Team Sky’s Mikel Landa made it third time lucky at the Giro d’Italia as he soloed to victory on stage 19, on a day which saw Nairo Quintana replace Tom Dumoulin in the pink jersey.
Having been beaten in two-up sprints on both stage 16 and stage 18, Landa – in the King of the Mountains jersey – was this time the last surviving member of the breakaway, distancing Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) and Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) on the Piancavallo climb.
Dumoulin, meanwhile, was dropped on the lower slopes of the final climb as Movistar put the hurt on, and the Dutchman eventually lost more than a minute to Quintana – who now leads by 38 seconds overall.
Dumoulin remains in a strong position with the final day time trial on the cards, but Quintana has one more mountain stage – including the Monte Grappa – to try and open up the biggest possible lead.
Dumoulin’s day started badly too, as the Team Sunweb man was caught out by a split in the peloton early in the stage.
White jersey Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) was also caught out, as were Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), and Sunweb therefore had assistance closing the gap – which was as much as 1’40” at one point.
The frantic action meant the day’s original breakaway was shut down, and it also left a lot of the GC men with few team-mates remaining when it all came back together.
A six-man break, including Rolland, Costa, Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Sebastian Henao (Team Sky) went clear shortly afterwards, while Landa led a counter-attack from the GC group.
Sanchez was first to attack up the road, but Henao drove the pace of the chase group for Landa, while the tension in the peloton was obvious as Eugenio Alafaci threw a bidon at Rory Sutherland as he cut him up.
Movistar drove the pace on the front of the GC group, and Dumoulin was dropped on the lower slopes – clinging on with only team-mate Simon Geschke for company.
Up the road, Costa caught and passed Sanchez but could do nothing as Landa did the same to him.
As the Spaniard opened up a large gap on his rivals – keen to come to the finish solo after his near misses this week – all attention was focused on the GC group.
Geschke was burned out after the steepest section of the climb, leaving Dumoulin to chase alone as Franco Pellizotti (Bahrain-Merida) took over the pace-setting.
Dumoulin initially had sight of the GC group, but constant attacks gradually opened the gap up – Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) kicked on, before Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) also got a gap.
The uneven pace saw Yates put time into Bob Jungels (QuickStep Floors) too, but the Luxembourg champion hit back to ensure he lost no time in the white jersey classification.
With Landa already up the road celebrating, Pinot’s attack earned him a few seconds on Nibali, but the most important gap was that to Dumoulin.
And as he, visibly exhausted, crossed more than a minute down on Quintana, it was clear it will be the Colombian in the maglia rosa for the final mountain stage, with 53 seconds separating the top four overall.
Like Yates with Jungels, however, the final stage time trial means a small lead is unlikely to be enough, however – and all focus will now turn to Monte Grappa.