(Reuters) – Dutchman Wilco Kelderman took over as leader of the Giro d’Italia as the fearsome Stelvio climb blew the race apart during a brutal stage 18 battle on Thursday.
Kelderman (Sunweb) began the day 17 seconds behind long-time race leader Joao Almeida, whose hopes of wearing the ‘maglia rosa’ all the way to Milan were shattered.
Portuguese Almeida cracked on the steep and twisty 24km Stelvio climb, losing three minutes before the summit as Kelderman took over as the virtual leader.
Kelderman was also distanced on the day’s big climb, however, dropping 47 seconds behind Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart, who was taken up the climb by Ineos Grenadiers team mate Rohan Dennis, and his Sunweb team mate Jai Hindley.
After a freezing descent through the snowfields and ahead of the day’s final climb to the finish of the 207km Queen’s stage, Kelderman looked to be going backwards.
But he had just enough left in the tank to take the maglia rosa, although Saturday’s climbs to Sestriere now look as though they will prove decisive.
Australian Hindley took the stage win just ahead of Geoghegan Hart, two minutes 18 seconds ahead of Kelderman, and will are both breathing down his neck in the battle for the pink jersey.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)