The Portuguese racer strengthened his grip on the pink jersey despite the loss.
Italy’s Diego Ulissi (UAE-Team Emirates) registered his second win at the Giro D’Italia to deny Portuguese race leader Joao Almeida (Deceuninck Quick-Step) and Austria’s Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) a photo finish.
Six bonus seconds for finishing runner-up saw Almeida consolidate his hold on the maglia rosa, but the 22-year-old debutant was left disappointed after missing out on an opportunity to give his quick-step team their first stage win of the race.
Two punchy climbs in the Euganean Hills above the Padovan-Venetian plain blew the race apart, ending the chances of a seven-man breakaway and distancing all the main sprinters in what proved to be a thrilling conclusion to the otherwise pan-flat and largely uneventful 192km stage from Cervia.
Frenchman Arnaud Demare had to be led back to the fold by two Groupama-FDJ teammates ahead of the final climb, only to be dropped once again as the gradient pushed 20 percent to string out the field and bring the race favourites to the front.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) did his best to rejoin a leading group of 20 riders in a bid to pick up a second victory and prise the maglia ciclamino from Demare’s shoulders. But the Slovakian came up 23 seconds short, while his teammate Konrad was left punching his handlebars in frustration after taking third place in the tense dash to the line.
Led out by American teammate Brandon McNulty, Diego Ulissi had enough left in the tank to add a second win – and a career eighth – following his stage 2 success in Sicily. No current Italian rider has more stage wins in the Giro than the 31-year-old.
Diego Ulissi remarked, “We did a great job on the last climb and the team set me up perfectly. We dropped the sprinters and reduced the peloton to a small group. I was tired after doing the climb so fast, but McNulty was fantastic in the way he led it out.”
“I saw I’d got my wheel ahead and won. I’ve been on form all season. I didn’t expect to win another stage but it’s a great feeling.”
For Almeida, it was a bittersweet day, the Portuguese tyro extending his overall lead ahead of Saturday’s time trial but left rueing what may have been after he was unable to finish off a strong lead-out from Quick-Step teammates Mikkel Honore, Fausto Masnada and James Knox.
Almeida said, “Actually, I’m a bit disappointed because my team has been incredible for the past 13 stages and we deserved the victory I’m happy with the extra seconds but the main goal was the stage win.”
He now leads the Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) by 40 seconds and Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) by 49 seconds ahead of a decisive weekend that concludes with a summit finish in the Dolomites on Sunday.