42 minutes in the saddle.
Commenting on his first win of the season, Polanc said: “It was a great stage today and I achieved my goal. I was aiming for the stage win also, but the others knew I could take the jersey so I had to work extra hard. Myself and Valerio are similar riders and now after two stage wins in previous Giros I get to wear the pink jersey. It’s an absolute dream come true for me so I’ll fight to keep it as long as possible.”
Commenting on the race, Conti said: “Everything went as planned today. Tactically it was perfect. I think we took everyone by surprise. As for me, I had a wonderful week with some amazing days in pink. I think today I showed I’m a team player and I’m delighted for Polanc because he’s done a lot of work for me in the past week. I’m happy I lost the jersey to him – he deserves it.”
Stage 12 Results
General Classification Standings
Tomorrow’s 196km stage from Pinerolo to Ceresole Reale showcases the first summit finale of the Giro and challenges the peloton with two categorised climbs before they hit the finish line, which sits at 2247m above sea level.