Joao Almeida edged out Geraint Thomas to claim victory on stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia on a summit finish as the Welshman moved back into the Maglia Rosa leader’s jersey.
Following Monday’s rest day, racing resumed over a tough 203-kilometre mountain course from Sabbio Chiese to Monte Bondone.
A group of around 25 riders had made an initial breakaway from the front of the peloton as the course headed on to the category three climb of Passo Bordala.
Jumbo-Visma continued to push at the front of the peloton, with Ineos-Grenadiers’ Pavel Sivakov later dropped on the Matassone ascent where Astana duo Vadim Pronskiy and Christian Scaroni launched an attack.
With around 52km left of stage 16, the front pair were caught by the chasing group, which held a lead of just over four minutes over the peloton approaching the final climb of the day on Monte Bondone.
As the pace was picked up, the breakaway were again reeled in as Almeida and Thomas made their move along with Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp Kuss and Primoz Roglic in the general classification group.
Heading into the last 4.5km, Thomas launched his own attack as he and Almeida dropped their rivals.
It was Portuguese rider Almeida, though, who had the most left in the tank to sprint clear in the final 150 metres to claim victory for UAE Team Emirates and pick up maximum bonus seconds.
Slovenian Roglic finished third, which saw him drop 25 seconds in the GC standings, ahead of Ireland’s Eddie Dunbar (Jayco-AIUla), who moved up to fifth overall as a result.
Bruno Armirail (Groupama–FDJ) saw his hopes of retaining the Maglia Rosa fade as he dropped back heading into the final 10km.
Thomas now has an 18-second lead over Almeida, with Roglic third, now 29 seconds off the pace.
However, Ineos Grenadiers confirmed Sivakov had followed Tao Geoghegan Hart and Filippo Ganna in dropping out of the race after failing to shake off the impact of a crash during a wet 11th stage.
“It was a very tough day, a lot of climbs, I am happy with how it went. I found myself in front with Almeida, he was better in the sprint,” said Thomas.
“It would have been nice to win the stage, but I had to keep riding – didn’t want to be caught playing cat and mouse with Joao with Roglic behind.
Almeida hailed his maiden Giro stage victory as a “dream come true”.
He said: “I was feeling well and the whole team was extraordinary. I try to improve day by day to become the best version of myself.”
Wednesday’s 17th stage will be a flat 195km course from Pergine Valsugana to Caorle.