Geraint Thomas leaks three seconds to Primoz Roglic on Stage 19, Santiago Buitrago wins at Tre Cime di Lavaredo

On a day Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) won the queen stage in the Dolomites and the superb Derek Gee (Israel-PremierTech) finished second for the fourth time in this Giro, Primoz Roglic’s last-ditch attack on the iconic climb of Tre Cima di Lavaredo saw him claw back three seconds on race leader Geraint Thomas to set up a thrilling showdown on Saturday.

Welsh veteran Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) will enter the decisive 18.6km uphill time trial on the fearsome Monte Lussari with an advantage of 26 seconds on Slovenia’s Roglic (Jumbo Visma) in a winner-takes-all scenario for the climax of the 106th edition of the Giro.

The third man on the podium – Portugal’s Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) – found himself distanced on the fifth and final climb of the 187km stage in the Dolomites. The race’s best young rider now finds himself 59 seconds behind Thomas ahead of a race against the clock on a climb boasting steeper gradients than the legendary Monte Zoncolan.

The fight for pink took place behind the battle for the stage spoils as Colombia’s Buitrago reeled in Canadian debutant Gee with one and a half kilometres to go on the steepest 18% section of the final climb. Buitrago and Gee were the cream of a 15-man breakaway that animated the stage and held a maximum lead of eight minutes over the pack.

Gee’s initial attack at the foot of Tre Cime di Lavaredo looked like it could bring the 25-year-old revelation a maiden win after a string of second places – but in the end Gee had to settle for a fourth second place on a day he also secured second place in both the blue and ciclamino jersey standings.

Denmark’s Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) was the last remaining rider of the breakaway not to be caught, the Stage 10 winner just holding on for third place and denying Roglic four more potentially vital bonus seconds on the line.

Roglic – who changed his bike to a special gravel groupset steed at the foot of the final climb – took fourth place ahead of Thomas, with Almeida leading home Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) and Thymen Arensman (Ineos Grenadiers) for sixth place 20 seconds behind.

Santiago Buitrago of Colombia and Team Bahrain – Victorious celebrates at finish line as stage winner during the 106th Giro d’Italia 2023, Stage 19.

Image credit: Getty Images

Frantic battle for the day’s breakaway to form

A chaotic opening hour of the race saw two riders – the American Larry Warbasse (AG2R Citroen) and Serbia’s Veljko Stojnic (Team Corratec-Selle Italia – go clear on the flat opening segment, oblivious to the carnage behind as wave after wave of attacks rained down on an otherwise gloriously sunny day in north-east Italy.

In what was aptly described as “orchestrated chaos from Jumbo Visma” by Eurosport commentator Rob Hatch, the team-mates of Primoz Roglic did their utmost best to wreak havoc on the race – chasing down moves and getting riders in the mix to pile the pressure on their rivals.

At one point, Jumbo Visma and Joao Almeida’s UAE Team Emirates placed multiple riders in a dangerous looking move – making the most of their numerical advantage and forcing Geraint Thomas’s remaining four Ineos Grenadier riders to put out the fire.

As the race progressed at breakneck speed up the sumptuous Piave valley, two more riders – Alex Baudin (AG2R Citroen) and the irrepressible Canadian debutant Derek Gee (Israel-PremierTech) – joined the leaders, with the quartet still only holding a slender 20-second gap over the restless pack.

Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) was the next rider to join the break before further reinforcements soon came in the form of a third AG2R Citroen rider in Nicolas Prodhomme, who bridged over with Vadim Pronskiy (Astana-Qazaqstan), Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Davide Gabburo (Green Project-Bardiani).

With the pack finally calling a truce ahead of the uphill intermediate sprint at Caprile, there was time for six more riders to infiltrate the break: Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) soloed over ahead of Stefano Oldani (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Michael Hepburn (Team Jayco-AlUla), before Movistar duo Jose Joaquin Rojas and Carlos Verona joined forces with Mattia Bais (Eolo-Kometa) just ahead of the first categorised climb.

Healy and Pinot put on a show in battle for blue

No sooner had the peloton regrouped and settled than Ben Healy (EF Education-EastPost) made an audacious bid to revive his blue jersey hopes. The Irishman – who lost the maglia azzurra to Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) on Thursday – had tried his luck earlier in the stage. But with the breakaway’s advantage up to five minutes, Healy caught everyone off guard with a swashbuckling attack from nowhere.

