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Soloing across the finish line in pouring rain, pounding the left side of his chest with his right fist, Richard Carapaz took stage eight of the Giro d’Italia and, with it, the distinction of being the first Ecuadorian Grand Tour stage winner.
The Movistar rider made his move on the summit finish of Montevergine di Mercogliano, jumping clear of the group of race favourites to catch the final remnant of the day’s break, Koen Bouwman (LottoNL-Jumbo). He powered past the Dutchman and reached the line seven seconds ahead of the next riders, Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Enrico Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo), race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and the other overall contenders.
“I’m so happy, so excited about this win,” said the 24 year old, who started the day wearing the best young rider’s jersey. “It’s a magnificent one. I can’t really believe I’ve got this. It’s been a very tough few weeks of work to reach this Giro in good condition. It had already been great to win in Asturias, since it was my first victory in Europe, yet notching up this really big one here in the Giro is incredible.”
Several riders crashed on the final uphill, including Chris Froome (Team Sky). He was able to finish with the other favourites, but had a scare. Carapaz said that he was mindful of the danger. “With the rain, we knew it was going to be a climb that was quite more difficult than normal,” he said. “So slippery, especially on the hairpins, where it was difficult to keep balance. There were lots of nerves at the foot of the climb, but later on, there was some big selections and things became calm after that.
“I had great legs from the beginning of the ascent and wanted to try it before the finish because I knew I wouldn’t stand much of a chance if going just for the sprint. I told the team car I was going to attack, I saw an Ag2R rider jumping after Sky put on an easier pace and I saw there was a good moment to attack with two kilometres to go. Once I jumped, I saw I had the legs to keep this pace until the finish, and it all turned out well.”
The 209 kilometre stage ran from Praia a Mare to Montevergine di Mercogliano. It was undulating early on, became lumpier coming up to the one third distance point, and then had a long flat section prior to the final climb.
Approximately half an hour into the day’s race, Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto Fix All) jumped clear. It was a long way to go alone but he was soon joined by six others, namely Bouman, Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates), Rodolfo Torres (Androni-Sidermec), Davide Villella (Astana) and Matteo Monteguti (AG2R La Mondiale).
Their advantage reached six minutes and they still had the bulk of this heading into the final hour. However the tough terrain made it far from assured that they would stay away and as the gap dwindled, the attacks started. These fragmented the break, with Bouwman the last to succumb to the chase behind.
Just before he was caught, Carapaz surged past and continued all the way to the finish line, where he celebrated his biggest win to date. Behind, Pinot went for the time bonus for second but was pipped by Formolo; he still advanced, though, with the bonus for third moving him above Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) into fourth.
Yates had no problems maintaining his grip on the Maglia Rosa: he preserves his 16 second advantage over the 2017 Giro winner Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), and remains 26 seconds ahead of his teammate Esteban Chaves.
“We wanted to be in front for the climb,” he said. “We knew, because of the rain in the final, the hairpins would be very slippery. We wanted to take them in the front. We rode an even tempo. It was a very hard start, so maybe the breakaway didn’t have good enough legs to stay away.
“Maybe I would have liked to take some bonus seconds in the final, but I got a little boxed in and I couldn’t get out to sprint. It’s one of those things.”
He didn’t see the stage as one to pad his lead. “The climb wasn’t that difficult. It would have been very hard to make a big difference. Tomorrow is a much more difficult climb. We’ll have to see – if I have legs, I’ll try. If not, I won’t.”