Belgian rider Tim Merlier emerged victorious in a thrilling bunch sprint to clinch his second win at this year’s Giro d’Italia. The 18th stage, spanning 178 kilometres from Fiera di Primiero to Padua, offered a brief respite from the gruelling Alpine stages and concluded with a high-speed showdown.

The stage began with the absence of Christian Scaroni, who was a DNS following his strong performance in the mountains. As the peloton tackled the sole classified climb of the day, the cat. 4 Lamon, a breakaway formed. Mikkel Honoré, Filippo Fiorelli, Mirco Maestri, and Andrea Pietrobon seized the opportunity to establish a lead.

Despite the heavy rain, the breakaway managed to maintain a two-minute advantage as they sped through the first sprint at Valdobbiadene. Jonathan Milan, comfortably leading the points classification, picked up additional points without much contest.

As the race progressed, the peloton, led by Lidl-Trek, engaged in a tactical game with the breakaway, allowing the gap to fluctuate between 45 and 90 seconds. Soudal-QuickStep’s efforts and Eduardo Affini’s solo move 55 kilometres from the finish injected new life into the chase. However, the breakaway stubbornly held on until 10.5 kilometres from the finish, when the sprinter’s teams finally reeled them in.

A mechanical issue briefly threatened Thymen Arensman, but teammate Jhonathan Narvaez ensured his safe return to the peloton. As the race neared its conclusion, Alpecin-Deceuninck and Soudal-QuickStep vied for control, with Julian Alaphilippe briefly stringing out the pack with a late acceleration.

In the final sprint, Alberto Dainese initially took the lead, with Kaden Groves and Jonathan Milan battling hard. However, Tim Merlier found a gap on the right and executed a perfectly timed effort to edge out Milan by less than half a wheel. Merlier described the chaotic sprint, stating, “We were always in good position, not a perfect line but we managed to be in a good position. I was a bit surprised, the last kilometre was really fast with the two corners, and I was surprised even the last 600 or 500 metres. Then I found my moment. I started my sprint but I need to go a bit around. But in the end I make it.”

Merlier celebrated his second stage win of this Giro, having previously won the third stage. Reflecting on his achievements, he remarked, “It would be nice to have 3-3 but we will see. I say before Giro I want to win more than one stage and now I have the second, so my Giro is good.”

Meanwhile, Tadej Pogacar maintained his substantial lead in the general classification, staying 7 minutes and 42 seconds ahead of Daniel Martinez, with Geraint Thomas in third, 8 minutes and 4 seconds behind the Slovenian.

With three days remaining, the Giro returns to the hills for the 19th stage, featuring three categorised climbs in the final 60 kilometres.

2024 Giro d’Italia Stage 18 result

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All photo credits: LaPresse