Pinot was forced to react and managed to reel in his blue jersey revival – prompting a wry handshake from both riders as they called a truce. Healy, however, was in no mood to give up – and moments later, once the duo had been brought back to the peloton, he had a second bite of the apple.

Healy shakes hands with Pinot… then attacks again minutes later

These skirmishes saw the advantage of the break come down to three minutes and incurred the wrath of Ineos tempo-setter Salvatore Puccio. Once order was restored, the break’s advantage ballooned to over eight minutes – seeing the Colombian Buitrago rise into the virtual top five on the road.

Stojnic was dropped by the leaders on the Passo Campolongo, over which Gabburo led the remaining escapees. Verona suffered a fall on the Passo Valparola after being nudged off his bike by the AG2R Citroen team car in an unfortunate incident not caught on camera – and one that resulted in the ejection of the vehicle from the race.

Eternal second Gee’s bid for glory

The indefatigable Gee – in a Giro breakaway for the seventh time – took maximum points over the Valparola summit ahead of the long, twisting and exhilarating descent to the foot of the Passo Giau. And it was Gee, again, who led Hepburn, Buitrago, Verona and Cort over the snow-capped Giau after Verona forced a selection on the tough double-digit climb.

Behind, there was no action in the pink jersey group – although Thomas had lost both Puccio and Swift by the time Ineos led around 40 riders over the top almost seven minutes down. Puccio returned on the descent to even up the numbers ahead of the final GC showdown.

Former American champion Warbasse attacked on the penultimate climb of Tre Croci before the heavens opened with an almighty storm of heavy rain and hail. Warbasse was pegged back before the summit, which Gee crested in pole position once again ahead of Buitrago, Hepburn and Cort.

On the final descent 11 riders came back together in the breakaway while De Plus and Arensman combined to reduce the arrears to just four minutes before the final sustained rise to the finish.

Gee was the most aggressive of the leaders – attacking twice in the closing kilometres before opening up a decent gap on the ascent of Tre Cime. But Buitrago timed his reply to perfection, the tiny Colombian climber able to ride back onto the wheel of his heavier rival and pass him for good near the summit.

After missing out on another chance to win, Gee came within 28 points of Pinot’s lead in the KOM standings to secure another second place along with his four stage near-wins and the maglia ciclamino behind Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious).

“I just wanted to go in the break for the ciclamino points so I could secure second place,” he said at the finish. “But they gave us a bigger and bigger gap so I then had to wrap my head around going to the finish again. I knew Buitrago was gone as soon as he caught me because his acceleration was ridiculous.

“I didn’t know where everyone else was – didn’t know where the GC guys were – so I went full to the line. I guess it’s kind of high up here and not much oxygen – that hurt, for sure. Another second place – second in the ciclamino and second in the azzurra… it’s going to take a while to sink in.”

Advantage Thomas ahead of final TT

De Plus and Arensman set a fierce tempo on the nose of the pink jersey group to nullify any scope for attacks. When they both faded, Roglic finally made his move – but Thomas was more than his equal. As the two top riders on this Giro rode clear, Almeida went backwards.

The Portuguese eventually joined forces with Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) and Arensman near the finish, but couldn’t help conceding another 20 seconds to his rivals. Pinot and the Colombian Einer Ribio (Movistar) completed the top 10.

‘The fight goes to Stage 20!’ – Roglic takes back time on Thomas with late surge

Thomas distanced Roglic in the closing moments but the Slovenian bit back and then opened up a small gap on the home straight – although he missed out on the extra four bonus seconds for third place.

“Tomorrow we go full gas again,” an upbeat Roglic said with a smile at the finish. “It’s good – I got my legs back. In the end, the best man will win.”

But the Slovenian will have bad memories of the penultimate day’s time mountain time trial from the 2020 Tour de France, where he famously conceded the yellow jersey to his compatriot Tadej Pogacar on the climb of La Planche des Belles Filles.

With Thomas putting time into Roglic in the Stage 9 time trial earlier in the race, the 37-year-old will be confident of holding on to become the oldest winner of the Giro in Rome on Sunday.

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