Giro d'Italia 2020: Australian Jai Hindley wins 18th stage; Wilco Kelderman takes overall lead
Hindley's Dutch teammate Wilco Kelderman struggled on the final two climbs but took the overall leader's pink jersey three days before the race finishes in Milan.
Isolaccia, Italy: Australian Jai Hindley said Sunweb's strategy was "perfect" as he won Thursday's gruelling Giro d'Italia 18th stage on the Stelvio pass in the northern Italian Alps to help team-mate Wilco Kelderman take the leader's pink jersey.
Dutch rider Kelderman struggled on the final two climbs but his fifth-place finish was enough to overtake Joao Almeida three days before the race finishes in Milan.
"Winning here is such an incredible feeling," said 24-year-old Hindley.
"It's a big step forward in my career and a double success for the team with Wilco Kelderman now wearing the Maglia Rosa. The tactics were perfect for our team today."
Kelderman took the lead from Portugal's Almeida of Deceuninck Quick-Step who had been in pink for more than two weeks since stage three in Sicily.
Three riders are battling at the top of the overall standings with Hindley 12 seconds behind his teammate and Britain's Tao Geoghegan Hart third 15sec off the pace, after finishing second on the day.
"A crazy day! The hardest stage of my life," said 29-year-old Kelderman.
"Jai is very strong and Tao is a rival for the general. So we decided to play it on several fronts, which was the right tactic," said Kelderman.
"We had a goal and we achieved it. Wearing the Maglia Rosa is a dream after so many difficult years."
Almeida drops to fifth place at 2min 16sec, after finishing the stage in 48th position after the 207km run from Pinzolo to the Cancano Lakes in the Stelvio National Park.
- 'Generation shift' -
Hindley and Geoghegan Hart outpaced Kelderman with 8km to go towards the summit of the snow-capped Stelvio at an altitude of 2,758m.
Kelderman was overtaken by Spaniard Pello Bilbao and Dane Jakob Fuglsang on the final 8.7km climb with a gradient of 6.8 percent to the Cancano Lakes.
Hindley crossed just ahead of Ineos' Geoghegan Hart, 25, with Spaniard Pello Bilbao of Bahrain-McLaren third at 46sec.
It was a first WorldTour success for Hindley who had already impressed last Sunday at Piancavallo in the Dolomites.
Former two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali of Italy crossed the line nearly five minutes behind the leaders with his hopes of a third crown already over.
"There's not much to say, the others were too fast," said the 36-year-old, one of the few riders to have won all three Grand Tours in France, Italy and Spain.
"There's a generation shift underway. They have time on their side. I must be the only rider of my generation fighting with the leaders.
"Hindley is very strong, we already saw it at Piancavallo when he set the pace on the climb," added the 'Shark' who believes the race remains open.
"Tomorrow (Friday) nothing will happen but the day after, the race will explode again," he predicted of the final three stages.
Friday's 19th stage returns to the plains with a 253km run from Morbegno to Asti in Piedmont.
On Saturday, the race will not cross the border into France as planned because of Covid-19 restrictions.
The alternative route will be less mountainous with a triple climb towards Sestriere at the end of the stage.
Sunday's final stage will be a time-trial culminating in front of Milan's Duomo cathedral.
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